Suddenly the Grizzlies are singing a different tune on the new arena.
With consultants, politicians, dealmakers, and wannabes swarming all over the biggest public building project in city and county history, the Grizzlies are now offering to do what they would not do last May -- pay any overruns on the $250 million project in exchange for much more control.
"It is an incredible advantage to the city and county if somebody stands up and says 'we'll pay the overruns,' " said Stan Meadows, senior corporate counsel for the Grizzlies, following Friday's meeting of the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority.
Arnold Perl, chairman of the authority, told his colleagues about the proposal Thursday night, but a key member, state Sen. John Ford, was not thrilled about it.
Ford described the proposal as "something quite different" from the assumptions the authority had been working with. He added, "I don't go by what I read in the press on anything," referring to a story in Friday's Commercial Appeal
about the proposal.
"You re asking me to abdicate my responsibility," Ford said, insisting that the project involved state funds and other public money and, hence, should be controlled by the PBA.
Perl and Meadows put a new spin on the arena as a facility that will be used as much for concerts and other events as it is for basketball. Perl said it will need 250 events dates a year to be viable, and the Grizzlies can only promise 45 to 60, depending on whether or not they make the playoffs. Architectural drawings of the arena displayed at the meeting emphasized its connection to Beale Street and its attractiveness as a music venue.
In contrast to The Pyramid, where the acoustics had to be overhauled two years after the building opened, "this is going to be right for both," said Perl.
The goal of 250 events, like other projections the Grizzlies and the NBA pursuit team have relied on, is ambitious. Alan Freeman, general manager of The Pyramid, told The Flyer it would be "difficult" to significantly increase the number of concerts that come to Memphis because of competition from Tunica. Freeman said The Pyramid averages 15-20 concerts a year and "the most we ever did was two dozen."
In an interview after the meeting, Meadows said the Grizzlies are concerned that the project is now on the drawing board but there has not been as much attention to specifics such as lockerrooms and amenities as the team would like.
"We want to do it so it's right," he said. Meadows said the budget, which includes $220 million that will actually be spent directly on the arena, is "adequate."
"It's not the budget, it's how much you get for the budget," he said. He said the figure of 250 event dates is probably high because it includes freebies and low-revenue producers. Realistically, he said, the arena needs 150 "good dates," without defining exactly what constitutes a good date.
Every major step of the project so far, from site selection to project executive director to underwriting allocation, has become mired in local politics. And the Grizzlies are frequently not drawing the 14,900 fans they need in their projections. The construction schedule is important because the Grizzlies would like to leave the cramped seats and low-budget suites at The Pyramid after one more season, not two as some have predicted.
On another hot subject there was more Ford fire. The senator and other authority members took a dim view of a report from a subcommittee on
minority participation prepared with the help of consultant Franketta Guinn and the local NAACP.
The subcommittee wanted the authority to adopt a statement saying racial and ethnic minorities and women would get "maximum practicable opportunities to participate."
Perl said minority participation is one of the seven guiding principles of the project in any case. The authority declined to act and instead sent the suggestion to lawyers for the city and county, supposedly to make sure it complies with state and federal constitutional guidelines.
"We're not giving you an open agenda to make some changes that are radical," Ford told members of the subcommittee.
A veteran of 28 years of state and local olitics, Ford seemed to resent the subcommittee's attempt to tell the authority what to do.
"I read legal documents like any Harvard lawyer does," he said.