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VOL. 131 | NO. 19 | Wednesday, January 27, 2016

RDC Leader: Pyramid Isn’t Translating to Tourism Elsewhere

By Bill Dries

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Toward the back of its proposal for Mud Island River Park, executives with The Mansion Entertainment and Media LLC included a few caveats for those judging the five redevelopment applications.

The five companies that submitted applications to redevelop Mud Island now have another month to flesh out their tentative plans including specifics on how they would finance the ideas.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“New ideas are sometimes much easier to design on paper and recite in dialogue, which ignites more discussions than are reasonable or realistic to actually accomplish or be successful,” reads the advice from the Branson, Mo., company in its proposal to the Riverfront Development Corp..

“Mud Island is complicated for developers in the traditional sense,” the advice concludes.

The RDC, which put out the request for qualifications that resulted in the five applications, also is overseeing the request-for-proposals process in which the companies have another month to submit a specific proposal, including how they intend to finance their plans.

“The problem with a public facility over there on that site is the winter months – non tourist season,” RDC president Benny Lendermon said. “You don’t have the people and you don’t have the weather. So you have a four-month gap for a public entertainment facility to make it over there. It becomes incredibly difficult. We know from experience.”

The Riverfront Development Corp. manages much of the riverfront for the city, including the park on Mud Island’s southern half.

Bass Pro Shops didn’t submit a specific plan but nonetheless wrote of connecting the river park to four other developing areas on the other side of the Wolf River Harbor. One is the Pyramid, where Bass Pro opened in May following a 10-year conversion of the arena into a retail store with hotel, dining options and other uses controlled by Bass Pro.

“We do however feel strongly that a great opportunity lies within the redevelopment of Mud Island, and that this future project can be a fantastic tie-in to the Pyramid, the Pinch District and St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital),” the company’s real estate director, Michael Dunham, wrote in the two-page letter made public Monday, Jan. 25.

He also adds that the company would want to be consulted even if it isn’t selected as the master developer for the park because of its “large vested interest in the redevelopment area around the Pyramid.”

“This probably isn’t a politically correct thing to say,” Lendermon began cautiously as he talked about Bass Pro Shops and its impact on what is around the Pyramid, including Mud Island.

“I think Bass Pro is doing a wonderful job of attracting a large number of people to their store. And it’s going to generate a lot of revenue and spin off a lot of economic return to the city as the city was hoping it would. I think that model is going to work,” he said, followed by a long pause.

“Just personally, I don’t believe the people coming to the Bass Pro store are doing other things in Memphis,” he then said. “I’m not sure a lot of people who talk about how it brings people into Memphis and now how do we figure out what to do with them – I’m not sure that’s the case. I think the people that they are capturing at the store may not have any other time to spend doing anything else.”

But Dunham’s letter expresses hope “that the right Mud Island development can catalyze many of those transient visitors into a longer stay in Memphis.”

Lendermon also described the Pyramid visitors as transient, contrasting them with those who shop at the Bass Pro store on Sycamore View Road or at other retail in general.

“If you go into Wal-Mart, you’re not going in there to walk around and enjoy the ambience of their store,” he said. “If you are going into the Pyramid, especially someone who hasn’t been there very often or maybe never – you’re going to enjoy the ambience of the store.”

That means you might buy some fudge and a Coke, and possibly a T-shirt.

“And maybe not even a T-shirt,” Lendermon said. “They are having to rethink their whole marketing-sales expectation. That store’s turned out to be something they didn’t expect. Not all bad. It’s just a whole lot more people spending a whole lot less money.”

He likened it to a “super-nice welcome center” that still has an indisputably large economic impact.

This isn’t the first time Bass Pro Shops has looked beyond the Pyramid.

Before physical cwork began on the arena’s conversion, Bass Pro had plans to develop the Pinch along with the Pyramid. Its reasons were much the same as what it outlined in its proposal to the RDC this month.

But with the onset of the Great Recession, the retailer separated itself from developing such a plan. And the conversion of the Pyramid took down the connecting walkways and plaza on the eastern side of the Pyramid bordering Front Street – what had been a connection over railroad tracks for Bass Pro Shops customers to walk into the Pinch.

Now there is no exit or entrance from that side of the Pyramid.

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