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VOL. 123 | NO. 195 | Monday, October 6, 2008

Commission to Consider Selling Arenas

By Bill Dries

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DEAL REVIEW: Shelby County Board of Commissioners chairwoman Deidre Malone, left, county Chief Administrative Officer Jim Huntzicker and city Housing & Community Development director Robert Lipscomb look over the endorsement of The Pyramid Bass Pro Shops deal. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners are set to vote today on selling the county’s share of The Pyramid, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the Mid-South Coliseum.

Passage of the resolution would take county government out of the pending deal for Bass Pro Shops to develop The Pyramid as a super store and the site of other attractions.

The city of Memphis would pay the county $5 million to become the sole owner of all three attractions effective in June.

Meanwhile, the joint city-county Pyramid Reuse Committee closed out its work last week by endorsing the Bass Pro development deal without debate. Bass Pro executives have said they are ready to sign the one-year deal that would be a nonbinding precursor to a long-term lease. If the sell-off is approved, a City Council vote to be scheduled would be the final word on the one-year contract.

Closing out

The four-member reuse committee includes County Commission chairwoman Deidre Malone, City Council member Reid Hedgepeth, county Chief Administrative Officer Jim Huntzicker and city Housing & Community Development director Robert Lipscomb.

The endorsement of the Bass Pro deal would not conflict with the county’s sell-off of its interest in The Pyramid.

But in committee sessions last week, County Commissioner Mike Ritz wanted more specific wording. He wanted a guarantee the county would not be involved in financing of The Pyramid renovation or a pending makeover of the fairgrounds.

Huntzicker said Herenton administration officials recently asked him about the county participating in funding the upkeep of the coliseum, “which we’ve said in a friendly manner we are not going to do,” he told commissioners. “This is just to clarify any question on any county liability referencing any of these properties. When we close, we transfer the titles to them, any and all liabilities be that debt payments, be it operating obligations will be gone.”

Financing issues

Lipscomb and others involved in the financing proposal taking shape said last month that the use of property tax incentives in a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone is no longer an option for financing. That would involve county tax revenue.

The financing proposal is now relying heavily on a portion of sales tax revenue generated in a Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) that includes The Pyramid. County government does not get sales tax revenue.

Ritz said he had no problem with that kind of financing.

“That’s not our money,” he said. “I am not concerned about the sales tax. That to me is smart and if we have to join in a resolution to support that … that’s fine. That’s kind of no harm and no foul.”

Huntzicker said the wording of the resolution is general but has a specific purpose.

“We think we’re in the strongest position to get a clean break, not going beyond the points in the resolution and getting this closed,” he said.

Malone said even if the city asked for county help in financing either The Pyramid or the Mid-South Fairgrounds or both, it’s unlikely to happen.

“They may come back and ask us but why would we do it? … What would we benefit from it – nothing,” she said. “They can come across the street and ask us all day, but it would not be in our best interest to say yes.”

Commissioner Sidney Chism was also hesitant to make the county sell-off terms more specific.

“I don’t know what our interest might be at that point in the game. … I’m not sure I want to go there,” he said. “I know that we have a responsibility and a right on this side of the aisle to say no to any proposal that comes from the city or anywhere else. To put preconditions on what might or might not happen – that’s just going a little bit far.”

PROPERTY SALES 85 205 21,165
MORTGAGES 76 206 24,338
BUILDING PERMITS 183 321 43,755
BANKRUPTCIES 48 92 13,560