Alternative Use

Whatever The Pyramid's failings, a lack of ideas has not been one of them.



Go-slowers are alarmed that the city and county intend to move forward with a study of the prospects for turning The Pyramid into a casino "without exploring alternatives."

Alternatives? Where have they been for the last 15 years?

Certainly not paying attention. Otherwise they would remember John Tigrett, Isaac Tigrett, the Hard Rock Cafe, Sidney Shlenker, Rakapolis, the College Football Hall of Fame, hidden crystals, Disney on Ice, the WWF, the inclinator, Bill Morris, Jim Rout, Willie Herenton, the University of Memphis, Marius Penczner, Island Earth Park, Ed Armentrout, NARAS, Michael Greene, the Grammy museum, the Titanic exhibit, Wonders, Dick Hackett, John Calipari, Michael Heisley, the Grizzlies, and Alan Freeman.

Every one of those people took their best shot at getting maximum mileage out of The Pyramid. All of those attractions have been tried or seriously proposed since 1988 when The Pyramid was designed. Let's look at them again, starting with the most recent.

™ Alan Freeman and SMG manage The Pyramid and 157 other facilities worldwide. Freeman has booked family shows, concerts, fights, graduations, ballgames, elephants, monster trucks, wrestlers, rappers, you name it. Last weekend The Pyramid was dark while Wynonna played the Botanic Garden, Blues Traveler was at Mud Island, and Ray Charles was in Tunica. Add FedExForum to the mix next year, and The Pyramid does not have a bright future as a first-choice concert and entertainment venue.

™ The University of Memphis has been a partner in The Pyramid, sometimes reluctantly, since its inception. Three presidents, four basketball coaches, and two athletic directors have taken their best shot at filling it. It will be a surprise if the U of M doesn't follow the Grizzlies to FedExForum, which everyone agrees will be a superior facility. The Pyramid does not have a bright future as a college basketball arena.

™ Michael Heisley and the Grizzlies moved to Memphis from Vancouver and will play in The Pyramid for a third and final season in 2003-2004. The NBA, Heisley, and the Grizzlies' local owners insisted that The Pyramid is not up to NBA standards, hence the $250 million FedExForum. The Pyramid does not have a future as a professional basketball arena.

™ The Wonders series was moved to the lower level of The Pyramid during the Convention Center renovation, which is now complete. Wonders is taking a year off in 2003. The head of Wonders is former Memphis mayor Dick Hackett, who knows a little about marketing, salesmanship, and The Pyramid because it was built on his watch. The Pyramid does not have a future as a permanent home for cultural exhibitions.

™ NARAS and its president at the time, Michael Greene, looked at The Pyramid from 1998 to 2000 as a potential home for a Grammy museum. Ed Armentrout, then head of the Center City Commission, and downtown developer Henry Turley also worked on it, assisted by some of the best architects, investment bankers, and real estate pros in Memphis and several out-of-town consultants. The conclusion: The Pyramid does not have a future as a music museum.

™ In 1995, Marius Penczner went to the city and county with a proposal for a high-tech attraction at The Pyramid called Island Earth Park. Penczner had a national reputation for creative advertising in political campaigns, credentials, contacts, videos, renderings, and feasibility studies. Conclusion: The Pyramid does not have a future as a privately operated high-tech theme park.

™ Former Shelby County mayor Bill Morris helped bring International Paper to Memphis and kept St. Jude Children's Research Hospital from moving to St. Louis. He's raised millions of dollars for political candidates, the U of M, and charities. Morris was mayor when The Pyramid was proposed and spent four years figuring out what to do with it.

™ Sidney Shlenker came to Memphis in 1989 to develop attractions inside The Pyramid. Shlenker's reputation was tarnished in his later years, but before that he was a player in pro sports promotion in Houston and Denver. He spent two years trying to get private financing for an inclinator and to develop Egyptian-themed attractions dubbed Rakapolis at The Pyramid and Mud Island. With all his contacts and experience and with his personal reputation at stake, he failed.

™ John Tigrett was the father of The Pyramid. His son Isaac was co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and interested enough in The Pyramid to hide New Age crystals in its apex. John's wife Pat is responsible for the bridge lighting and the Blues Ball. Their close friend Fred Smith is founder of FedEx and was the first chairman of the Pyramid Public Building Authority. With all their clout and connections, the best they could do for The Pyramid was ... Sidney Shlenker.

Now comes Lakes Entertainment with a proposal to do a nonbinding study of casino gambling at no charge to the city or county. If another casino company ever operates an exclusive casino in The Pyramid, that company -- not the city or county -- would pay Lakes $20 million. That's a lot of money, but Boyd Gaming, the owner of Sam's Town Casino in Tunica, paid $25 million for its site 10 years ago, and it has eight competitors.

What exactly do the go-slows think has been overlooked? If there are investors out there willing to take over a 30-story pyramid-shaped fixer-upper with 20,000 cramped seats, no elevators, and a $28 million mortgage, where are they?

Add a comment