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Taking the Bait



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If only things were that simple.

The Shelby County Commission got an update on the future of the Pyramid last week, and as it stands now, area officials are still hoping the Tomb of Doom will lure Bass Pro Shops.

"It's like trying to sell a house if you only have one buyer," city CFO and all-around redevelopment project manager Robert Lipscomb told members of the County Commission at an ad-hoc committee meeting.

In February 2006, after months of discussion, the city announced plans for the Pyramid: Bass Pro edition, with plans including a restaurant, a hotel, an aquarium, a marina, and even a waterfall. The building was shuttered roughly a year later. But if the public is wary, Lipscomb is still optimistic.

"It looks more than promising," Lipscomb assured county commissioners. But he admitted that "we don't have a lot of leverage. We just have one entity we're dealing with."

The county still owes about $6 million on the pointy arena, originally opened in 1991. The city owes about $4 million. Though closed to events, it costs more than $500,000 a year to keep the Pyramid maintained and secure.

Lipscomb said they looked at Bass Pro after a study said the best use of the Pyramid would be as retail space.

"We approached Bass Pro, and they said, yes, we are interested," said Lipscomb. "Bass Pro doesn't usually do this type of project. If they do a flagship at the Pyramid, it will cannibalize what they have in Springfield, Missouri, I can tell you that."

Understandably, the commissioners wanted assurances that Lipscomb & Co. had a plan B. You know, just in case Bass Pro becomes the one that gets away.

Lipscomb didn't want to get into details of the back-up plan but told commissioners there was one.

Let's hope it's a good one.

Just a few days ago, the company's Web site listed the Pyramid as a location of a future store. But now the red "future location" star has been removed from Memphis on the company's U.S. locations map, as well as any mention of a Pyramid store in Memphis.

When reached by phone, Bass Pro corporate public relations manager Larry Whiteley said the company was still interested in the Pyramid and still discussing the possibilities. Whiteley said Bass Pro was cleaning up its Web site and decided that the future location star would only be used for stores "opening this year or next."

At the very least, it looks like we're in for a long wait.

Commissioner James Harvey noted that Shelby County isn't the only place having a problem finding a new use for an aging arena.

"Around the country, arenas are being torn down or used as churches," he said.

But we don't just have one old arena. We have two, maybe even three depending on what is decided on a new stadium, arena-type places that have outlived their usefulness.

Maybe it's just bad luck: the curse of the Pyramid. Or maybe not.

When asked by county commissioners why he got the job of finding a new use for the Pyramid, Lipscomb said it became his by default because, at the time, no one else was thinking about it.

We could ask why we're only dealing with one entity, but at this point, it seems important to focus on the future.

If the Pyramid were a house with a $10 million mortgage for sale in a stagnant market, the owners would be doing everything they could to sell it: repairs, repainting, warranties, staging.

Sure, the Pyramid is sort of "under contract," but it has been that way for more than a year.

We've got a nibble, but how long do we wait before we reel in our line? Maybe it's time to make another cast.

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