Opinion » Viewpoint

For the Arena

If we build it, a new status will come, says county mayor.

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As all of you know, we have been in pursuit of some type of professional sports team in this community for well over 25 years. A number of times we have been the bridesmaid.

There have been some great efforts put forth, some fantastic leadership given by the business community, but regardless of that, in the end the record speaks for itself. We do not have a major-league sports team in the community. Today we have an opportunity.

This arena will be in the downtown area. There are two sites that are going to be looked at -- one just east of the Gibson Guitar Factory and one on Union where the Greyhound Bus Station is, going east toward Danny Thomas. The [simultaneous] improvements in The Pyramid will ultimately benefit the University of Memphis.

New incremental economic activity generated in Shelby County as a result of the team would be about $103 million a year. The team would create new taxes of $2.1 million for local government and $1.9 million for state government every year. ...

It seems like only yesterday -- it was mid-March, I guess -- that we had the announcement that we'd been chosen by two groups to be looked at. I'm here today to urge you to approve the memorandum at some point in time that will become the basis for contracts and leases ... .

As I look at this, I have to think about your role, not just the role of mayor of Shelby County. I sat for 16 years where Commissioner Hart and Commissioner Moss are sitting, and I think of the tremendous responsibility that you face.

And I also think about the time when I was a little boy and my Daddy explained to me that some people did not want to build the Memphis International Airport, that it was not in the best interest of this community, that it was better to modernize the smaller airport terminal on the north side of Winchester. I don't think I have to pursue that line of thought in order to tell you how important to us today that has become ... .

I also think that if there had been a referendum on AutoZone Park, as it relates to east or downtown, it would have failed for downtown.

I must tell you -- and not just because I think a great deal of Dean and Kristi Jernigan and the fact that they are involved in this -- that I think it has been one of the greatest things in this community, which is where I've lived all my life.

I say that because it's more than a baseball stadium. It's a family-friendly, wonderful happening. I see Commissioner Loeffel; she was there with her husband Thursday night. It doesn't really matter whether you like baseball or not. ... It's great for our downtown. It's a synergistic approach. It's an involvement that means downtown today is being called "vibrant." I remember when downtown was called "dead."

Now, I may or may not choose to live downtown. You may or may not choose to live downtown. Some may or may not choose to visit down there. That isn't the issue. The issue is that we need to have a vibrant downtown to have a vibrant total community.

Mr. Chairman, there has not been a team relocated in 17 years. So if we don't take advantage of this opportunity, I suspect that this won't come around again as an opportunity for decades. I do think time is of the essence. I do think it's a good deal. I do think it's a fair deal for our taxpayers.

Jim Rout is mayor of Shelby County and an active participant in the drive to construct a local arena for the NBA Grizzlies. These remarks were extracted from Rout's address to the county commission Monday.

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