Let City Be Broker, Not Owner of AZP

Monday, April 16, 2012, Vol. 127, No. 74

The Memphis Redbirds Foundation should make a full-on move to private ownership with no interim step to possible city control or ownership of the franchise and AutoZone Park.

It’s not that we doubt the good intentions and commitment of anyone involved in the ongoing efforts to get the Redbirds through the transition away from its nonprofit origins.

But the prospect of a private ownership group vetted by the experienced leaders of the Redbirds Foundation is, we believe, worth the wait.

There is no way of knowing how long the city would have to otherwise stand in the breach. And that is why an open-ended stake in running a ballpark is not a role city government should play.

That would be our belief even if the city had never exhibited its current mindset favoring advances in funding for other projects in place of making hard decisions.

The city’s role in putting AutoZone Park on sound fiscal ground should be as a broker or facilitator. And it is a considerable role that can help the goal of new owners.

A more direct financial role takes the necessary pressure off finding what is the ultimate solution.

If the city wants to help the Redbirds, it should use its influence to find a use for the land between the park and Beale Street.

A year ago in this same space, we were optimistic about the future of the Redbirds and we were bullish on the need to have the team and the park as part of our civic fabric.

We still believe the enterprise is a cornerstone for our city that affirms Memphis is someplace special.

Two years ago in this same space, we talked about the need for a more coordinated business effort beyond the ballpark to draw people there as they are at other places within the Downtown bubble.

Our point remains the enterprise has to find its own way even though its value to the community and other businesses is considerable. If it can’t, we need to ask larger questions about what we are building than what will it take to get to the next season and which pockets can we find the necessary combination of funding to somehow keep the gates open.

That kind of momentary lease on life only points to the need to go from a civic desire to get something good up and running as soon as possible to the idea that our institutions should be built to last longer from the outset.

Sports franchises come and go in markets the size of Memphis. And they sink or swim in the same uncertain economic waters than any other business exists in.

They bring a different value to the table than most other businesses do. But they remain businesses – a business the city might need to help, but a business the city should not be playing ball in.