From Commercial Appeal:
It all came down to one really big catfish.
While on a 2005 fishing trip on the Mississippi River near The Pyramid, Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris told fishing buddies Bill Dance, the famous angler and TV show host, and Jack Emmitt, Bass Pro's first fishing manager, that he would build a store inside the Memphis arena if they caught a 30-pound catfish.
"Sure enough, with about one hour to go, (Emmitt) got a bite and caught this catfish in the shadow of The Pyramid, and I said, 'It's a deal -- we're gonna do it,'" Morris said.
He spoke at an invitation-only "construction kick-off celebration" at The Pyramid on Thursday, as city officials celebrated reeling in Bass Pro to redevelop the shuttered Downtown arena into a tourist and retail-sport destination.
"As they say, good things come to those who wait," said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton from a stage adorned with a stuffed deer, bear, moose and turkey. "What you see here is a hunting, fishing and sporting paradise on the mightiest of rivers, the Mississippi."
Morris, 64, who founded Bass Pro Shops 40 years ago, was making his first public appearance in Memphis.
"It will be one of the most unique retail environments you could ever hope for," he said. "We've got this grand shell to work from, which is a dream any retailer would want to have."
Inside The Pyramid now, blue chalk on the concrete floor outlines places where massive water features will go, while shells of a general store, bowling alley, restaurant and elevator to the observation deck have been erected with wood and tape.
The store will re-create a Delta cypress swamp, with a large body of water on the ground floor and cypress trees stretching to the upper reaches of the building.
Visitors will travel on walking paths above the water, which will be stocked with freshwater fish. The project includes an aviary, a zip line and a 24,000-gallon aquarium.
The 220,000-square-foot outdoor superstore is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.
Morris, the creative force behind many of the stores for the Springfield, Mo.-based company, has decided to include a three-story hotel in The Pyramid's interior.
In addition, Morris is developing a partnership with Memphis-based Ducks Unlimited to celebrate the migratory path known as the Delta Flyway and to create a waterfowl museum.
Morris also hopes customers will be able to try out boats in the harbor near The Pyramid.
"This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking and opportunity," said Morris.
In 2010, the city and Bass Pro Shops signed a lease for the retailer to occupy the redeveloped Pyramid for 20 years, with seven five-year renewals possible.
In 2011, the City Council approved a plan allowing the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. to issue $215 million in bonds to fund the project.
"Everything about this is very unusual," said Morris. "It's such a unique building, a unique setting on the river, and it's not without burdens and not without a lot of investment by a lot of people, and it's not without risk taking."
Beyond transforming The Pyramid, Bass Pro and the city hope to create a new "gateway" entrance to the Pinch Historic District on the north end of Downtown, as well as a boulevard leading to the arena.
Currently, the Pinch district is separated from the Memphis Cook Convention Center and the rest of Downtown by the Interstate 40 overpass structure, which tourism officials have said creates a dead zone.
-- Amos Maki: (901) 529-2351
Redeveloping The Pyramid
The city of Memphis and Bass Pro Shops are transforming the shuttered Pyramid arena Downtown into a destination retail store and tourist attraction. In addition to redeveloping The Pyramid, city officials plan to enhance the Memphis Cook Convention Center area and connections to the Mississippi River.
Financing: The Center City Revenue Finance Corp., the finance arm of the Downtown Memphis Commission, issued $215 million in bonds to fund the project, which are to be paid back through increased sales tax revenue collected Downtown.
The city bought the nearby Lone Star property for $13.5 million and will spend around $2 million tearing the buildings down to create green space.
Demolition work inside The Pyramid -- removing arena bleachers, seating and masonry walls -- was completed for $2.7 million.
The city must complete seismic reinforcement work, installing an underground steel-and-concrete wall, at an expected cost $7.1 million. Bids for making seismic improvements to the building came in at $15 million, though it was projected to cost $20 million.