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Memphis officials AWOL on questions about taxpayer-financed retail project

By   /   October 31, 2013  /   Comments Off

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

MEMPHIS — Where is Tennessee Watchdog supposed to get answers about a project that allows Memphis officials to spend $30 million of taxpayer money to convert the Memphis Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shops store?

They are mighty hard to come by.

Bass Pro officials have previously said nothing about the project, although that might soon change.

PYRAMID SCHEME: Memphis officials seem AWOL on answering questions about a taxpayer-subsidized project to convert the Memphis Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shops resort.

PYRAMID SCHEME: Memphis officials seem AWOL on answering questions about a taxpayer-subsidized project to convert the Memphis Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shops resort.

“We had a conference call with Memphis city officials today, and they are proposing that we take over the communications aspect, although that has not been approved by upper management yet,” said Bass Pro spokeswoman Katie Mitchell on Thursday.

The Memphis Housing and Community Development, headed by Robert Lipscomb, is the city agency overseeing the project.

“I could contact Mr. Lipscomb for you, but I doubt he’s going to tell you anything. At this point in time I don’t have a status report to be able to answer any questions.”

As it happens, Tennessee Watchdog phoned Lipscomb’s office Wednesday and Thursday, but we couldn’t leave a voicemail because the box was full.

Tennessee Watchdog did reach Lipscomb’s spokeswoman, Debbie Singleton, in an e-mail, but she wouldn’t answer our submitted questions.

We also couldn’t get through to anybody from Memphis Mayor AC Wharton’s office, and messages left with all 13 city council members were not returned.

All of this fits a pattern that troubles Memphis resident Steve Basar, a member of the Shelby County Commission.

“How much power does Lipscomb really have, whether perceived or real?” asked Basar.

Basar said he currently has no political ambitions beyond his current seat and is only criticizing Memphis officials as a concerned city resident.

LARGESS: Bass Pro Shops will receive $30 million in taxpayer money to renovate the Memphis Pyramid for its own uses.

LARGESS: Bass Pro Shops will receive $30 million in taxpayer money to renovate the Memphis Pyramid for its own uses.

“It’s hard to find anybody willing to challenge him on the record, and this includes Memphis City Council members, who won’t come on the record to question anything he’s done.”

The project was supposed to open this year, but Basar told Tennessee Watchdog he has contacts in the construction industry who said the store will probably open in 2015, not the currently scheduled 2014 date.

The new Bass Pro store is supposed to have a three-story hotel, “nature scapes,” giant cypress trees and a floating dock, according to a company news release.

The Pyramid, which is 32 stories high, was once the arena for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Memphis men’s basketball program.

Memphis media have already reported the renovation could go tens of millions of dollars over budget.

According to the Memphis Business Journal, Bass Pro has a lease agreement with the city for 20 years with options for seven renewal periods of five years each. The project is getting $41 million in Federal Recovery Zone Facility bonds and $2.7 million in Recovery Zone Economic Development bonds.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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