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VOL. 128 | NO. 242 | Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wharton Seeks Delay in Ballpark Deal Council Vote

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is now pushing final votes on any ballpark deal into the new year.

The first indication of the shift in position came Wednesday, Dec. 11, afternoon when Wharton requested the Shelby County Commission pull a resolution from their committee sessions that would have approved signing over the county’s interest in the land that AutoZone Park is built on.

Then a few hours later, Wharton asked that the Memphis City Council delay until its Jan. 7 meeting any decision on the city’s larger part of the agreement, which involves the city buying AutoZone Park.

The council changed the terms of the deal at a special meeting Monday in what amounted to a counter offer and then delayed a vote on it until its regularly scheduled Dec. 17 meeting.

“This allows additional time to analyze again every part of the proposed agreement, including all financial figures,” Wharton said of the delay, “And to continue negotiations to determine if it is possible to reach agreement with Fundamental Advisors within the context of the council resolution regarding price and capital investment.”

Fundamental Advisors is the equity firm that effectively owns the ballpark since the Memphis Redbirds Foundation defaulted on the bonds used to build the ballpark in 2009.

The original deal Wharton pitched to the council called for the city to buy the ballpark from Fundamental Advisors for $20 million and put another $5 million toward stadium improvements the Cardinals want. The Cardinals would have put up $15 million more for the improvements.

Wharton and others in the administration had originally insisted the council needed to vote on the terms at its Dec. 3 meeting in order to get the deal done by the end of the year. And he said it was essential to have the deal closed by the end of this year for “tax considerations.”

The council instead met Monday and amended the resolution to have the city pay $15 million for the ballpark and put up $2.5 million for stadium improvements.

There was plenty of evidence of distrust among council members of changing revenue estimates that are key to determining how the revenue bonds will be paid back. And that distrust played a central role in the council then delaying a vote on the amended resolution.

“As we continue,” Wharton said in his statement Wednesday, “I have instructed my team to work with a renewed sense of partnership and collaboration with the City Council.”

Since the Monday evening action by the council neither Fundamental Advisors nor the Cardinals front office have responded to what amounts to a counter offer from City Hall.

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