Pyramid Gets '96 Report Card

by John Branston

The Pyramid earned a profit for the second year in a row, but operating income was down 63 percent due largely to a decline in the number of concerts.

The Pyramid booked a record 96 events in fiscal year 1996, according to a report delivered to the city and county mayors last week by Leisure Management International, which manages the facility. Operating income was $165,963 and net income $199,325.

Total operating revenue was $2,896,056 -- down 16 percent from fiscal year 1995. However, Leisure Management also reduced expenses 9 percent, enabling the facility to show a profit.

"The number of concerts was down and they were weaker concerts," says Victor Cohen, general manager of The Pyramid. "That was the industry standard last year."

There were nine concerts at the downtown arena in 1996, compared to 14 in 1995. Concerts are The Pyramid's biggest moneymaker, accounting for 42 percent of all event revenue. University of Memphis basketball, with 17 dates, accounts for only 12 percent of event revenue. Concerts have a higher average ticket price and vendors can sell alcoholic beverages at them.

Last year's best concert draws were Bob Seger and AC/DC. The top sports draw was Anfernee Hardaway's Penny Classic Charity Game, which attracted 18,881 fans. The top-drawing University of Memphis men's basketball game (17,482 fans) was the December 28, 1995, game against Temple.

Nearly 700,000 people attended Pyramid events in fiscal year 1996. However, there is a three-year trend of declining attendance there as measured by seat-use fees, which were $441,161 in 1994, $291,525 in 1995, and $227,993 in 1996.

"It concerns me, but at the same time I understand that the livelihood of this building is tournaments and concerts," says Cohen.

He predicts 1997 will be a good year because of the upcoming Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament and the opening rounds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

FedEx Letter Brings Libel Suit

by Jacqueline Marino

A FORMER FEDEX PILOT WHO WAS a vocal member of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), is suing members of the current union for allegedly libeling him in a letter to FedEx management.

In a February 16, 1996, letter sent to CEO Fred Smith and other FedEx executives, one union member's wife asserted that Claude Barnhart, a 22-year FedEx employee, was "unbalanced," "mentally unstable," and harbored "a deep-seated malevolence," among other charges.

"This thing about labeling someone crazy. This is why there's no way I can get another flying job," Barnhart says.

Along with the letter, Barnhart says the woman sent FedEx executives copies of his CompuServe messages from an online forum of ALPA, the former pilots' union. In the colorful Internet messages, Barnhart derides some of his fellow pilots as "scabs" who crossed the "invisible picket line" after receiving a directive not to fly under certain circumstances from the national ALPA. In court documents, FedEx says the Internet messages were legally obtained.

In a previous lawsuit filed against FedEx in U.S. District Court last spring, Barnhart asserts the company suspended him without pay for communicating such pro-union sentiments. FedEx later fired him, he says, for refusing to submit to a psychiatric exam. Last April, however, a medical doctor said Barnhart was physically and psychologically competent to fly commercial jets.

In October 1996, the independent FedEx Pilots Association (FPA) unseated ALPA as the pilots' collective bargaining organization. The national ALPA angered many pilots in 1995 when it printed negative advertisements about FedEx in some national newspapers.

On Monday, FPA president Michael Akin said the organization had not formally received Barnhart's complaint, which was filed in Circuit Court February 13th. But Akin says he considers Barnhart's accusations "frivolous and without merit."

Barnhart seeks restitution on four counts altogether, for invasion of privacy, defamation/libel, and two counts of breach of contract. He has asked for consequential and punitive damages and attorneys' fees in excess of $31 million.

The suit against FedEx is currently pending. Spokeswoman Darlene Faquin says the company has no further comment.

Sports Authority Hunts for Director

by Dennis Freeland

THE NEW MEMPHIS/SHELBY COUNTY Sports Authority will begin a national search next week for a permanent executive director who will operate out of the Convention and Visitors Bureau offices downtown. For purposes of employee benefits, the director will be considered an employee of the CVB and will work closely with bureau president Kevin Kane, but will report to the Sports Authority.

"You need somebody who is doing this day-in and day-out," says Kane. "A group of volunteer board members cannot make it happen by themselves. That's why I think [Sports Authority chairman] Avron [Fogelman] is very committed to finding someone with experience."

Fogelman says he will appoint a search committee from the 11-member authority and expects to hire someone within three or four months. "I think it will be a highly sought job," Fogelman says. "The salary of a top-notch executive director will be paid. We don't want to shortchange ourselves in that area -- it is too critical."

