Bass Pro Pyramid opening delayed until May 2015


Bass Pro rendering

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In ancient Egypt, even with the demands of Pharoah to build the Great Pyramids, it's believed it still took decades to construct them. Some say it seems like it's almost taking as long to transform Memphis' Pyramid.

"I don't know which took longer: the Pyramids of Egypt or this one," Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris said.

Almost just like those pyramids, it's a mystery as to exactly how it's being constructed. We do know Bass Pro spent $190 million in renovations.

In February, after several delays, the company promised a December 2014 opening date.

Tom Jowett is a Bass Pro architect who spoke to WREG earlier this year during a media and city council tour of the old arena.

"We are very excited to announce the opening for the store will be approximately December first. We've made significant progress. We are on schedule," Jowett said back in February.

That was then, this is now.

Here's how City Councilman Myron Lowery sees the Pyramid Redevelopment Project:

"There are more than 200 construction workers at the Pyramid everyday. They are working extremely fast. I don't believe that it'll open in December, probably in the spring," Lowery said.

But if the plans aren't on schedule, Harris, who said he's not ready to say yet when the project will come online, is concerned about what a possible delay could mean for Memphis taxpayers.

"We pay carrying costs. We generally keep the building heated and cooled. We also have to secure the building, which means it also has to a part of police patrols and so forth. Those spiral to six figures on a yearly basis to make sure the building is kept in tact," Harris said.

On November 5, the Wharton administration responded with the following:

"The City is not paying carrying costs for the project -- no security costs,  no heating and cooling costs, etc.  Bass Pro has paid rent and will pay rent as the tenant of the City owned facility.  The project pays for itself without any city appropriation from the city’s general fund.

Furthermore, the Pyramid sat dormant for 10 years. It cost the city an average of $700,000 yearly to maintain. This redevelopment does not require any money from the budgets of city government.

Also, the state is way behind schedule on their work on the interstate and the road into the pyramid can't be completed until they get out of the way."

Planners now say the Bass Pro Pyramid will open May 1, 2015.

In the shadows of the Pyramid is B.J. Chester-Tamayo's Pinch District restaurant on North Main Street, called Alcenia's. If the Pyramid doesn't open in December, it will put her restaurant in a real pinch.

"As you've noticed, three other businesses have closed and it's three of us left and this end is like the stepchild, like the forgotten end. Yes, it's been hard," Chester-Tamayo said.

This could be hard for people frustrated about possible delay.

WREG-TV obtained a September 24th Status Report from the Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

The letter states more than 200 construction workers are in the Pyramid daily, which has resulted in more than $19 million in MWBE spending, so the entire city can witness the Pyramid blooming into that much-promised, transformative, game-changing project.

It also says for the past ten months, construction, creative, and design teams have been transforming the Pyramid into a Cypress swamp with fish and alligators, and 24 faux Cypress trees stretching to the upper reaches of the building.

The status report also shows construction pictures taken in February, which is the last time anyone got a look at what's happening inside, but on the outside, you can see construction crews and trucks going in and out of the arena, a south-facing main entrance that looks more like a hunting lodge, and an upper-level observation deck taking shape.

Lowery said he's confident once the project is completed, it will stand as the first successful revenue-generating arena re-use project in the country.

"Nowhere in the United States has an arena been reconstructed the way the Pyramid has been done. Those arenas have either been torn down or now used as churches. But this will generate revenue for the city," Lowery said.

Across the street, signs are also going up, touting a possible hotel and restaurants to be built near the Pinch District soon.

Westy's restaurant owner Jake Schorr says he's hopeful whenever Bass Pro opens, it will breathe new life into the old Tomb of Doom basketball arena and help revive a district on life support.

"I'm excited about the future of Bass Pro, but for downtown Memphis, the Pinch District where we are, but with the trolley running it spreads. The area downtown, midtown and West Memphis will get some overnight stay and mean more jobs and more taxes," Schorr said.

"Good projects take time. Yes, it's longer than we all hoped, but it will be here. Hopefully, in the spring," Lowery said.

WREG made repeated efforts to contact Bass Pro for a statement regarding their Pyramid project in Memphis. They finally emailed us Wednesday, stating they're still working on media update plans for November and they'll let us know when they're finalized.


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