Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Answers To The Question Of The Week: Fishing For Answers For The Pyramid

One thing about our questions of the week. They always spark an interesting discussion, and we thank you for it.

This time around, the question was:

What should Memphis do to put The Pyramid to its best use? What objective should city government have in mind as it considers options for the arena? If the choices are Bass Pro Shop and Pyramid Adventure, do you have a preference? Or do you vote “none of the above?”

Here’s what you had to say about it, along with some words from the widow of Sidney Shlenker:

Joe Spake said…
This one has baffled me for a while. I personally don't care for either of the plans, especially for Downtown. I was in a focus group a few years ago about what to do with the building, and never heard any results. I am not sure there were any conclusions.

How about sponsoring a contest for architects (nationwide or worldwide) to come up with some workable uses for the building? Maybe the product of that would generate some interest from developers with money in hand, ready to do a project that would enhance Memphis and Downtown.

OR....the City/County could call John Roebuck.

Anonymous said… I bid $10, and that's probably more than anyone has actually put on the table so far.

Bob said…
Have you been asleep since that focus group, Joe?

In 2005 a re-use committee headed up by Scott Ledbetter was formed to look at best uses. They commissioned a study from some outside national consultants (they ultimately recommended tourism/retail uses). The committee looked at 50 proposals, including the theme park idea from Ericson. Your focus group was probably part of that process. Conclusions (quoting from a CA article 8/31/2005):

The Pyramid committee's first priority remains luring a major destination retailer, said chairman Scott Ledbetter.

"I believe we will ultimately end up with a commercial retailer plus hopefully some type of entertainment and/or social services activity, such as 'United Nations of Children,' " he said.

However, an entertainment option has drawn more committee interest than social service-type proposals because of the potential tourist draw and economic impact to Downtown businesses.

The committee has shown the most enthusiasm for an indoor theme park, proposed by a locally led group including marketing executive Greg Ericson. Another prominent idea is an aquarium, proposed by a group led by local architects Barry Yoakum and Todd Walker.

Pennsylvania-based Don Lessem, an adviser to the movie "Jurassic Park," has suggested an attraction showcasing the history of life through rides, robotic dinosaurs and more.

Ledbetter has said the destination retailer is the key to arena redevelopment, because of his belief that an entertainment attraction alone likely wouldn't be financially viable.

Destination retail could range from an upscale factory outlet mall to outdoor giants Bass Pro or Cabela's.

"I really think we're weeks, not months, from being able to have narrowed down the field to one or only a few destination retailers that we will continue to work with," Ledbetter said.


Apparently, Herenton and Lipscomb grabbed the ball and fixated on one retailer and that's where we've been stalled for going on three years. All the other ideas (good or bad) were tossed out the window.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, maybe what we should do is re-form the committee, perhaps with a new, open-minded chairman, and start back where the orginal committee left off when Herenton took over.

Anonymous said...
Take a lesson from Atlanta. Blow it up.

Anonymous said...
Why don't we use it and all that parking for special events, starting with the Mid-South Fair, and move the musical festivals off Tom Lee Park, so we don't have to wait months for the grass to grow back and the park to look decent again.

Langley said...
The Pyramid is quite an amazing building and holds a lot of intrigue to visitors that maybe Memphians don't understand. On a good day, there are many cars pulling into the parking lot to take pictures in front of the abandoned arena. That's not normal for abandoned buildings. The building has lure and it could be world class. The view from the top is one of the best in Memphis, but only a handful of us have actually seen the 360 panorama of the river and city because you have to hike the 400 stairs zigzagging to the top. The view needs to be an Arch-like attraction. It needs to have a bar or coffee shop up there, as it is a big space and would be a great spot to sit and relax. Multiple elevators needed to be installed to go to the top.

The key to making the Pyramid successful is not necessrily going to be its use, but more so developing the asphalt parking lots around it, making the river accessible to the facility, and creating a pinch district that has fluidity with the pyramid.

The Beale Street landing will be built and it would be great to create smaller landings on Mud Island and at the Pyramid. Put in water taxis and encourage kayaking and small boating. This would be huge in connecting the Pyramid and bringing viable transportation to the area because right now the only way to get there is by car. Transportation is going to be the key to this facility and area. Get public transport to it and the whole area will come to life around whatever use the Pyramid eventually becomes.

