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VOL. 123 | NO. 36 | Thursday, February 21, 2008

County Commission Hears Details of Bass Pro Proposal

By Bill Dries

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Pyramid developer Greg Ericson got to sit at the same table as city leaders negotiating the Bass Pro Shops development deal Wednesday before Shelby County Commissioners. But the city’s project manager, Robert Lipscomb, consultant Tom Marshall and three commissioners left the room.

The day after Lipscomb and Marshall took the terms of the tentative deal to City Council members, they made the same presentation to the County Commission – but with a different reaction.

Commissioner Mike Ritz noted that Bass Pro’s rental payments of at least $1 million a year based on a percentage of sales once their proposed attractions are up and running come with the stipulation that the rent amount will be offset by taxes they pay. Ritz argued it is conceivable that Bass Pro could pay more than $1 million in taxes and not pay any rent.

Lipscomb didn’t disagree with the scenario but countered that Bass Pro would still be paying taxes as well as any additional revenue brought in through sales tax and the hotel/ motel tax.

“This is a Bass Pro deal, not a city of Memphis, Shelby County deal,” Ritz said. “It doesn’t even pass the smell test. … We need to bring in people who have done this before many times. … They’re not paying us a dime’s worth of rent in this deal, ever.”

“You have a particular bias against retail and PILOTs (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangements). And I understand that,” Lipscomb replied.

Commissioner Steve Mulroy pushed Lipscomb hard on Lipscomb’s claims that there wasn’t enough financial data on the Ericson Group’s proposal for a theme park in The Pyramid and that the theme park industry is not a wise choice given its fortunes in recent years. Mulroy said Lipscomb was acting as an advocate for Bass Pro.

Lipscomb denied he was pushing the Bass Pro plan by being too harsh about the Ericson plan.

Commissioner Sidney Chism later accused un-named commissioners of tilting the dialogue toward Ericson.

“We’ve got at least one or two commissioners set on pushing an agenda,” he said.

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker made the same observation about other commissioners and Lipscomb.

“There is a strange undercurrent pushing for Bass Pro,” he said. “There’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors this morning that I don’t appreciate.”

The three-hour session began with Lipscomb attempting to tone down some of the rhetoric from Tuesday’s council briefing. Lipscomb was adamant in that presentation that he had virtually no financial information about the Ericson Group’s finances or those of its partners in the venture. Ericson insisted he had given Lipscomb a lot of information and had even met with city and county government officials including Lipscomb to introduce them to his partners.

He accused Lipscomb of telling “lies and falsehoods.”

As Lipscomb began Wednesday, he noted there had been “a lot of rancor.”

“Let’s keep it about the project. It’s not personal,” he said. “There’s too much rancor. There’s too much personality.”

Mulroy moved to give Ericson a chance to speak, a move that drew strong objections from several commissioners.

A roll-call vote allowed Ericson to speak. That’s when Lipscomb and Marshall as well as County Commissioners Deidre Malone, Henri Brooks and Joe Ford left the room.

Mulroy heads the group Save Libertyland!, which has entered into a contract with Ericson to turn over the Zippin Pippin roller coaster from the old Libertyland amusement park for Ericson’s Pyramid Harbor project.

“You don’t pick and choose information and present just the information that makes your side look good,” Ericson said. “We’re not just doing this off the top of our heads. We’ve spent years working on this proposal. … We’ve done everything we’ve been asked. We’ve bent over backwards.”

More detailed stories on the Bass Pro development proposal, its terms and reaction can be found in the Thursday and Friday editions of The Daily News.

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