The Sports Authority will operate with an initial budget of about $135,000, Fogelman says, including in-kind donations of office overhead from the CVB. The CVB board of directors approved a cash expenditure of $50,000 for each of the next two years for the group. Both county mayor Jim Rout and city mayor W.W. Herenton have contributed $25,000 from their offices in the form of grants.

Fogelman says he has not yet pursued other revenue. "We will wait till we see about the Oilers and what the salary requirements are going to be for the executive director," he says.

The Houston Oilers, who plan to relocate to Nashville as soon as a stadium is built there, could play games at the Liberty Bowl as soon as this August. If the Oilers play here, the Memphis Sports Authority would get a tax rebate -- 6.5 percent of sales tax generated at the stadium during NFL games -- established by the Tennessee General Assembly for sports authorities in cities with major-league teams. Per-game revenue could be as much as $162,000.

The Oilers' decision on where they will play in 1997 is expected to be made in the next two weeks. The NFL has not released schedules for next year, but the team would probably play eight regular-season and two exhibition games in Memphis.

Former Judge Chandler Takes Up Mediation

by Jackson Baker

WYETH CHANDLER, WHO LAST YEAR retired as a Circuit Court judge, may have doffed his judicial robe and left the bench, but he hasn't sworn off the habit of judgment. For the last several months, the ex-jurist and former Memphis mayor (now a Bartlett resident) has been working as a free-lance arbitrator and mediator.

"It was just something I wanted to try and something I thought I'd be good at," says Chandler, who made advance preparations for his new vocation. Last spring, months before he took leave of Circuit Court, he had gone out to Reno, Nevada, to learn the ropes at something called "Judicial College," an adjunct branch of the University of Nevada which trains people in the art of mediation.

"Of course, I'd had some practice at getting people to agree on things beforehand. And I was thinking of opening up a junior college down in Tunica," Chandler jests.

In fact, not only is mediating a serious business, Chandler has already achieved some serious results. Accepting civil cases referred to him by his former colleagues on the Shelby County bench with the concurrence of the contending principals, Chandler has resolved several -- including a dispute between the city and county, on the one hand, and the company which originally outfitted The Pyramid for acoustics (that one was settled for a sum in the neighborhood of $800,000).

He also got the parties in a suit concerning death by fire to agree on an appropriate compensatory sum. "I had one case that was in my hands by 2 o'clock and out again by 3 o'clock," Chandler remembers. Most of his work is free-lance, at $200 an hour, but he sometimes works at a rate of $150 an hour, with Resolute Systems, a mediating firm.

"I'm not totally sold on doing this. Sometimes I'd like to sit out under a shade tree," Chandler says.

And what about Millie, the pet poodle who used to sit with Judge Chandler and nuzzle him while he heard cases in Circuit Court? Does she figure in his new assignments?

"Not yet, but I'm getting her ready," Chandler promises.

(Of course, there are already those who believe that the genial but sometimes gruff-sounding Chandler's bark is worse than his bite. Millie's presence on the mediating team might unduly complicate matters.)

North Second a Priority for '97

by Phil Campbell

CITY OFFICIALS HAVE TO WAIT another month before finding out which road projects the state will fund. Still, they know a top priority this year is the expansion and extension of North Second Street, which has been on the city's wish list since 1969.

If funded, an extended North Second -- looping eastward and connecting to Interstate 40 at Thomas Street -- would serve as a better link between the Frayser area and downtown Memphis. The widened street would be a six-lane parkway.

The total project is estimated to cost $55 million, but lobbyists and planners alike say getting any amount of money this year will be enough to launch the plan. Once a construction project has begun to receive funds, it is much easier to persuade the state to finish it.

And getting the money is only the first step. After that, a host of other problems have to be dealt with, such as conducting environmental studies and awarding construction contracts. The North Second Street project is unique because the Greenlaw neighborhood would have to be decertified as a historic district to allow the road to go through. Historic homes there would probably be physically moved by the city to make way for the road, says Clark Odor, transportation planning manager with the Office of Planning and Development.

The city defined the project as its top priority during meetings with the county through the Office of Planning and Development. Memphis' chief administrative officer, Rick Masson, says the project was at the top of the list for both the county and city. Striking a more neutral tone, Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout says that the county will go along with the plan if it can get the necessary funding.

Bill Moore, executive planner for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, says state funding decisions for road projects will be made in mid-March.

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