Finally, the use of the Pyramid needs to be focused on the long-term. We need to think in the direction of the Pyramid becoming an icon that people driving through and visiting can continue to drive up and take pictures with the Pyramid of Memphis. It should no longer be the Tomb of Doom but a Beacon of Hope. The top is all glass, let's light it up as a symbol to the city.

Anonymous said...
1. hold joint meeting of city council, county commission, both mayors inside pyramid.

2. roll rock in front of entrance like Tarzan did in movie.

3. move on.

b said...
A theme park would be better than a giant bait store.

jccvi said...
The thing that excites me most, at least from a possibility standpoint, in the Ericson proposal is the inclusion of retail. Some would say that Peabody Place should stand as an argument against a shopping mall downtown, and to some extent the criticism is well placed. A shopping mall with stores designed solely to lure tourists is probably not the best idea. It seems to me that one of the reasons Peabody Place's retail element has failed is lack of reason for Downtown residents to go more than once or twice a month.

If I'm buying a loaf of bread or picking up a bottle of wine for dinner, I might stop in to see what's on sale at the Gap. I'm not going to pay to park and walk ten minutes to do the same at Peabody Place.

On the other hand, if the stores included benefited the surrounding communities, Uptown, Mud Island, in particular, but also the rest of Downtown, North Memphis, and the northern edge of Midtown (it takes less than five minutes to get to the Pinch from Evergreen, VECA, Crosstown, and Speedway Terrace). These would ideally include a grocery store with a mix of high end and affordable goods, but also stores where everyday items, like school uniforms and books, could be bought.

((Dare I say it, a Super Target would be fantastic here, especially if designed well. Not only would it stop the drain of Downtowners shopping at the Marion Wal-mart, it might actually draw Arkansans here. Not only that, someone living out east but working downtown could avoid rush hour traffic and the snarl of Gtown Parkway by stopping here on the way home)).

With the idea of integrating the surrounding neighborhoods into the retail concept, bike riders, trolley riders, and pedestrians should be encouraged to shop at the Pyramid. Crosswalk improvements throughout the Pinch would encourage this, as well as possibly putting a pedestrian bridge across to Mud Island. A bike station along these lines http://www.chicagobikestation.com/
would also be a great addition. Perhaps retailers could come into agreements with MATA to validate trolley tickets.

I'm somewhat leery of a theme park as a day-to-day attraction, but a well thought out retail plan probably redeems its limitations. If the theme park includes strong educational elements and programs such that it becomes a year round field trip destination for schools throughout the region, then I change my tune on this point.

With all that said and aside from the sour taste in my mouth that grows worse with every new "non-binding letter of intent" (what is that, like a promise ring?), I think the Bass Pro Shop would be a great addition, if not the best. Whenever I hear "giant bait shop" I cringe a bit. To call a Bass Pro Shop a giant bait shop is like calling Neiman Marcus a glorified Freds. You'd be right, but not in the smug way you think. A large scale Bass Pro Shop is like a free theme park. My sister took her kids to the one in Fort Worth once a week at least.

If Bass Pro doesn't end up downtown, I certainly hope an outdoor retailer of some kind, REI, Cabela, even Outdoors, Inc. or a sporting goods place like Dick's end up downtown at some point. It's a natural fit for our sorely underutilized outdoor recreational activities downtown.

Aaron said...
jccvi; Great suggestions. Something that would benefit the local community would be a great idea.

A super Target would be a great start in addition.

I am a big fan of Trader Joes and seeing as to how there are none in Memphis, this could be a potential big draw for local residency since Joes is a store that would be well appreciated urbanites and the general demographic you find in Downtown and Midtown.

Perhaps you mix those two stores together and you have a winning combination as they are indeed much needed stores in the area. Perhaps mix some educational opportunities in as you suggested and we might have a chance.

As you mentioned, the Peabody fails due to it's lack of uniqueness and difficulty finding parking. The Pyramid solves this.

Nice post.

jccvi said...
I've been told in the past that Trader Joe's will never open a store in Tennessee because they make so much of their profit off wine sales. That said, Whole Foods has opened a store in Nashville, so they might be possibility (even if a more expensive one). A quick google search revealed that 2500 people have signed a petition to get Trader Joe's to come to Nashville.

