The Memphis Pyramid, initially known as the Great American Pyramid, formerly referred to as the Pyramid Arena and locally referred to as The Pyramid, was originally built as a 20,142-seat arena located in downtown Memphis, in the U.S. state of Tennessee, at the banks of the Mississippi River. The facility was built in 1991 and was originally owned and operated jointly by the city of Memphis and Shelby County; Shelby County sold its share to Memphis in April 2009. Its structure plays on the city's namesake in Egypt, known for its ancient pyramids. It is 321 feet (98 m) (about 32 stories) tall and has base sides of 591 feet (180 m); it is by some measures the tenth-tallest pyramid in the world.
The Memphis Pyramid has not been regularly used as a sports or entertainment venue since 2004. In 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops "megastore", which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with an outdoor observation deck adjacent to its apex.
The "Great American Pyramid" was conceived originally by Mark C. Hartz, a Memphis artist in about 1954. The project originally included three pyramids located on the south bluffs of Memphis overlooking the Mississippi River. The largest of the three would have been two-third scale of the Great Pyramid of Giza near Memphis, Egypt; the flanking structures would have been scaled at two-thirds the size of the main pyramid. The project languished for three decades until Mark's younger son, Memphian Jon Brent Hartz, resurrected the concept. Mark C. Hartz, who was well known for his architectural renderings, rendered a new bronze glass-glazed pyramid. After years of negotiations, the younger Hartz's concept was adopted by entrepreneur John Tigrett as a symbol for the city of Memphis. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 15, 1989 and the building was opened on November 9, 1991.
The construction of the building was managed by Sidney Shlenker, part owner of the Denver Nuggets and several entertainment companies, who Tigrett had brought to Memphis to develop tourist attractions in the building. Originally, there were plans for a shortwave radio station broadcasting Memphis music, an observation deck with an inclinator along the side of the building, a Hard Rock Cafe, a music museum, and a theme park on Mud Island along with other things. However, the plans were scrapped because of a fallout between Tigrett and Shlenker and the latter's financial difficulties.
The Pyramid Arena, as seen from the Auction Avenue bridge in 2002.
|Location||1 Auction Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38105
|Owner||City of Memphis|
|Broke ground||September 15, 1989|
|Opened||November 9, 1991|
|Construction cost||US$65 million
($117 million in 2017 dollars)
|Architect||Rosser Fabrap International|
|Structural engineer||Walter P. Moore & Associates, Inc.|
|General contractor||Huber, Hunt & Nichols|
|Memphis Tigers (NCAA) (1991–2004)
Memphis Pharaohs (AFL) (1995–1996)
Memphis Grizzlies (NBA) (2001–2004)
The Pyramid was the home court for the University of Memphis men's basketball program, and later for the National Basketball Association's Memphis Grizzlies. However, both teams left The Pyramid in November 2004 to move into the newly built FedExForum. It was also home to the Memphis Pharaohs of the AFL.
The arena hosted the 1993 Great Midwest Conference Men's and Women's basketball tournaments, the 1994 and 1997 Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament, the 1996 and 2000 Conference USA men's basketball tournament, and the 2003 Conference USA women's basketball tournament. It also held the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in 1995, 1997, and 2001.
From 2002 to 2006, the annual Church of God in Christ international holy convocations were held here.
In 2002, the arena hosted a concert, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death.
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band performed what is reputed to be the last concert ever in the Pyramid, on February 3, 2007.
On the Pyramid's opening night,[clarification needed] the arena floor flooded because of inadequate drainage pumps, and the entire arena began to flood causing stage hands to sandbag the entire perimeter to preserve the electrical runs under the stage.
The death knell for the arena sounded when the NBA's Grizzlies moved from Vancouver. The Pyramid was originally thought to be more than suitable for an NBA team, but it was discovered that it needed to be significantly upgraded in order to be a viable NBA arena. The cost of upgrading to NBA standards made it more practical to build a new arena. As a result, the $250 million FedExForum was built and opened in 2004.
The City of Memphis's contract with the Grizzlies forbade the use of The Pyramid without the team's approval, and as a result, it went dark. A committee headed by Memphis businessman Scott Ledbetter studied possible uses of the arena in 2005, and considered such uses as converting the arena into a casino, an aquarium, a shopping mall, or an indoor theme park. In November 2006, Congressman-Elect Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) suggested that he would attempt to open a "Mid-American branch" of the Smithsonian Institution in the building. However, these plans were never realized. In the end, the Ledbetter committee on the building's future recommended that it be used for "destination retail" which would create more jobs and new tax revenues.
In October 2005, media speculation began to focus on an aquarium or a Bass Pro Shops superstore as the most likely long-term tenants of the arena. In 2008, the city and Bass Pro Shops reached a "tentative" agreement, short on details, but based on an intent to develop the then-abandoned structure. On June 30, 2010, after 5 years of negotiating, Bass Pro and the City of Memphis signed an agreement for a 55-year lease for a Bass Pro Shops megastore. In addition, the redevelopment plans include revitalizing the Pinch District, which is the neighborhood east of the Pyramid. The city invested $30 million and hired O.T. Marshall Architects to help with the seismic retrofitting of the structure which was funded by sales tax revenue in the surrounding area. O.T. Marshall later was hired by Bass Pro for its renovations and construction, leading to its opening April 29, 2015.
In addition to the retail store itself, Bass Pro at the Pyramid is home to an archery range, shooting range, and laser arcade. The building also includes an Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill with a bowling alley and a saltwater aquarium. The tallest freestanding elevator in America takes visitors to The Lookout at the Pyramid at the apex of the building, where they can take in the view on an indoor and outdoor observation deck or dine and drink at the "Sky High Catfish Cabin", a restaurant, bar, and aquarium at the top of the building. At the base of the Pyramid is a 100-room hotel known as the Big Cypress Lodge. Bass Pro at the Pyramid contains 600,000 gallons of water features and the largest collection of waterfowl and hunting related equipment in the world.
One million people visited the Bass Pro Pyramid between the grand opening in April 2015 and July 8, 2015. Due in part to this large success, Bass Pro is considering adding a zip-line and a second hotel to the Pyramid.
In 2011, a drawing of The Pyramid – alongside images of iconic structures from Tennessee's three other large cities (the AT&T Building in Nashville, Knoxville's Sunsphere, and the Tennessee Aquarium of Chattanooga) – was incorporated into the standard design of Tennessee's state-issued driver's licenses.
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