Bass Pro Is a Go



Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Bass Pro Shops signed an agreement Wednesday for a 20-year lease on The Pyramid that they hope will transform the north end of downtown from the river to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Wharton noted that Time magazine called Bass Pro "the hottest store in retailing." Time, which was the hottest thing in publishing 50 years ago, made the statement in October of 2005.

The agreement will go to the Memphis City Council on July 27th. The tentative opening date is November, 2011, but Bass Pro representative Jim Hagale said that could change if a seismic retrofit of The Pyramid takes longer than expected.

The city will retain ownership of The Pyramid, which opened in 1991, and receive $1 million a year in rent or two percent of annual gross sales, whichever is greater. The city will pay $30 million in construction costs, which it plans to get from a state rebate of taxes collected in a Tourism Development Zone.

Wharton called the deal, which was more than five years in the making, "the most complex and complicated public-private partnership ever undertaken in this region." He said there will be no city tax money spent on it.

Hagale gave few details of what the final product will look like, but he said Bass Pro founder John Morris will do something "spectacular" with the vast empty spaces in The Pyramid and might remove the floor of the observation deck to create a giant atrium. The original plan for the observation deck included an exterior inclinator that was never built. He also said there would be no hotel rooms inside the Pyramid.

Bass Pro will partner with Memphis-based Ducks Unlimited and retail developer Poag and McEwen to reenergize the Pinch district north of the convention center. The combined projects, he said, would create 1,000 or more jobs but not all of those would be in the Bass Pro store.

He said the company had been "tested by fire" during the recession and he and Morris are "more confident than ever" in Bass Pro's business model that blends hunting and fishing equipment with outdoor displays, aquariums, restaurants, and conservation programs.

"We are not intimidated by new store development," he said.

Bass Pro is privately held and does not disclose store sales. Hagale said retail traffic, as measured by turnstile counts at store entrances, was up last year in 48 of 52 weeks. He said retail traffic generally translates into sales but did not give any numbers.

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