Branston said...
I think the Ledbetter-Garrott committee met the fate of other committees and was forgotten and coopted by city officials. I had high hopes for them. I like the idea of things that work in concert with Beale Street Landing, boats, bikes, kayaks, etc. And the lessons of Peabody Place, as noted, are important. I'm not much of a hunter, fisherman, or shopper, but I have to say Bass Pro, as seen in Nashville and Jackson, is an interesting place to spend a couple of hours, and it costs nothing beyond what you spend on merchandise, its appeal cuts across age, gender, and race, and it gets repeat visits and kicks off some revenue to the city. It's no bait shop, see Jackson, MS. As noted, the view from top of pyramid is great. There should be a day or something where its open for inspection to anyone who wants to climb the steps. I bet a lot of people would come and it might shape some thinking.

Anonymous said...
If Bass Pro goes into the Pyramid, there's not a more damning indictment of the future of downtown and the vision of our elected officials. In that context, it almost seems to be destined.

Who's supposed to see our most dominant building festooned with a 200 foot fish on the side and think this is a city on the move?

Why not make the pyramid part of the convention complex so there'd already be funds dedicated to it?

Bob said...
anonymous 8:47 is right on.

The BPS deal is strictly tactical, intended to get Pyramid "off the books" and out of mind. It does nothing really strategic for the city. What's worse is that you know that they'll sell out the city to complete the transaction. After all, the point man is Robert Lipscomb, whose main job for years has been nothing more than to give away whatever necessary to certain favored developers in return for taking our blight "off the books."

I imagine we'll effectively be paying Bass Pro rent to occupy the Pyramid.

Strategic thinking would look at what can be done with the Pyramd as an overall plan - in combination with other city assets - to improve the city, both quality of life and economically.

Ericson's proposal at least has some elements of strategy. Sell him the Pyramid and we'll get back 400-800 hotel rooms needed to get us up to a level where we are more attractive to larger conventions. Not saying we would want to hand him Mud Island -- but I'll bet more would get done to upgrade it, and a lot faster, than with the current management - which has NO money and is just hanging out waiting for the coast to clear so their land bridge can make a come back.

B said...
Another thing that is appealing about the Ericson proposal is that its aesthetics...If the drawings are followed, the ugly infrastructure usually associated with theme parks and thrill rides won't be visible to passersby. Even the most ardent supporters of Libertyland would have to agree it was and still is butt ugly when you're passing by on East Parkway.

I wish we'd get a Trader Joe's here, too. Break the stranglehold Whole Foods now has. It's a drag having to drive 20 minutes to get decent organics.

Anonymous said...
The Pyramid Adventure would provide both a better image and fulfill a need that is lacking in Memphis more than Bass Pro Shop would.

Thanks to one of the most incompetent public boards in this area, the Fair Board, Libertyland is gone. We are in bad need of a recreational park to take its place. The Pyramid Adventure proposal sounds like a possibility but it should be handled with caution (remember Sidney Shlenker?). It appears to be legitimate and well founded but we do not need another grand scheme that falls on its face.

I believe the only one keeping the Bass Pro Shop alive is Mayor Herenton. He obviously is telling his allies how to vote as shown by the three votes against the Mulroy proposal by Chism and company.

Anonymous said...
I read Char's comment before it was deleted. I would like to know the background of why the pyramid was located in a hole at Auction and Front, rather than on the South Bluff, where it would have been much more prominent, and would probably be a more sought after location today. I have always heard a local politician owned the land the pyramid sits on and that he made a huge profit off the sale. Or was it the powers that be thought the south bluff would be better used if turned over to residential development.

Smart City Consulting said...
Actually, despite all the mythology surrounding why The Pyramid is located where it is today, the answer is pretty straightforward. Although it was considered for the South Bluffs originally, it just seemed like that area had a much higher use than for an arena and the acres and acres of asphalt for parking rather than new residential uses and adaptive reuse of the existing buildings.

The northern site was chosen because it was in bankruptcy court as a result of the fall of the Butcher empire and the resulting fall of an East Tennessee developer. The land wasn't owned by any politician and the payment for the land was made to federal bankruptcy court.

