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VOL. 131 | NO. 26 | Friday, February 5, 2016

Cates Wants Detail on Downtown Agreements

By Bill Dries

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From Mud Island River Park across the Memphis harbor to The Pyramid and further east to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – there are a lot of connections as the areas head toward a new incarnation.

The coming development east and west of the Pyramid is something Bass Pro Shops has an interest in since it opened at the Pyramid in May.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Some are the connections of geography; others are proposed or financial.

The signs of new life began in May when Bass Pro Shops opened in The Pyramid and ended a 10-year redevelopment effort. And Bass Pro executives have indicated they want to be consulted on what happens east and west of the flagship store.

To the east, St. Jude is preparing to unveil a plan for the Pinch District’s redevelopment. This week Memphis City Council member Berlin Boyd indicated St. Jude and Bass Pro Shops are “on the same page” in working toward a plan for the Pinch that Looney Ricks Kiss is drafting.

And at least one of the five companies competing to redevelop Mud Island River Park has talked with Bass Pro about its plans to the west.

RVC Outdoor Destinations founder and CEO Andy Cates said his meeting with Bass Pro executives this month “confirmed that our vision for Mud Island is highly complementary to what they have done at The Pyramid.”

Cates said the relationship between the river park’s redevelopment and St. Jude’s expansion could involve more than just a Bass Pro Shops endorsement for the proposal that Riverfront Development Corp. ultimately selects to redevelop Mud Island’s northern half.

“(Bass Pro Shops) may have some rights involved with that,” Cates said of the Pinch redevelopment, which Bass Pro at one point intended to include along with its work on The Pyramid before the onset of the national recession.

Some city council members recently expressed surprise at a provision the city agreed to that calls for a publicly financed parking garage at The Pyramid should traffic levels meet a certain threshold. It involves the flow of incremental sales tax revenue generated in the Downtown Tourism Development Zone back into The Pyramid.

“Most of the documentation around the Bass Pro deal, as complicated as it is and with as much research as we all need to continue to do to better understand it, it was very clear on the Pinch and on the capacity of the TDZ and that specific bond issue to deal with the TDZ,” Cates said.

He called for a better understanding of all of the agreements already made from St. Jude to Mud Island.

“I think it would be healthy to know more because it is very complicated,” he said. “I don’t think there should be a delay on the Pinch. … I’ve very hopeful that we don’t do anything to delay St. Jude expanding and extending through the Pinch.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said this week that after the RDC’s review committee makes a recommendation on the Mud Island proposals due Feb. 24, the city administration will become directly involved.

“If we are able to lead the redevelopment of Mud Island, obviously we want to have a great relationship with Bass Pro.”

–Andy Cates
RVC Outdoor Destinations

RDC president Benny Lendermon confirmed that and anticipates the RDC process will move smoothly into a City Hall process that ends with some kind of long-term lease.

“Whatever we do has to be in lockstep with the city of Memphis,” he said. “We had always anticipated if someone wanted the whole island or even a major piece of the island could be segmented out, that you would enter into a long-term lease with them.”

And then there are the details about capital and financing.

“Our intention is to share the capacity we have and are willing to commit in more details with that committee,” Cates said of the RDC. “The biggest challenge any group including RVC has is there’s so many questions that can’t be answered until the city gets directly engaged into the discussion.”

Cates said it is “critical” that each of the five companies interested in the river park set a “minimum standard on how much capital they could bring to the table in the short and immediate term, even if that’s based on some qualifications and conditions.”

RVC Outdoor would keep and renovate Mud Island’s River Walk and the amphitheater as well as bring outdoor resort-type attractions, including cottages and safari tents, by the river.

The Greenbelt Park would be extended to the river park and to the island’s southern tip. The north entrance would become the river park’s main entrance; the monorail would be dismantled and the walkway above transformed into something like the High Line in Manhattan.

“If we are able to lead the redevelopment of Mud Island, obviously we want to have a great relationship with Bass Pro,” Cates said.

Bass Pro Shops submitted a two-page letter to the RDC last month saying it didn’t have a plan for Mud Island, but wanted to be considered and consulted, even if it isn’t selected as developer, because of its investment across the harbor.

Memphis Equity Brand Management also submitted a proposal for a 500-room resort hotel and spa in the park, and expressed hope that Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris might be an investor.

Bass Pro Shops also turned up as a hoped-for partner in the park-wide proposal by ML Professional Properties.

And Mansion Entertainment and Media LLC of Branson, Missouri, made a proposal to renovate and operate the park’s amphitheater.

All five advance to the second round of more specific proposals including financing. Those proposals are due at the RDC Feb. 24.

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