In many ways, Mayors Rout and Herenton and other city and county officials -- as well as members of the private sector -- have worked wonders in honing the pending deal with the NBA and the ownership of the Vancouver Grizzlies to build a new arena and bring the franchise here.
The proposed "Memorandum of Agreement" (MOA) unveiled before the city council and county commission on Monday is reassuring in numerous particulars -- notably in its promise of new private moneys for arena construction and in its provision of safeguards against an untimely departure by the team.
So far, so good. Have we got a deal? Not yet, in our opinion. Some key members of the Shelby County Commission, which will follow the council's vote this week with one of their own next week, have raised some concerns that we, too, are troubled by.
Most notable is the clause of the agreement titled "Competition," whereby "HOOPS" (the ad hoc designation for a reconstituted Grizzlies management, including its proposed local part-owners) is given, in effect, veto power over the acts and events that could appear in other local venues such as The Pyramid and the Mid-South Coliseum. HOOPS would have to give its written consent before these and other publicly built facilities could book any attractions that might "compete" with the new arena. Further, HOOPS would maintain the right to match any pending offer on behalf of the new facility.
In one of the more uncertain passages of an otherwise eloquent pitch for the MOA, Shelby County mayor Jim Rout told the county commission it is understandable that the Grizzlies ownership would want to shore up its situation since it would be responsible for operating losses at the new arena. But, as Rout also noted, there is still some room for negotiation on that score.
We should hope so. In fact, we would insist on altering that segment of the agreement -- which amounts as of now to an unconscionable restraint of trade, one that could be enormously damaging to facilities that have served us well and that represent so much previous long-term commitment by local taxpayers.
And that consideration gives rise to a larger thought: If and when the arena gets built, Memphis will find itself faced with a veritable garage sale of used sports and entertainment facilities -- the Coliseum, The Pyramid, Tim McCarver Stadium, the Mid-South Fairgrounds, and Crump Stadium. Not to mention Mud Island Amphitheater.
What we need -- as an addendum to the MOA, if necessary -- is a commitment in writing from the mayors and the movers and shakers of HOOPS to rally around the cause of doing something about this detritus -- knocking some down, replacing some, selling some off if possible. The guiding principle should be a public-private partnership for participant sports facilities in the mode of the Mike Rose Soccer Complex and Southaven's baseball fields and various tennis centers.
One of the attractions of the Grizzlies deal is that it promises to provide genuine and lasting revitalization of the downtown area. But that should not come at the expense of the rest of the metropolitan area, especially at a time when so many of our city youth have poor sports facilities or none at all.
The NBA package still requires amendment, and we trust the county commission will see to it. For it to truly be a deal we can live with, it should be the first step toward a wholesale revitalization of the whole community.