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VOL. 128 | NO. 243 | Friday, December 13, 2013

Wharton Requests Council Delay Ballpark Vote

By Bill Dries

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The deal for the city to buy AutoZone Park that had to be done by the end of December can wait until after the new year begins.


The call Wednesday, Dec. 11, by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. for the Memphis City Council to delay any decision until its Jan. 7 meeting is also a bid by Wharton to heal wounds from Monday’s revolt by the council.

The council didn’t just reject the idea that it had to vote on the terms of the deal before the financiers began to close down for the holidays. It questioned the city’s changing revenue estimates critical to determining if the bonds to be issued for the transaction can be paid off with non-property tax revenue.

Then the 13-member body set new terms for the deal in what amounts to a counteroffer to the positions taken by Fundamental Advisors and the St. Louis Cardinals.

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

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 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.”

Council members got details of the complex six-party deal less than 24 hours before they met.

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 council members’ distrust of the changing revenue estimates that are key to determining how the revenue bonds will be repaid. And that distrust played a central role in the council 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 the changed terms.

“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.”

The first indication of the shift in position came Wednesday 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 followed with a request for a delay of the council vote that had been scheduled for the council’s regular Dec. 17 meeting, the last council session of the year.

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