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VOL. 123 | NO. 22 | Friday, February 01, 2008

City, County Reach Tentative Deal With Bass Pro

By Bill Dries

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The city of Memphis and Shelby County government have a tentative deal with Bass Pro Shops to develop The Pyramid.

Word of a deal, but no terms, emerged Thursday evening after three years of negotiations with Bass Pro executives. The close of business Thursday marked the expiration of a third non-binding letter of intent between city and county government and the sporting goods chain of stores.

The agreement is a next step toward a binding and specific agreement that would begin work on a conversion of The Pyramid from an arena to a retail and mixed-use space with a Bass Pro superstore as its centerpiece.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said earlier this week that the announcement of an agreement Thursday would not mean a done deal but rather lead to a set of specific terms still to be reviewed.

“There is still an extended period of time when the parties do due diligence. They just elevate their commitment by signing a formal letter of intent. And sometimes they can have all kind of contingencies in them,” Herenton told reporters Tuesday.

The agreement came two days after Memphis City Council members and Shelby County Commissioners toured the Bass Pro superstore in Springfield, Mo., that is also the company’s headquarters. The tour at the invitation of company officials came as terms were still being negotiated. Those negotiations continued into Thursday evening.

City Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb was point man for the city and county governments in the protracted talks, with the Herenton administration taking a lead role in the discussions.

Lipscomb remained confident an agreement with Bass Pro would be reached even when The Ericson Group unveiled its $250 million plan to develop the Pyramid space with a theme park. The pyramid would be the centerpiece of a 90-acre development known as Pyramid Harbor that would take in Mud Island park and the surrounding riverfront.

Greg Ericson, president and CEO of The Ericson Group, was among those watching most of Thursday in anticipation of some kind of announcement.

“I think no matter what happens today, we are by far the strongest proposal on the table," Ericson said Thursday night. "I think that anybody that looks at both of them objectively would always come to the same conclusion. Pyramid Harbor is the best thing to go with.

“The city and county officials didn’t have to drive six hours in a bus to meet our partners. They flew in from Europe. They flew in from New York. They flew in from Florida to meet the city and county officials here in Memphis. That, to me, shows how serious we are about the project.”

Ericson’s plan initially got a chilly reception from local government. But the prospect of extending the letter of intent with Bass Pro past the end of January with another plan on the table prompted Mayor Willie Herenton to say in December that if there was to be a deal with Bass Pro the tentative terms would have to be worked out by Jan. 31.

He repeated that as recently as Tuesday at the Memphis Rotary Club even as he said the Bass Pro plan “represents the best” option on the table.

“I want to bring closure to this issue,” he said.

While Herenton expressed a clear preference for the Bass Pro proposal, he was careful to say that an agreement by the Bass Pro deadline would not necessarily rule out the rival proposal by the Ericson Group.

“I think the Ericson proposal deserves critical examination. I think you’ve got to do due diligence on their proposal – the same kind of due diligence that we’re doing with Bass (Pro) – to kind of figure out if there is really any depth and reality to their proposal.”

Lipscomb is prepared to hire three or more consultants to examine the Ericson Group’s proposal, according to Herenton.

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