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Progress at the Pyramid

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First the bad news: The much ballyhooed Bass Pro/Pyramid redevelopment project is behind schedule and will miss its target date for completion in late 2013.

Next the good news: The delay is not due to any unforeseen snag or construction mishap or financing problem or foot-dragging by Bass Pro or anything suchlike. According to consulting architect Tom Marshall, the project will take longer to complete, because the Bass Pro Corporation has decided to put another $90 million to $200 million of its own resources into the mix in order to accommodate a state-of-the-art 190-room hotel facility. The new add-ons, reminiscent of what Opryland offers in Nashville, were not included in the original model, which has been constantly upgraded, Marshall said, from the time work on it was started.

Marshall accompanied Robert Lipscomb, the city's all-purpose urban renovator and the Pyramid project's recognized first-mover, to a luncheon of the Memphis Rotary Club on Tuesday, and he took over narrating an explanatory video when Lipscomb, who was plainly in agony from some sort of back problem, had to cease and desist. What the Rotarians got to see was actually quite inspiring — a simulated travelogue of what is to come, both inside the remodeled Pyramid and outside along its surrounding terrain, including a grand-looking thoroughfare that is to be called Bass Pro Boulevard.

The interior features will include an extensive "swamp" teeming with all manner of aquatic creatures, looming "cypress trees" constructed of foam, and an elevator that will take visitors to the apex of the building, where a "Buzzard's Roost" lounge will overlook the city and the riverfront. This latter feature, said Marshall, may make Memphians and tourists forget all about that fancy inclinator ride to the top that late huckster Sidney Shlenker once promised and never delivered.

On the outside, new rock formations along the boulevard and the harbor will complement the outdoorsy effect, and underpasses will be constructed underneath the overhead expressway hangs to create de facto arcades. There is more, all of it designed to connect with such other riverfront improvements as Beale Street Landing and the restored cobblestones.

And for the skeptics who have been awaiting the outcome of the Bass Pro facility for more than a few years, there were photographs of the work under way and nearing completion inside the facility. Hold your breath was the message. It's beginning to look real.

Before he left, Lipscomb was able to make a short talk in which he tried to put the project in the perspective of the city's history and of its many prior disappointments. "You can't write anything off," he said. "Memphis is going to be great."

Today the Pyramid, tomorrow the Fairgrounds! And yes, his Rotary audience had heard it all before. We've all heard it all before. But this time we got to see what some of that imagined future will look like. And it did look good.

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