by Toby Sells
The Memphis City Council again delayed a final vote on purchasing AutoZone Park but not before substantially changing the deal on the table.
The original deal would have the city paying about $20 million for the baseball park and about $5 million for improvements to the park. The council approved a counter offer to the stakeholders on the deal, which includes the St. Louis Cardinals, that reduced the stadium purchase price to $15 million and the funds for park improvements to $2.5 million. Also, any excess city funds generated at the park would go exclusively to stadium improvements, up to $2.5 million.
The terms of the new deal came from council member Jim Strickland who said his plan saves $600,000 per year in debt payments. And doing that, he said, would fully protect Memphis taxpayers form ever paying for the park directly out of the city coffers.
"This will guarantee that the city's operating budget won't be touched and that's the real goal," Strickland said.
But council members won’t vote on that deal again until the council’s last 2013 meeting on Tuesday, December 17. The motion for the delay came from council member Janis Fullilove who said she wanted to give the parties in the sale time to digest the details of the new deal. Council members took a recess just before the delay vote to take a closer look at Strickland’s deal.
“Their offer is $20 million and we just lowered to $15 million,” said city council member Joe Brown. “Common sense tells me this will not fly. They can auction off (the park) and get more revenue.”
Council members, again, expressed much frustration over the way the deal was presented to them. Some said the details of the deal were kept from them, that some crucial numbers of the deal kept changing and that the final deal was "shoved down our throats," Fullilove said.
The terms of the new deal will go back to the stakeholders in the deal, which includes the Cardinals, Fundamental Advisors (the private equity firm that now owns the bonds on AutoZone Park), members of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's administration and others. It is expected that the group will bring their opinion of the new terms back to the council and, perhaps, another offer on the deal.