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VOL. 123 | NO. 53 | Monday, March 17, 2008

Turley Looks East But Keeps an Eye Downtown

By Bill Dries

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COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTOR: Developer Henry Turley talked about his Fair Ground LLC partnership and the effort to lure Bass Pro Shops to The Pyramid as he accepted the 2008 Outstanding Community Senior Award last week from the Memphis Kiwanis Club. -- Photo By Bill Dries

Downtown developer Henry Turley is going east these days. The developer of Harbor Town, South Bluffs, parts of South Main and other Downtown projects is touting the Mid-South Fairgrounds these days.

But he still found time to talk last week about the development of The Pyramid, in particular the idea of a Bass Pro Shops, as he accepted the annual Outstanding Community Senior Award from the Memphis Kiwanis Club.

Turley is a partner in one of two firms competing for the job of redeveloping the fairgrounds owned by the city of Memphis. His Fair Ground LLC is awaiting a request for proposal from the city that maps out what is expected of whoever is selected in April to complete the project.

The other entity competing with Fair Ground is a Chicago company, Draper and Kramer, which is partnering with Bulls Development Co. of Alabama.

Three of Turley's partners in Fair Ground - broadcast executive Art Gilliam; developer, investor and Shelby County Board of Commissioners member J.W. Gibson; and investment banker Mark Yates - were on hand for the Kiwanis honor.

Hard-working partnership

Turley said Gibson pitched what Gibson termed a "real black-white partnership." Turley is white. Gibson, Gilliam and Yates are black.

"By real, he meant everybody puts up capital - financial capital, intellectual capital and hard work," Turley said.

Yates said the hard work includes telephone calls from Turley before or after regular business hours that dispense with the formalities of hello and begin with his latest thoughts on a Mid-South Fairgrounds that mixes the residential with recreation uses and retail.

"It marries perfectly with what we think needs to happen on those 170 acres in Midtown," Yates said. "Let's face it. It's a blight on our community. It's under-utilized."

A key and controversial part of the redevelopment process is the designation of the fairgrounds as a Tourism Development Zone (TDZ), with sales tax revenue from projects on the property put into public infrastructure connected to the project. Turley and another of his partners, developer Bob Loeb, lobbied in Nashville for the TDZ late last year.

Gilliam said it was a spur of the moment decision by Turley in which Turley enlisted Yates, Gilliam and Gibson with little advance notice. The effort later received the backing of the Herenton administration, which is overseeing the fairgrounds development competition. Turley's role as competitor for the job and lobbying force for the TDZ designation has remained controversial.

Thanks but no thanks

Asked about the goal of finding a new use for The Pyramid, Turley, who isn't involved in either the Bass Pro Shops or Ericson Group proposals, said he originally pitched a similar Pyramid-type proposal to one of Bass Pro's chief rivals in the hunting and fishing retail industry - Cabela's.

Getting nowhere with them, Turley said he then turned to Bass Pro hoping to get his foot in the door through Memphian Mike Rose, chairman of the board of Gaylord Entertainment, which is a corporate partner of Bass Pro.

"I don't hear back from Mike and later I look in the paper and see there's a Bass Pro deal pending. I call Mike and say, 'I never heard from you and yet you're making a Bass Pro deal.' He said, 'Henry, you didn't tell me you'd forgive the debt.'" Turley recalled, referring to the debt still owed by the city and county on The Pyramid.

In announcing tentative terms of a development agreement with Bass Pro earlier this year, Pyramid project director Robert Lipscomb said the city approached Bass Pro about coming to The Pyramid based on a reuse task force recommendation.

Turley said other Memphis business leaders who have worked with Bass Pro have told him the retailer delivers on claims that it draws a loyal base of customers who come from long distances. But he said they've also told him "dealing with them is excruciating."

PROPERTY SALES 0 291 21,272
MORTGAGES 0 160 16,194
BUILDING PERMITS 258 692 41,920
BANKRUPTCIES 1 117 6,579