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Local church latest to bid for Pyramid

There’s no apparent lack of suitors for Memphis’ Pyramid Arena. The latest entrant to the sweepstakes, is not the standard type of bidder.When Fed Ex Forum opened for business in 2004 in Memphis, it was gebnerally understood that Pyramid Arena would eventually get shut down. After all, when you are the home floor for the local NBA franchise and the major college team in town, there isn’t a lot of business left over.

Still, the building is only 17 years old and in good shape. So there was no good reason to knock it down. Thus,  the city of Memphis and Shelby County, who own and operate the place, put the place up for bid.

Bass Pro Shops, an outdoor retail company, indicated interest in buying the facility but hasn’t made a concrete offer.  This week, another applicant said it is interested: Cummings Street Missionary Baptist Church.

Cummings Street pastor Gary Faulkner is looking for a new home for his 5,000-strong and predominantly black congregation, which has grown more than sixfold in the past 13 years. He has identified the 20,000-seat Pyramid as an ideal venue.

Faulkner believes his church can bring an "economic surge Downtown. Count Robert Lipscomb, the city’s arena reuse project manager, as a doubter. "What’s the economic benefit of that?" Lipscomb asked. "I still don’t think that’s the highest and best use for the building. You’re not putting any businesses in there."

The church says it can offer $12 million for the place. Considering the current remaining mortgage is slightly more than $8 million, the current owners are interested.

There is a little precedent here. The Pyramid wouldn’t be the first basketball arena to be converted into a church: The Compaq Center in Houston, Texas, and The Great Western Forum in Los Angeles are both now owned and operated by mega-churches.

Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Jim Huntzicker sees potential value to the idea.

"The facility itself is a special-use facility and has some limitations," he said. "It happens that church use is one thing that can go in there without a great deal of modification and would at least be a viable use."

Huntzicker admitted a church is "probably not at the top of the list" from an economic standpoint, adding "On the other hand, we haven’t had great success bringing any other options to fruition. It’s a better use than leaving it empty."