June 2nd, 2016
The first year of Bass Pro in the Pyramid is a success, their make-believe outdoor world a major draw, the sheer volume of their visitor numbers and sales already the stuff of retail legend.
The immediate area around them is as desolate as it was before Bass Pro arrived, as disconnected to their success as the destruction of the pedestrian bridge that used to connect the Pyramid to The Pinch, as abandoned as the trolley stop that used to bring us to the Pyramid, as empty as the promise of development and synergistic growth that was supposed to accompany their arrival.
None of that is Bass Pro’s fault. Theirs is a casino model – bring the people, get them inside, and keep them there as long as possible, spending as much as possible – and they are very good at it.
The promise of what’s to come is ours to keep, supporting St. Jude’s vision, encouraging development in The Pinch, building – literally and figuratively – bridges between Bass Pro visitors and our city, sharing what we uniquely have and making the most of it.
We gave Bass Pro the Pyramid. That’s enough.
As published in The Memphis Daily News, June 3, 2016, and The Memphis News, June 4-10, 2016
THE REAL DEAL.
When our daughter was five we took her to Disney World and totally encased ourselves in Disney plastic. To this day, I’m still haunted by strains of “It’s A Small World” that won’t leave my head, still having nightmares that I’m still in line for Space Mountain. The third day there, we took a boat to a lake island for a “nature walk.” Hallie looked down into a stream and looked up at me, wide-eyed:
“Look, Daddy, real fish!”
While I have nothing against Bass Pro, and I’m grateful that the redemptive powers of bass boats, ATV’s, shotguns and fudge can transform our dormant Pyramid and lure the faithful by the zillions over the gunwales, I’m not ready to cede our riverfront to them.
While I’m impressed by ingenuity that can create a swamp inside a building complete with 100-foot cypress trees, gators, gars, turtles and trout, and surround it with the screened porches of handsome cabins, I’m still aware that the swamp is concrete, the trees fiberglass, and most of things that swim in there don’t swim the waters right outside the door. There are no windows in those cabins, no breeze through those screens, no sunsets to watch from those porches.
Bass Pro has no interest in anything that would attract anyone inside outside unless they can control it and charge for it. The only outside view they offer is at the end of a $10 elevator ride. The only real involvement they have with this city is the deal that brought them. The only real connection is an interstate exit.
Pyramid builders have come here from afar before and promised great things and other mayors have swallowed that bait hook, line and Shlenker.
You may have read about Memphian Andy Cates’ RVC Outdoor Destinations proposal to transform Mud Island into a hands-on, outdoor experience – to bring us down to our river and get our feet wet in it, send us soaring above it, and let us spend the night right in front of it. On real porches watching real sunsets. On, in, around the real reason Memphis is here at all. I’ve seen what his company does – reviving and reinventing neglected and underutilized recreational properties in unique locales from the Carolinas to the Rockies, Pennsylvania to Florida.
Yet we won’t let him do it here.
He wants to do it here because he gets here – the genius of Roy Harrover’s river walk, the starry magic of the amphitheater, and the wasted opportunity at our front door. And he’s betting his money in his hometown, throwing 10 million bucks in the pot. Without the Cates family and their quiet and effective civic involvement there would be no Soulsville, no Grizzlies, no Greenline, no Overton Park Conservancy and more. While many in our city have played key roles in all of those things, the validity of my statement remains.
Yet we would defer to Bass Pro.
I’m a Memphian, and let’s use Memphis creativity on our island.