While construction workers topped out the FedExForum with an autographed beam, a pine tree, and an American flag, intergovernmental relations hit something close to rock bottom last week.
The ceremony and the Public Building Authority meeting that preceded it were marked by no-shows and gibes at political "monkeys," government "malfeasance," "Pyramid Two," and the ever-unpopular "naysayers." In other words, it sounded pretty much like a bunch of reporters.
No matter. There will be more ceremonies. Plenty of time to let bygones be bygones and say something like this:
"Good morning. I'm Arnold Perl, chairman of the Public Building Authority. Beautiful day, isn't it? I just want to tell everyone that this building is going to make you proud. You're going to bring your friends and family down here to see it, just like you did for AutoZone Park. The Public Building Authority isn't perfect, and neither is the county commission. But that's democracy for you. Those fights we had are as forgotten today as Sidney Lowe. We're getting this job done on time and within budget. Granted, the budget is $250 million. Now here's John Ford."
"Thanks, Arnold. Whoa, that's my cell ringing. Gotta go. Here's Mayor Herenton."
"Thanks, John. Like the man said, a building Memphis will be proud of, at least most of us. We're going to clean up this whole area so you barely recognize it, then we're going to tackle the rest of the city that isn't in the news every week.
"I promise you that as long as I'm alive I will fight to see that Memphis never uses another nickel of public money to build a sports facility unless it's for general public use. God knows, two of these deals in 14 years is enough. And as a sign of my sincerity, I'm going to stop calling people who disagree with me naysayers. If I've learned one thing in 23 years as superintendent and mayor, it's that naysayers are as American as Thanksgiving, and maybe even right sometimes.
"I want to recognize some people real quick. I see Pitt Hyde. He and his partners have been pretty cool even when things got hot, and you can't have too many people like that on your side. Our contractor, Mortensen, has done a good job. If you think high-dollar construction is easy, put yourself in the place of those ironworkers up there jumping around on those beams. I see Pat Tigrett, too. It would be easy to make some cracks about The Pyramid, which cost Pat and her husband John a bundle. But nobody's going to do that, because he's dead, for one thing, and The Pyramid's served us pretty well, for another. We'll judge the FedExForum in 2018.
"My colleague A C Wharton is standing next to me because this was first and foremost a city and county project, not a FedEx project or a Hyde project and certainly not a Jim Rout and Willie Herenton project. We're just job-holders. It's your money, folks.
"Now here's Grizzlies' owner Michael Heisley."
"Thanks for the nice building. As a small token of our appreciation, the Grizzlies are going to see that next year every kid in Shelby County who likes basketball gets to come to at least one game, soft drink and popcorn included, at no charge. Call me generous, but it's not like we don't have the money and don't need the fan base. And these kids have suffered enough from Mud Island, Wonders, and the Pink Palace. One more thing: Nobody in our organization will use the words 'financial' and 'discipline' in the same sentence ever again. Not when a beer costs $6.25 at our games, our payroll is a welfare program for coaches, and we're still paying $60 million to Big Country Reeves for impersonating a professional ballplayer.
John Branston is editorial special projects director for CMI, the Flyer's parent company.