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The Meeting That Got Away

It appeared with no fanfare or advance notice.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s public schedule is posted on the city’s website. And included under Friday’s events was a meeting with City Attorney Herman Morris and Bass Pro Shops CEO Jim Hagale. No time or place was listed.

After it was noticed by us and other media, the event vanished from the mayor’s public schedule some time Thursday.

Wharton then put out the word Friday morning that there would be no meeting. It was tweeted and posted on the mayor’s website.

“But note that June 30 still remains the deadline for this redevelopment project, as I announced to City Council several weeks ago,” he added. “We are excited about the progress that we have made and the prospects for a positive announcement. I’ll make an additional statement next week.”

Until recently, the mayor’s office didn’t list a public schedule for the mayor.

And meetings with business leaders looking to make a deal to move to Memphis have always been a sensitive topic usually done with no notice before, after or during a get together.

When the mayor’s office was on the second floor of City Hall, the same floor where the press room has been since the building opened in 1967 and remains today, reporters were known to sit on a bench outside the press room with a view of whoever was going into the mayor’s office.

Unless you were up on what your Fortune 500 executives looked like, you usually looked for a group of guys with brief cases and dark tailored suits. The one without a brief case was usually the head knocker whom you would try to get to identify himself on the way in and on the way out. It rarely worked as well as using the same tactics to cover the federal grand jury just one block over at the Federal Building.

If the city reaches a lease agreement that will bring Bass Pro Shops to The Pyramid expect a party. The long – longer than expected – public road to this still tentative deal began with a Feb. 2006 ceremonial unveiling involving fishing rods and reels. Willie Herenton was Memphis Mayor at the time.

His administration didn’t get an offer from Bass Pro Shops. It conducted a study to find the best use for The Pyramid and the group’s conclusion was an outdoor retailer – either Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s.
Downtown developer Henry Turley had already tried privately to float the Cabela’s scenario but found little support to move forward and moved on to other projects. The city approached Bass Pro Shops and the company was interested.

Wharton, who was then county mayor, was also there with a rod and reel. County government, at the time, was a co-owner. It has since sold its interest in The Pyramid after the city offered several million dollars to continue city funding of the Health Department for one more fiscal year.

At last report, Bass Pro Shops still intended to open The Pyramid, out of business since late 2004, in Nov. 2011. That’s an ambitious opening date given there will be some kind of seismic retrofitting involved in the reconfiguration of The Pyramid. Bass Pro Shops has insisted on it and the city will be paying for it as the landlord.

Dansette

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