Thursday, May 08, 2008

Fishy Project Wastes Pyramid Potential

We’ve made no secret of our disdain for plans to use The Pyramid for a massive Bass Pro Shop.

In a sentence, it’s an abysmal use of a civic icon and sends a message to every person driving by it about the low expectations and even lower ambitions of our city.

While some City Council members worry about the $600,000 a year in maintenance and utilities that is now spent on the empty arena, we worry more about the negative perceptions from putting a giant Bass Pro Shop as the welcome mat to our city. That cost is incalculable.

Asking The Right Question

As we’ve mentioned before, we seem to have come to this point because city and county officials have worked so hard for so many months to answer the wrong question. The real question is not what can we put inside The Pyramid, but what can we do that sends a positive message about Memphis and its future?

When you ask the wrong question, you inevitably come up with the wrong answer. And that's what Bass Pro Shop feels like to us.

As we posted on February 24, even a novice to the ways of government could tell that Greg Ericson was getting the runaround with his idea for a theme park in the building, and although we can’t be counted as strong supporters for that proposal, we do think that local government has shamed itself with a process that has been characterized by a total lack of objectivity, transparency and accountability.

Buffalo’ing Us

We have frequently chronicled the store’s manipulations in Buffalo with a project strikingly similar to our own and Bass Pro Shop’s proven ability to wring tax money out of local governments under the guise of incentives for jobs.

That’s about to happen here to the tune of about $30 million, and it just seems that if the business proposition for the megastore makes sense, we wouldn’t have to entice the store to do it. There is no justification or logic to putting public money into a retail project.

Meanwhile, the so-called development agreement with Bass Pro Shop is so one-sided that it is a monument to the difficulty that government lawyers have in negotiating tough business deals. Memphis City Councilman Shea Flinn and Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz have pointed out these failings in detail.

Driving The Deal

Bass Pro Shop was in the driver’s seat when this whole sad display began three and a half years ago, and nothing has changed. To this point, the retailer has made no serious commitment to the project while local government has thrown more and more into the deal as sweeteners.

Because of its architectural stature, one thing should be true about The Pyramid: it should symbolize our confidence as a people and speak to our ambition as a city.

Can we really say that our city’s ambition is truly captured in a Bass Pro Shop in the signature building on our doorstep?


All of this conjures up flashbacks to the Shlenker Era, and what slow learners we must be.

What is the main lesson from those day?

It’s simply this - it wasn’t Mr. Shlenker’s cleverness or his charisma or his guile that conned us into giving him the keys to the Pyramid. Rather, it was our own neediness and feelings of unworthiness, which manifested itself in the deadly notion that we have no right to deserve the best.

Great To Good

Instead, good is always just good enough for Memphis, and we think we’re lucky to get it. Our city fathers profess to have great ambitions for Memphis. This is their chance to prove it. This is their chance to aim high.

Right now, with yet another push by local government for Bass Pro shop, it unfortunately is beginning to feel like the same old Memphis to us.

All in all, Bass Pro Shop in The Pyramid is a dreadful decision, but then again, maybe others are capable of conjuring up pride in a skyline adorned with the 3,000 square foot logo of a leaping bass on all four sides of our signature building.

At that point, it would be a 55-year symbol that we have gullibly swallowed the latest big promise hook, line and sinker.


sherman said...

Tell me again why Robert Lipscomb is (still) paid to run this farce of a negotiation.

Warning, Mid-town! This same guy is in charge of the Fairgrounds' redevelopment. Yikes!

If Bass Pro is dumb enough to run the clock out for three more years, Lipscomb will have a professional, qualified replacement by then and this deal might go away.

Odds are Bass Pro figures this out and signs the deal, & Memphis gets screwed twice by 2 different mayors on the Pyramid.

b said...

great post. thank you

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everything you have said here.

So what barriers do they have now in bringing Bass Pro to the Pyramid? The City Council? The County Commission? Do one or both of these bodies have to approve before it's a done deal?

If so, then maybe it's time to put pressure on them.

bob said...

Lipscomb doesn't know diddly squat about negotiating. You only have to look at his job description:

Pick up a swath of Memphis on the cheap, under threat of eminent domain. Hand it over to Henry Turley. Rinse, repeat.

Next to the Mayor, he is the infinitely* most overrated Memphis City employee.

*i.e., put a zero in the denominator

Anonymous said...

Lipscomb does not appear particularly good at his job, but I can't understand why people are so upset about the demise of the theme park idea. It was a horrible idea with no realistic chance of success. The proponents certainly didn't present any compelling studies or research to indicate that this proposal would be economically viable; in the meantime, we have sold off the Pyramid and more importantly Mud Island to private developers. The best thing that can happen is for someone to finally show some leadership, cut ties with Bass Pro, and open the whole area up for proposals. Or just tear the ridiculous building down altogether.

bob said...

I think people are upset because, while Ericson's proposal was on the table, there was an alternative to Bass Pro and therefore a competition, which is always good for getting real give-and-take negotiations going no matter what the idea's merit.

I don't think anyone was going to just hand over Mud Island to Ericson, much less without a serious evaluation of the business plan. I hope to god we're not that stupid. Oh wait. I forgot. We are.

But no serious evaluation of Ericson was ever done. Lipscomb had his marching orders.

I personally would have considered a theme park AND a casino, like the one in Vegas. Of course, laws would not allow that.

So now the best option outside of Bass Pro (ugh) is the Smart City's sensible recommendation: consolidate with the convention center and add hotel space.

Anonymous said...

If the City Council and County Commission would just reject the Bass Pro proposal outright, we could move on to getting some designs and realistic proposals about expanding the convention center which would incorporate The Pyramid. I have always thought the Bass Pro idea was absurd. We need more hotel rooms, we need an expanded convention center, and we have the opportunity to do it now.