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In a press conference yesterday afternoon at AutoZone Park, J.R. “Pitt” Hyde III, founder and former CEO of AutoZone revealed his long-time plans and involvement in wooing an NBA team to Memphis. “I and a small group have been trying to secure this franchise for about a year now,” Hyde said. “We are extremely optimistic that we will be successful in our efforts.” “Memphis has all the kind of attributes that make for a great NBA city,” Hyde said. “We have received very strong support from both our mayors in this city as well as the governor of Tennessee.” However, for all those attributes, Hyde says that the city lacks an NBA-quality arena, stating that an upgrade to the Pyramid would be far too costly (an estimated $190 million). “We quickly came to the conclusion [that] it would be far better to build a new arena from scratch and we are looking at that possibility,” he said. The proposed new stadium will cost between $200 million and $250 million. “The majority of the funding can come from state tax rebate [for major corporate sponsors] and incremental sales-tax rebate," Hyde said. "With that combined with a similar package to what the state did for the Titans, we think we can come up with a program where the funding amounts in city and county will be at a very acceptable level.” In terms of location, Hyde says that the group was “obviously looking at the downtown area. We have several very promising sites that the league as well as the franchise owners were very enthusiastic about. We feel like an NBA team and a new arena downtown would have a similar impact [as did AutoZone park] and just add to the momentum we have been able to create here in Memphis.” Yesterday’s press-conference also revealed FedEx as a major player in the city's efforts to land the NBA team. “While FedEx will certainly have no role in the ownership group, FedEx is prepared to step forward and make a commitment to the city’s efforts to attract an NBA franchise by submitting a significant long-term proposal for the new arena and team naming rights,” said FedEx executive vice president Mike Glenn. Memphis is competing with Louisville, New Orleans, and Anaheim for the NBA team. There is also a Vancouver group that is attempting to buy the team and keep it in Canada. Louisville's bid got a boost yesterday after Tricon Global Restaurants, the corporate entity that owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, reportedly offered $100 million to Heisley. Tricon officials will not confirm or deny that number. According to Glenn, a new stadium can do much for the already strong growth downtown. “First and foremost, it’s critical to move our city forward and I think that has to start with downtown economic development,” he said. “I point no further than to the Redbirds and what they have done for the community and the significant success FedEx has had in its partnership with the Redbirds.” However, Glenn also believes FedEx has much to gain from its involvement with a new stadium. “Clearly, we look for a return on investments in every sports marketing opportunity we pursue. We expect the same from an investment we would be making in a new arena.” FedEx sponsors a number of sports endeavors including Memphis’ FedEx St. Jude Classic in golf, the FedEx Orange Bowl in college football, the FedEx Championship Series in Champ Car racing. The Memphis-based cargo company paid a record amount to the Washington Redskins for the naming rights to FedEx Field. According to Glenn, a new team in Memphis will significantly impact FedEx’s employee recruiting efforts. “Attracting highly talented employees to our company and many other companies in the community is critical to our long-term success,” Glenn said. “In order to be successful here we have to attract talent to our community. Quality of life issues is first and foremost in the minds of young professionals as they consider where they want to further their careers.” A major question revolving around a new stadium involves its impact on the University of Memphis basketball program. Since FedEx has a major investment in that program, the question becomes even more relevant. “We began talking with R.C. Johnson about this some time ago because we were not going to be comfortable if the University of Memphis would not be comfortable about a new arena,” said Al Graf, FedEx executive vice president and chief financial officer. Memphis basketball coach John Calipari attended a meeting of key Memphis businessmen on Tuesday morning. "I've been in the loop for a while," Calipari said after beating UTEP Tuesday night. "They've been terrific. FedEx has never done more for the university than what they are doing next year. This may be three times what they have ever done." Graf confirmed that FedEx will up its investment in the U of M. “Next year,” said Graf, “we will substantially increase our support. You’ll see a lot more FedEx signage, you’ll see a lot more ticket sales, and you’ll see more FedEx people involved.” The meeting also served as a rallying cry to get potential investors and ticket buyers in on the drive for the NBA team. “Our challenge today is to reach out to the rest of the community,” Graf said. “This is not going to be done simply with the FedEx corporation. Now is the time for everybody to step up to the plate and be involved both with the University of Memphis and with the potential new NBA team.” According to Graf, the ownership group has already sold over 40 suites, more than any other city involved in the race for the Grizzlies. Hyde said that there were two other Memphians who were partners with him in pursuing the NBA team. He refused to name them. He did say that there would be a significant local ownership group. “Though negotiations have not been finalized, we plan on a significant local ownership in this team if we are successful in our efforts," Hyde said. "All the people currently involved in this effort as potential owners are all in it because they think it is the right thing for Memphis.”

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