Opinion » Viewpoint

The Pyramid: Too Big to Ignore


In opinion writing and investing, it's good to remember that, as the cliché says, every day is the first day of the rest of your life. All those mistakes and misjudgments and lost causes don’t matter. Move on.

So, The Pyramid. It's too big to ignore and it won’t go away, at least not without engineers and high-grade blasting materials.

First, readers should check out the Smart City Memphis blog. Author Tom Jones and, apparently, many of his readers were around at the inception of The Pyramid and saw many of its signature moments first hand. There are some good comments. I also saw The Pyramid come out of the ground, and these are some of the things I remember.

The Pyramid was the vision of one man, John Tigrett. It simply would not have happened, period, without him. Off hand I cannot think of another "big deal" in Memphis that you can say that about. This is one reason why adapting it to a new use is so hard.

Tigrett was charismatic, reclusive at times, very smart and sometimes aloof and he would refer to mayors Bill Morris and Dick Hackett as "sport" and "boy" in a way that was part avuncular and part hard-edged. My impression was that he usually knew exactly what he was doing.

He wanted to do something big and lasting for Memphis, and other than fame of a sort, which I don't think he cared that much about, there was nothing in it for him. He could afford to lose some money, but the damage to his reputation hurt him.

His vision was also the building's great limitation. Once it got rolling, there was no stopping it because The Public Building Authority that studied it and ultimately blessed it held several public meetings that were personally chaired by Tigrett's friend Fred Smith. If you thought you had a better idea or had a nagging feeling that the whole thing was a great mistake, you were advised to have your ducks in a row because this was one powerful train.

I vividly remember three things during the construction period. The original location was the South Bluff, but it was moved for practical and political considerations that depreciated its appeal as a landmark, probably fatally. When the steel skeleton was finished, I went to the top with county engineer Dave Bennett. Ironworkers were balancing on beams 300 feet in the air like it was nothing and one guy was perched at the end of a beam with a video camera like a dad taking movies of his children at the mall. There was about a three-foot gap between walkways at one point, with a straight drop to the floor if you stumbled, lost your nerve, or looked up to admire the scenery. Three or four feet doesn't seem like much until you’re way up in the air. I let my photographer do that one.

On another tour a few months later after the building was enclosed, I remember attorney Bill Farris, a PBA member, Tigrett contemporary, and a pretty powerful guy politically, quietly saying to noone in particular "would you say too much space?" when our guide pointed out all the open space between the arena floor and the "ceiling." Farris clearly had an opinion, but he also knew the cards had been dealt and played and it wasn’t his day.

You had to meet Sidney Shlenker to believe him. Some people think The Pyramid was his idea but it wasn't. It was like the gods decided to play a great practical joke on Memphis and sent us Mr. Shlenker. He had a track record with big arenas in Houston and Denver and I think he tried his best.

You also had in the mix one Isaac Tigrett, son of John Tigrett, and cofounder of Hard Rock Café, which was the hottest, hippest thing going in the late 1980s. The Pyramid never got a Hard Rock, but it did get some of Isaac's mystical crystals stashed in the apex, which was seriously weird and possibly a continuation of the cosmic joke.

The practical limitations and wasted space inside the building were obvious from Day One to anyone attending a basketball game or concert, but it still hosted some very cool sold-out events that Memphis would not have had otherwise, including the Grizzlies. And the view from across the river when The Pyramid is lit up at night the way it should be but isn't, and the view from the top (there are actually two levels and a whole lot of space) if you ever get a chance to see it, are spectacular. There should be a public open house so everyone can do that. I bet if they put in an elevator a lot of people would still take the stairs.

So that's what we've got. As Robert Lipscomb says, people are not exactly lining up to buy it and Bass Pro would be a pretty good idea, IMHO. On the other hand, tearing it down might also be a pretty good idea given all that’s come before.

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