At the time, the northern site seemed like it offered the chance to revitalize the Pinch district with the building's promises of a 365-day a year attractions. Sadly, it ended up removing a number of buildings to make way for parking lots that stand vacant today.

In the end, The Pyramid project as a whole was ill-fated, once more reflecting Memphi' tendency to chase a big idea promised at a bargain basement cost. It ended up just not being the first-class facility that was needed or promised.

It was a case of city-county governments doing something based on who wanted it, rather than what was needing to be accomplished.

WWH said...
It was a case of city-county governments doing something based on who wanted it, rather than what was needing to be accomplished.

Amen, bro.

Anonymous said…
The Pyramid Adventure project, taken as whole (hotels and all) looks great. Once again, I must say "show me the money" for the whole project. This is definitely not the time for another Shlenker boondoogle. Remember the piecemeal way he tore up Mud Island and then ran out of money?

BTW-isn't it interesting that the design of the building allows pigeons to roost on the leeward side?

Anonymous said…
I like the idea of harnessing the "power of the pyramid" and using the facility as a staging site for alternative energy. The idea made a brief appearance in the mayoral campaign, and as expected, immediately evaporated. Why not be on the forefront for once instead of looking for the biggest buck? Sounds a bit outlandish, I know, but hey - you asked. Feel free to throw this fish back in the pond, but as the previous comment already states, no Shlenker heists!

Char said…
Tear it down and build condos.

No, I’m kidding... but I can see our wondermus govm't trying something that **** outlandish. I like the alternative energy idea alright. And the pyramid adventure project sounds pretty do-able. A casino wouldn't be a bad idea if our economy was a little better. Or maybe we could get a NBA team to play there? Oh wait…

And finally, we heard from Denise Shlenker, widow of Sidney Shlenker…

COMMENT AND RANT FROM DENISE SHLENKER: First allow me to address (name deleted), who is such a coward he cannot put his last name. You disrespect your own city, you disrespect my husband, my name, my family. We came to Memphis because of an evil man and his wife whom both milked us for everything we were worth. My husband until this day gave more to that city than most people that live there today. He gave most of his blood, reputation, time and the time, money and reputations of his partners and friends. He, my friend, wanted to see the city a jewel for all to see. He sold his team in order to come to Memphis to build this project and to buy a team that the city so desired and deserved.

He had many friends who tried to talk him out of this. They hated Memphis and a lot of the crooked people who run it. May I say now that he was ruined by these people - financially, respectfully and professionally. He was a Southern man with southern roots who loved Memphis. He was born in Monroe, Louisiana and lived in Houston. He was a very smart man and entrepreneur, a man who made things happen when others could not.

He was no "huckster" and I take great offense from all of the bad articles written about my husband Sidney. We have three grown children and they are very proud of their father. He was a master promoter and he changed the world in many ways. You don’t know anything about Sidney Shlenker, and I promise you that I will get the word out from now on. He meant more to Memphis than any of the people who say they give a shit.

At the 11th hour, he did what he said he would do. Can any of you say you could raise those millions of dollars? Can any of you? Then when he finally delivers, some brainless, stupid, disgusting person of whom I will not name names writes a letter to the bank causing the bank to withdraw their loan. It disgusts me because not only did it bankrupt my husband but it robbed the city of its morality and respect of which it so desperately needed.

Elvis is not the only "pony show" in that town and he wanted great things for this city. He worked with Gore and everyone else for baseball, basketball, television and pay-per-view. Memphis owes a lot to Sidney Shlenker.
Again, I will say he was not a perfect man, I am his wife and I know. People should not be judged by their failures because if so no one would have the courage to do anything in fear of failing. Anyone who wants to comment can bring concerns to me at my email.

4 comments:

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Tom Guleff said...

Mr J,

Here's some background from a 1992 series from the CA by Louis Graham on The Pyramid.


http://river.freshbits.com/library/1992/10/pyramid-dreams-pyramid-schemes-part-1.html

Smart City Consulting said...

Here's also some background from a previous post: http://smartcitymemphis.blogspot.com/search?q=shlenker

Anonymous said...

Listen, we know the Pyramid will hold water. so why not fill it up to say, the first tier, stock it with maybe catfish, and then use the concession stands as bait shops! Win, Win!!