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VOL. 123 | NO. 224 | Friday, November 14, 2008

Monday Vote Could Make — or Break — Bass Pro Agreement

By Bill Dries

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INTROSPECTION: Memphis Housing & Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb, left, and city bond counsel Charles Carpenter watched as the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted this week to recommend against the Bass Pro Shops development agreement for The Pyramid. -- PHOTO BY Bill Dries

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners’ vote on a development agreement for Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid will probably be close Monday if this week’s vote by a committee is any indication.

Monday’s vote will make or break the plan to lease The Pyramid to the hunting and fishing retailer. The one-year development agreement to precede a lease goes to the 13-member body with a negative recommendation from the commission’s Economic Development & Tourism Committee.

The recommendation is not binding on the full commission. But it is an indication that the commission remains much more critical of the deal than counterparts on the Memphis City Council.

Shadows of doubt

The council has already approved the development agreement. Shelby County government owns part of The Pyramid with the city but none of the parking lot space around the building. The commission voted down a proposed selloff of its interest in The Pyramid as well as Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and The Mid-South Coliseum.

The Herenton administration would have paid county government $5 million for the county share.

County Commissioner Mike Ritz doubted that Bass Pro would meet quarterly deadlines in the development agreement, given current economic conditions. The downturn is affecting proposed projects of similar scale across the country.

“I think we really have a situation where this contract isn’t going to be met,” Ritz said. “I don’t think the opportunity to develop a project like this anywhere in the United States is on the reasonable horizon.”

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker voted no after asking whether the city and county would have to come up with $30 million if proposed new market tax credits and sales tax revenue from a Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) comes up short.

“Have the county and city got to come up with that money?” Bunker asked city bond counsel Charles Carpenter.

“We would have to come up with the funds, that’s correct,” Carpenter answered.

“Whew, no way, no way,” Bunker replied.

Temporary setback

Carpenter’s answer hasn’t been that direct in past question-and-answer sessions, and Carpenter as well as Robert Lipscomb have said the project would be scaled back if the revenue from tax credits and the TDZ come up short. Lipscomb is the city’s director of Housing and Community Development.

After the vote, Carpenter and Lipscomb said the tax incentives and financing are already resolved to cover the $30 million in public improvements both governments would be responsible for, without going to the general fund revenue streams for either government.

“We’re past that,” Lipscomb told The Daily News. “We have more than the adequate dollars to cover the $30 million.”

Bass Pro Shops CEO Jim Hagale had wanted the development agreement voted up or down by mid-September. But Lipscomb said so far Hagale is still waiting.

“Despite the upheaval in the capital markets, despite the frustration, I think he’s still saying let’s get it done. But I don’t know how long that can go on,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a day-to-day proposition. Everything is getting worse.”

Carpenter said he was frustrated.

“There are a lot of what ifs. There are a lot of different changes in the marketplace,” he told The Daily News. “It doesn’t appear that we can go forward because it’s just the same questions that will be recycled all the time.”

The committee vote on the development agreement was a 4-to-4 tie, which means it goes to the full commission with a negative recommendation.

Committee chairman James Harvey initially said the tie vote amounted to no recommendation.

“Come on,” said Commissioner Steve Mulroy, who voted no. “You’ll take care of it on Monday, but it failed.”

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