FLYER Exclusive: O. J. Simpson on Football Stadiums, The Mayor, and the Fairgrounds



So who drops by the Flyer's office the other day but The Juice, O. J. Simpson. Surprised us too. But he didn't want to talk about murder, he wanted to talk football and Mayor Willie Herenton's stadium proposal.

"If I had done it ..." he began.

We started to protest that we didn't want to get burned like that book publisher, but then we thought, what the heck, let's hear the guy out. This is what he said.

"Not saying I'm going to, but if I were doing this I'd pitch this thing as the biggest economic development grab-bag of my administration. A something-for-everyone deal -- contractors, architects, bankers, bond underwriters, football fans, the University of Memphis, Orange Mound, Christian Brothers University, even those Midtown naysayers with their bumper stickers.

"You got the national media all hot and bothered now about the housing slump and the ripple effect and all those no-interest and low-interest adjustable mortgages exploding into high-interest mortgages that people can't afford without going into bankruptcy. The chairman of the federal reserve bank even said this week we're facing a tidal wave of defaults and foreclosures. You know Memphis has gotta be on the most-likely-to-be-squeezed list of metro areas because of all that sprawl out east. So I'm not just Mayor Willie Herenton next week. I'm Dr. Willie Herenton, armchair economist and business rainmaker, ready to give old Memphis and my reelection campaign an economic booster shot in this election year.

"I'd put all kinds of things over at the Fairgrounds, like a Wal-Mart, a Target, a bunch of apartments, maybe some restaurants. Then I'd create one of those tax-increment financing zones like they did downtown, where the private development and the new taxes go into a pot to help fund the stadium, like they did at AutoZone Park and FedExForum. And I'd follow the example of Dean and Kristi Jernigan and spread the financing around by charging big prices for suites and club-level space and all that and putting the bite on the state and keeping the local funding to a minimum. And I'd get my corporate friends to put the bite on their CEOs and mucky-mucks to sign up like they did for the NFL drive and AutoZone Park and NBA Now."

At this point, we had to point out to O.J. that corporate stadium suites are so yesterday because of boredom and tax laws and oversupply and a feeling that you can get more face time with clients by taking them golfing or on a fishing trip. Lots of pro teams in baseball, basketball, and football are tearing out suites, according to a story in Saturday's Wall Street Journal.

"I never said Memphis was ahead of the curve or that UM should will ever be confused with USC," he continued. "In fact I'd rather be back in that courtroom on trial for murdering Nicole than trying to sell suites or even seats for that matter for games between Memphis and Tulsa while UT, 'Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU are on the 48-inch high-definition big screen in everyone's home entertainment center. But that's the University of Memphis' problem. They need to get into a BCS conference by hook or by crook. If I were R.C. Johnson, I'd make getting Memphis into the BCS this year's version of Memphis and the NFL or NBA.

"Besides, you're getting away from my point. Pitch this as an economic development deal for the heart of poor old run-down Memphis. The stadium is just the sizzle. Talk about recreation centers and ball fields and swimming pools and stuff for year-round use and maybe they'll forget a stadium is only used nine times a year and the Liberty Bowl ain't half bad. Get Coca-Cola's bottling plant out of the southeast corner of the fairgrounds, and clean up the blight around the property. This is where your heavy-hitters from the University of Memphis and First Horizon and Morgan Keegan have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mayor and his people. Otherwise it won't have a chance."

Then he was gone, as suddenly as he came. Thus spake The Juice.

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