Commissioners spar over Pyramid plans

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A debate to sell Shelby County's share of the Pyramid Arena to the city of Memphis erupted in fireworks during a Shelby County Commission committee meeting Wednesday.

Shelby County resident Don Ware argued the taxpayers of Shelby County have a stake in the Pyramid because they've been paying taxes on it since the days it opened and closed its doors.

"It's messing with my money," Ware said.

Ware told commissioners if they sell the Pyramid Arena to the City of Memphis for five million dollars they'd be squandering the equity county tax payers paid to build it.

"If we've got 61 million dollars tied up in it, then we ought to be able to sell it for more than five," he said.

Shelby County Mayor Wharton attended the meeting in support of the sale.

"Even if we do have equity in it in the county, we're broke as a church-house mouse out here," Wharton said. "What are we going to do with it?"

Ware cautioned commissioners to be careful with how they spend county taxpayer dollars, but Wharton said 70 percent of the money that went into building the Pyramid came from city taxpayers.

Wharton said the county's $1.7 billion debt means it has no money to contribute to the arena's development.  It would be better, he said, to sell the county's share to the city to make way for Bass Pro Shops to take over the arena.

"You better go on and get it while the money's still there and get this thing done," he said. "I don't know what the world's going to look like in six months."

Commissioner Mike Ritz asked Wharton if the city wants all of the arena, will the city have all the money it will need to keep paying for the building in the future.

"If the city wants this thing, and they want to hook this dog under the terms and agreements that they've apparently worked out with Bass Pro or whoever they want to do it with, that's fine as long as you don't come back and ask us for the money," Ritz said.

"You're asking that in a vacuum," Wharton replied. "In a court of law, they don't allow us to ask hypothetical questions."
Commissioner Steve Mulroy called the proposal a power struggle.

"I think we all know what's really the main issue with respect to this resolution," he said. "The city administration wants to have complete control over what happens with the Pyramid.">

Mulroy said his constituents feel the county has just as much at stake in the Pyramid as the city.

Commissioner Sidney Chism said he didn't know which constituents Mulroy had spoken with.
"They want to move this deal," Chism said. "They don't care what.  They don't want us constantly hanging onto it, and if you think your constituency over there wants to keep it, then you need to speak to all of them and not just a few."

A vote on the proposal to sell the arena ended in a draw.  It will go to the full commission Monday for a final vote.

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