Bass Pro Shops’ exterior building and site improvements for repurposing the city-owned Pyramid as a destination retailer were approved by the Design Review Board Wednesday, March 6, but the board asked for more time to digest the company’s controversial signage requests.
Bass Pro Shops’ exterior building and site improvements for repurposing The Pyramid as a retail store have been approved by the Design Review Board, but the board asked for more time to digest the company’s controversial signage requests. Bass Pro wants internally illuminated, 66-foot-high by 90-foot-wide signs on all four sides of The Pyramid.
The entity of the Downtown Memphis Commission unanimously granted the Springfield, Mo.-based retailer permission to move forward on the outside components of the overall $200 million project.
But Bass Pro’s exterior signage package that calls for internally illuminated, 66-foot-high by 90-foot-wide signs on all four sides of The Pyramid were asked by the DRB and several community stakeholders to be considerably rethought.
Bass Pro and its legal counsel argued the three-foot deep, 5,490-square-foot logos were critical to its branding consistency and its ability to attract shoppers.
“If I honestly thought that it would impact your business model, I’d be the first one to say, ‘OK, let’s do it,’” said David Schuermann, president of Architecture Inc. “You’ve got a huge building, it’s going to take something significant to make an impact. My question is whether you need it.”
Chooch Pickard, former director of Memphis Regional Design Center, suggested neon instead of internally illuminated lighting. He added that there were more creative solutions when it comes to the individual lettering of the “Bass Pro Shops” logo rather than using a “corporate … box sign” approach.
Ray Brown, president of Ray Brown Urban Design, echoed that sentiment. He said that the “three coolest signs in Memphis” top The Peabody, the Memphis Business Journal building and the Toyota Center. None of those are internally illuminated.
“You can see all three of those signs from a long way in East Memphis,” Brown said. “It’s consistent with skyline that we have and would give you an equal amount of impact.”
Rebecca Conrad, partner in Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, likened The Pyramid to the St. Louis arch in its iconic status for the city.
“It needs to be treated more as the symbol that it was as opposed to be tacked on,” Conrad said, adding that she’d like to see the proposed 64-foot-tall pylon centered on Overton Street have more of a pedestrian scale.
Part of Bass Pro Shops’ plan for The Pyramid include a 64-foot entry structure, which is twice of the height of the Ramesses statue that stood in the same place along Front Street when the arena was used as a sports and entertainment venue.
As Virginia McLean of Friends for Our Riverfront pointed out, the pylon sign more than doubles the size of the former Ramesses statue and are the size of George Washington’s face at Mount Rushmore.
John S. Golwen, attorney with Bass Berry & Sims PLC representing Bass Pro, said “there’s nothing new” about the site plan and the signage package. The signage exhibit to Bass Pro’s lease with the city was entered into in August 2011.
“It was understood from the outset that this was an important retail project, and that for the success of that project, there had to be proper signage and a proper exterior site that was necessary to its success,” Golwen said.
The 220,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World will occupy most of The Pyramid’s surrounding 47-acre site and include an aquarium, museum, cabins, Uncle Buck’s Fish Bowl restaurant and bowling alley, zip lines and floating docks. It’s scheduled to open by the holiday season this year.
Bass Pro had to go before the DRB because the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. served as a fiscal agent for issuing bonds used to finance the project.
DMC development project manager Brett Roler said the DRB’s guidelines are “somewhat at odds” with the established community goal of turning The Pyramid’s contemporary but vacant structure into a destination retail store.
“Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World is designed to stand out, attract attention and fit within the set brand that’s established with this company,” Roler said. “The staff … has determined there needs to be a balance between Bass Pro’s need and the impact on the neighborhood.”
The DMC’s primary focus is connecting The Pyramid to the Pinch district. The staff recommended the building have access from the east, which Bass Pro deemed unfeasible.
The staff also recommended Bass Pro keep the existing double pedestrian bridges instead of removing and replacing it with a piece of infrastructure that serves the same purpose.
Golwen said maintaining the bridge and plaza “greatly reduces” the outparcel area available fronting The Pyramid, and the new single-pedestrian bridge – spanning 10 feet across – allows for maximum development of that land.
One staff suggestion Bass Pro did comply with was reducing the amount of log cabin textures on the exterior and replacing it with glass – a big signature of the retailer’s shops in other cities.
Bass Pro also changed its asphalt roof proposal to a green metal-seamed roof to make it more consistent with the existing architecture; incorporated ironwork at the east entrance structure; and removed the efface to extend greenery around The Pyramid.
Contingent on its exterior improvements and site work approval, Bass Pro was asked to submit information about operation, size and illumination of the 35-foot American flag that will pinnacle the 32-story Pyramid.
Additionally, the DRB requested a report from Memphis-based Ducks Unlimited addressing The Pyramid’s lights and any interference with ducks flying overhead, per chairman Greg Price.
That came after Bass Pro architect Tom Jowett announced the plans for a Ducks Unlimited National Waterfall Heritage Center, a “very large educational and museum project” that will occupy The Pyramid’s third level; the first two levels are for retail use.
The DRB’s decision on Bass Pro’s exterior signage package will be made on Monday, March 18, at 9 a.m. at 114 N. Main St.