AutoZone Park Purchase Deal Delayed by Memphis City Council

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These new seats and more are are promised in upgrades to AutoZone Park as a part of a new purchase agreement with the city of Memphis.
  • These new seats and more are are promised in upgrades to AutoZone Park as a part of a new purchase agreement with the city of Memphis.

No deal to buy AutoZone Park was done by the Memphis City Council Tuesday night even after a long debate on the issue but the council will take up the issue again on Monday.

The council moved the purchase decision to the end of Tuesday's full council meeting and recessed the meeting until Monday. Council members said they needed more time to make a decision on the deal.

Representatives of the St. Louis Cardinals and the city administration laid out a tight timeline for council members to get the deal approved. They said they needed the council approval Tuesday night to make necessary arrangement to close the deal by December 31.

Many council members complained they only received the large packet of purchase information Saturday night and that they did not have enough time to review the information and make a decision by Tuesday evening.

Cardinals and city officials openly referred to the deal as an "11th-hour" arrangement. Approval of the deal by the council would have set off a series of events to rush bonds on the stadium to the investment market. Many of those firms would begin to close their books on the year as the Christmas holiday approached.

Council member Janis Fullilove was frustrated by the timeline and unloaded a tirade when she was told the deal must be done Tuesday night.

“You waited until the 11th hour and now the pressure is placed on us,” Fullilove said. “Now, you say we have to approve this or it will flitter away and they’ll sell off the stadium piece by piece with the scoreboard going first.”

A plan that included the city's purchase of the park became public last month. However, the $20 million price tag for the park was not known publicly until council members received their information packets over the weekend. City leaders said price would be paid without dipping directly into the Memphis city coffers.

The park would instead be paid for with a mix of tax credits, tax rebates, and lease payments from the Memphis Redbirds baseball team. The ballpark purchase is part of a larger deal that also includes the purchase of the Redbirds by the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

John Mozeliak, the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, told city council members Tuesday, the deal is “a unique opportunity for everyone involved.”

“It allows for input from all the stakeholders involved,” Mozeliak said. “No one has complete control and that’s a unique deal, frankly.”

Mozeliak said he wanted to “re-brand” baseball in Memphis and wants to “make sure Memphis has an asset moving forward and not a liability in that ballpark.”

On the city side, the deal has been shepherded by Robert Lipscomb, the director of the city’s Housing and Community Development division. Lipscomb said the purchase has been a “complicated deal” with some “11th-hour negotiations” but said it was a good deal for Memphis. Taking control of the park ensures the city won’t lose a major asset or let it deteriorate. Also, the deal won’t use any local taxpayer dollars, he said.

“If the Redbirds leave and the stadium does not have a tenant, it’s not an asset,” Lipscomb said. “Right now we have an asset and a redevelopment (plan) with none of it paid with city taxpayer dollars.”

The deal would come with about $20 million new investments in the ballpark. The city would pay for $5 million and the Cardinals paying for $15 million of them.

The improvements include new general admission seating on grassy hills (much like the existing Bluff section) on the left and right field corners of the park. A new concession stand and bar are planned for the new seating section in the left field corner. The photos also show a new LED board against the left field wall and updates to club-level bars and seating.

The park is now valued at $31 million, according to documents given to council members Tuesday. The $20 million price tag will be paid for mainly with an existing tax rebate program that directs all taxes collected at the park from tickets, concessions, and other items (about $25 million) back into the park. The Redbirds will also pay an annual lease of about $5 million annually.

The city will not operate nor manage the park. Those jobs will be left up to the Cardinals, according to the outline of the contract disclosed Tuesday.

If the city cannot reach a purchase deal on the park, Mozeliak said the Redbirds would fulfill their contract and play in Memphis next year. But after that, the team would likely be auctioned off and the stadium would likely go into forcelosure.

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