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VOL. 128 | NO. 240 | Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Council Changes Ballpark Terms, Delays Approval Again

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members changed the terms Monday, Dec. 9, of the proposed deal in which the city would buy AutoZone Park and the St. Louis Cardinals would buy the Memphis Redbirds franchise. And then the council delayed a vote on the amended terms until its last council meeting of 2014 on Dec. 17.

The delay in council approval of what amounts to a counter offer to the deal worked out among the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., the Cardinals front office and Fundamental Advisors, the private equity firm that effectively owns the ballpark, is to await a response from the Cardinals organization and Fundamental Advisors executives.

Wharton said later he couldn’t speak for the Cardinals or Fundamental Advisors.

“We’re going to give it our best shot,” he said. “We still believe it’s a good deal. … I will simply see what their reaction is.”

The council’s changes in the terms of the proposal are:

•$100,000 a year from AutoZone’s ongoing pre-existing naming rights agreement would be diverted to a plan to promote baseball among children in the Memphis inner city.

•If the Cardinals tried to move the franchise out of Memphis during the 17-year term of the agreement they would have to pay the rent due for the remaining years left in the agreement as well as any shortfall in the operation of the ballpark during that same period of time.

•Reducing the price the city would pay for the ballpark from $20 million to $15 million and the city’s commitment to fund capital improvements to the ballpark to $2.5 million from an original $5 million share.

•Divert the estimated $600,000 the city would save on the debt service from the two city funding cuts to go toward ballpark improvements.

•Divert all excess revenue up to $2.5 million to ballpark improvements.

Meanwhile, some of the dollar amounts in the proposal changed at the outset of the late day Monday at City Hall.

Fundamental Advisors dropped their price for the ballpark to $24.5 million from $25 million. And the Cardinals agreed to take on $500,000 more in the split between the city and the Cardinals in funding improvements to AutoZone Park. The city’s share went from $5 million to $4.5 million with the Cardinals picking up the $500,000 for a total share for them of $15.5 million.

The council debate and discussion over the course of the three-hour session reflected council members were still upset over how the proposal was presented to them with details less than 24 hours before they were to vote on the matter at their Dec. 3 meeting.

While the administration said it needed a vote that day, the Shelby County Commission will vote on its end of the deal at its regular Dec. 16 meeting.

The council recessed its Dec. 3 meeting to reconvene it Monday to get answers to their questions in the interim. Some of the questions were answered.

But several council members pointed to yet more changes in estimates of the revenue the city would get from a state sales tax rebate which is approximately 60 percent of the revenue the city would use to pay off the revenue bonds that finance the purchase of the ballpark and the city’s share of the cost of the improvements.

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