Once Upon a Time 

City Council and County Commission members discuss the future of the Pyramid.

Apparently, we've gone from fish tales to fairy tales.

Last week, at a joint City Council/County Commission meeting, council members asked their across-the-street frenemies to approve the Bass Pro Pyramid development deal. Either that, or hand over their set of keys to the iconic structure.

"Give us the building," said council member Barbara Swearengen Ware. "Let us sign a deal with Bass Pro and live happily ever after."

But county commissioners aren't convinced that Bass Pro is their Prince Charming.

"I don't think the deal is a good deal," said County Commissioner Mike Ritz. "I think we'd be much better off giving it to them if they pay property taxes on it."

Under the proposed Bass Pro development deal, the outdoors retailer would have 12 months to sign a lease on the Pyramid. During that time, Bass Pro would pay $35,000 each month. The development agreement also includes a financial penalty if Bass Pro backs out of the deal.

"I would think the rent — $15 million over 15 years — would be superior to selling it," said city CFO Robert Lipscomb. He argued that if they sold the Pyramid property to Bass Pro, the Missouri-based company would probably apply for tax-exempt status under the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program.

"The upshot of this deal is that we have a deal. And in these economic times, we should be happy we have a deal," Lipscomb said.

So maybe Bass Pro isn't Prince Charming.

Maybe it's, as City Council member Shea Flinn put it, "the only date to the dance."

"The development agreement will put money into our pockets now and let us go forward," Flinn said. "If not, then what's next?"

I don't know if Bass Pro is the best use for a building so ingrained into the region's collective psyche. (In the most recent phone book, there were 27 "Pyramid" businesses, including Pyramid Beauty School, Pyramid Alarm System, Pyramid Used Cars, and Pyramid Herbal Sales.)

But I do agree that, at this point, Bass Pro is the only date to the dance. Mostly because the other suitors — an indoor amusement park and a Baptist Church, among them — weren't deemed marriage material.

"Were they financially feasible?" Lipscomb asked. "I think that's the issue."

Maybe they weren't. But, as with any good morality play, I'm not sure that's the only issue.

At the same meeting, City Council and County Commission members discussed a joint 911 call center. Because of fees levied on cell phones and landlines, the local 911 board has $18 million to spend on a new facility.

But negotiations between the city and the county broke down recently.

"At the end, it came down to who's backing the bonds," said city CAO Keith McGee. "The city felt the county should do it. The city is part of Shelby County. The county felt the city should do it. We couldn't come to an agreement, so the project stopped."

The cost for the new center was estimated at $48 million. Memphis also expects to pay roughly $25 million for new equipment, and, since the city will already have to back bonds for that funding, McGee said it wasn't fair for the city to have to back the bonds for the building, too.

But the alternative doesn't have $18 million already levied and ready to go.

"Our taxpayers will have a heavier burden," Jim Strickland said, "and that to me is not fairness."

The issue of fairness between the city and the county comes up a lot. Council member Wanda Halbert called the county out for shirking their financial responsibilities toward the Mid-South Coliseum but then asked commissioners why they weren't doing the same thing with the Pyramid.

And maybe that's one of the problems with our bifurcated government: There's always a chance for the suspicion that one side is getting the short end of the stick.

Or, rather, that they're Cinderella and the evil stepsisters are living it up at the ball.

I know the idea of Bass Pro at the Pyramid sticks in some people's throats like Sleeping Beauty's poisoned apple, but it's probably time to cut our losses and move on.

Bass Pro might not be Prince Charming, but there's no fairy godmother out there, either.



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