Mayors Willie Herenton of Memphis and Jim Rout of Shelby County strained mightily to present what looked like a compromise arena-site selection at their sweltering mid-afternoon press conference Wednesday atop the Rock & Soul Museum downtown.
The very choice of a venue for the announcement, of course, gave the game away. The winner was Mayor Herenton's choice -- Site B, the Linden Avenue site which he'd held to stubbornly for more than two months despite the insistence of Mayor Rout and an official site-selection committee that Site A, on Union Avenue opposite AutoZone Park, was to be preferred.
On Wednesday afternoon, the two mayors tried to pass off the ultimate locaton as a brand-new "Site C," but clearly it was the Linden site with modifications -- notably the turning of the building on its axis so as to present a north front toward Union Avenue, and a tree-lined mini-parkway which will open the arena, visually and access-wise, to Union.
The letter 'C' might,in one sense, stand for "cosmetic," but the changes will probably have a larger impact than that suggests.
An unspoken context for the tug-of-war between the mayors was both racial and political.
Mayor Herenton was determined to locate the arena close to southern, blighted areas of the central downtown area (including a newly built cluster of public housing units), so as to give the area a developmental momentum and a gloss more consistent with neighboring areas to the north.
Mayor Rout and most members of the city establishment wanted the site further north, for the same reasons in reverse. The amendments to the Linden site, which establish both a north and a south entrance point, in effect are designed to give both sides the essence of what they wanted.