Mayor Willie Herenton made an unexpected appearance before the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority Friday to plead for teamwork, but he left open the question of who is going to play what role in the project.
"Teamwork can only be achieved when there is a clear definition of accountability, of who is responsible for certain activities," he said. "Going forward, we will delegate in writing to the PBA certain defined responsibilities under the existing project agreement."
Asked after the meeting if that would mean more or less control over the project by the PBA, Herenton declined to answer, but said it would become clear within two weeks. His appearance at the meeting, however, seems to suggest that the city and county could be taking some control away from the PBA, which is under the influence of state Sen. John Ford, its vice-chairman, and other members of the General Assembly.
The city, county, and state government are all putting funds into the project, but most of the revenue to build the arena is supposed to come from user fees, on-site taxes, and hotel/motel taxes.
PBA members asked a couple of perfunctory questions of Herenton before he left, then moved on to a presentation of architectural renderings of the proposed $250 million arena (brick and glass and 110 feet tall). The presentation may serve as a photo opportunity for the media, but the appearance of the arena is much less controversial at this point than the issues of how it will be paid for, ticket guarantees, low attendance, corporate sponsorships, construction contractors, and even the team s injury-depleted roster.
None of those issues were taken up by the PBA or representatives of the Memphis Grizzlies who were in attendance Friday.
Herenton opened his remarks by noting the collapse last month of a proposal to make the Grizzlies the "at-risk developer" in case of overruns.
"As many of us observed, the devil is in the details, and the details just were not right," he said.
As for the devil in the details of financing, contracts, and the protection of the public s investment, he left that for another day.