Council to Discuss Pyramid Development

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council members vote Tuesday, Jan. 22, on the “Memphis Pyramid Planned Development” – the formal name for the conversion of The Pyramid to a Bass Pro Shops store with other attractions including a hotel.

The council meeting is at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

The city and Bass Pro Shops filed two permits Thursday, Jan. 17, for the project with the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Construction Code Enforcement (See Hot Property in Friday’s edition of The Daily News for details). One is for $21.5 million and the other for $7 million – both for renovations to The Pyramid.

A signature of Downtown, The Pyramid has sat vacant for years. But that’s all changing with Bass Pro Shops’ work to convert the space. 

(Daily News File Photo: Brandon Dill)

Gracycor Construction Co. Inc. is listed as the contractor on the permits.

The council vote is to allow the land – which has an underlying zoning of “heavy industrial” – to be used specifically for all parts of the conversion of the one-time arena to a retail center.

The zoning already permits a broad range of uses indoor and outdoor, according to a report to the Land Use Control Board from the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Planning and Development but “it does not permit one of the important accessory uses to this project, a Hotel.”

The hotel proposed from the earliest stages of the project has had several different locations in the footprint including inside The Pyramid in several different configurations and fronting on Front Street separate from The Pyramid itself. The latest plans offer no more specifics although city leaders said last year the location of the hotel has recently changed again within The Pyramid. With the changes in the past have come modifications to seismic considerations in the planning.

A concept plan filed with the planned development request shows three outparcels now fronting on Front Street “set aside for future development.”

The OPD report also talks about road access to the site and the possibility of a new road.

“Part of this access will be improved with a boulevard street that will take place outside of the boundaries of this (planned development),” it reads.

Meanwhile, council members will talk terms of a sales tax increase during a 10:30 a.m. committee session.

If the council approves the resolution tentatively set for a vote at the first council meeting in February, the half-cent sales tax hike would go on the ballot in a special election for Memphis voters probably in May.

Council member Lee Harris will propose some changes in how the estimated $47 million in revenue would be used if voters approve of the tax hike.

He wants the first $27 million of revenue to be put in a trust fund for pre-kindergarten and any revenue above that to go toward reducing city property taxes and/or reducing outstanding pre-existing city debt.

In an email exchange last week, council member Jim Strickland, a cosponsor of the resolution with Shea Flinn, indicated he does not favor Harris’ amendment.

“I cannot deliberate due to the open meetings law, but I am against this amendment,” Strickland wrote in an email. “I will give my reasons Tuesday.”

Harris circulated a copy of the email exchange to reporters shortly after the issue was raised.

“Just to be on the safe side, I wanted to forward the rest of this conversation,” Harris emailed. “I never intended to debate the merits of the proposal by email.”

Flinn and Strickland have proposed the same split of the $47 million in revenue but with all $20 million going specifically to a 20-cent drop in the current $3.11 city property tax rate.

At an 11:30 a.m. parks committee session, the council could take up a proposal by council member Myron Lowery to rename Forrest Park to add the name of Ida B. Wells. Although Lowery is not expected to be present for the discussion item because he will be in Washington.

The committee will also take up an ordinance proposed by council chairman Edmund Ford Jr. that would create a seven-member Memphis Tree Board to “serve as an advisory board. The board would be appointed by the mayor and recommend policies and practices” to the city park services and neighborhoods division on the management of trees on public land in the city of Memphis.

The ordinance also requires any company removing or maintaining trees in parks or other public places for the city to post a surety bond and those companies are forbidden from topping any public trees.

“No person shall top any public tree,” the ordinance reads, specifying that trees pruned for public safety issues must be pruned by standards of the American National Standards Institute.

“Topping a tree shall be used only when pruning by ANSI standards fail to address the foregoing issues,” the ordinance reads.