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VOL. 126 | NO. 22 | Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pyramid Problems Could Move Bass Pro Shops Project

By Bill Dries

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Bass Pro Shops is still committed to a super store and other attractions Downtown, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. told the Memphis City Council Tuesday. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the outdoors retailer is still committed to a conversion of The Pyramid.

And the company no longer wants to be project manager of a combined plan that includes a redevelopment of the Pinch District. The shift is because of new concerns about an old issue – how well The Pyramid would hold up in an earthquake.

Wharton and city Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said state officials are telling the city it has to meet higher seismic standards for retrofitting the structure.

That would make an already expensive process more expensive, starting with a new series of seismic tests costing an estimated $150,000. Bass Pro Shops executives are concerned enough that they want the tests and have been approached about possibly paying half of the cost, Lipscomb said.

The scope of the problems and concerns grew more intense last week.

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and CEO Jim Hagale called Wharton Friday to talk about their concerns, which have altered plans for the opening in 2012 – already an ambitious opening date without the new seismic problems. The previous Monday, seismic experts were in the city for “state of the art” tests on soil borings that Lipscomb said raised additional concerns about whether the structure would collapse in a major earthquake or if it would be damaged but basically remain in place.

As a result, Morris and Hagale have said Bass Pro Shops is no longer interested in being project manager for a project that includes redevelopment of The Pyramid with a revitalization of the neighboring Pinch District attached. The city will be putting out a request for proposal for a Pinch master planner, a role that developers Poag & McEwen were in at the insistence of Bass Pro Shops executives.

The next step is a computer model to help answer the seismic questions. It would take eight to 10 weeks just to program the model and three months in all to complete.

In a letter this week to Morris and Hagale, Lipscomb confirmed the set of milestones in the Pyramid project has now been pushed further out, with financing now due to be completed by July 29.

If the seismic studies add to the cost of the project, it’s a cost the city of Memphis would have to pay. Lipscomb said the city would have to decide then if it wants to continue with a renovation of The Pyramid or possibly demolish the building, with Bass Pro Shops considering it as one of several Downtown sites to build an all-new structure.

Lipscomb confirmed that after the committee session and earlier in a Jan. 31 letter to Morris and Hagale.

“If, after this process, we conclude that the seismic cost is prohibitive, we will work with you to consider alternatives for a distinctive retail store in Downtown Memphis,” Lipscomb wrote Morris and Hagale.

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