Watchdog: Follow the Money

Bass Pro Shops hooks taxpayers for $30 million

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Watchdog,Tennessee,Big Government,Follow the Money,Corporate Welfare

NASHVILLE — More than $30 million — and counting — in taxpayer money will go toward transforming the Memphis Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shop to rival Six Flags in entertainment value.

But plans have expanded and cost overruns are likely, according to Memphis TV affiliate WATN.

The new store will include a three-story hotel, "nature scapes," giant cypress trees and a floating dock, according to Bass Pro Shops. 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.

Tennessee Watchdog had its own set of questions about the project and reached out to Bass Pro officials first and Memphis city officials second, without much luck.

In an emailed response, spokeswoman Katie Mitchell said the company would not answer questions and directed all inquiries to Robert Lipscomb, director of Memphis' Housing and Community Development. That agency is overseeing the deal.

Tennessee Watchdog made five separate attempts over the course of three days to contact Lipscomb, but he failed to return any of the messages.

According to WATN, plans for the megastore recently expanded and now include a glass-walled restaurant and a possible sky ride. The station reported the renovation could go tens of millions of dollars over budget.

"While the transformation is under way at the Pyramid, what most don't know is at City Hall, contracts originally signed between Memphis and Bass Pro have changed time and time again. There has been one amendment after another," the station reported.

"According to the most recent change, if the costs go over the city's $30 million contribution, the city will cover the excess costs and pay vendors directly; Bass Pro will then reimburse the city by paying additional rent."

Messages left with Memphis Mayor AC Wharton's office were not returned.

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. The store is expected to open in late 2014.

Chris Butler is a reporter for Tennessee Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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