"It’s exciting but it’s also scary," says museum founder and CEO Jerry Manders who originally operated the museum from the back of his 1998 Chevy Tahoe before upgrading to a converted school bus. “We are entering uncharted territory. The NMTI has always been a mobile attraction, but it’s time to settle down, and the fact that this project has such a tremendous reputation for being a SNAFU-plagued money pit is icing on the cake.”
"The building is also attached to this impressive floating boat dock that hasn't really worked out," Manders adds. "There are no downsides to this partnership."
Although he’s happy with the way things have turned out, Beale Street Landing wasn’t Manders' first choice.
“Oh no, it was't even on our radar," he says. "We’d originally hoped to open up shop in the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame building in Cleveland, but when it became clear that space wouldn't be available any time soon, my people put in a more than reasonable offer to move into the empty Memphis Pyramid.
"At the end of the day, unfortunately, the city liked Bass Pro better," Manders says. "It was their decision to make.”
Rather than becoming discouraged after the Bass Pro deal went south, Manders and his “board of directors” — Mittens the one-eyed kitten, an Iguana named Sam, and Dookie, a 13-year-old Basset Hound — decided that Memphis was where they needed to put down roots.
“The decision to put a gigantic Bass Pro store with its own indoor cypress swamp in a building modeled after an Egyptian tomb is absolutely in keeping with our museum’s mission,” Manders says. “It told us that this was where we needed to be.”
Although numerous friends recommended that he look into the Beale Street Landing project, Manders says he was reluctant to do so.
“Frankly, a more developed riverfront seemed like a really good idea to me at the time,” he says. “But when things kept going further and further over budget, I became interested. When they finally built that plaid elevator thing on top I knew it was destiny.”
Manders isn't sure when his new riverfront museum will open, but hopes to announce by the end of next year.
"The Beale Street Landing project is supposed to be complete sometime in 2014, but I'll believe that when I see it," he said.