The Pyramid Arena, as seen from the Auction Avenue bridge in 2002.
|Location||1 Auction Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38105
|Broke ground||September 15, 1989|
|Opened||November 9, 1991|
|Owner||City of Memphis|
|Construction cost||$65 million
($111 million in 2013 dollars)
|Architect||Rosser Fabrap International|
|Structural engineer||Walter P. Moore & Associates, Inc.|
|General contractor||Huber, Hunt & Nichols|
|Memphis Tigers (NCAA) (1991–2004)
Memphis Grizzlies (NBA) (2001–2004)
Memphis Pharaohs (AFL) (1995–1996)
The Pyramid Arena, initially known as the Great American Pyramid and commonly referred to as The Pyramid, was originally built as a 20,142-seat arena located in downtown Memphis 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 unique structure plays on the city's namesake in Egypt, known for its ancient pyramids. It is 321 feet (98m, about 32 stories) tall and has base sides of 591 ft; it is by some measures the sixth largest pyramid in the world behind the Great Pyramid of Giza (456 ft), Khafre's Pyramid (448 ft), Luxor Hotel (348 ft), the Red Pyramid (341 ft), and the Bent Pyramid (332 ft). It is also slightly (about 16 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty. A statue of Ramesses the Great stood in front of the pyramid, which was created from a mold of the actual statue in Egypt. In 2011, this statue was leased to the University of Memphis for the cost of $1 and was moved to the campus in April 2012.
The Pyramid Arena has not been regularly used as a sports venue since 2004. The facility is currently being converted into a Bass Pro Shops "megastore".
The "Great American Pyramid" was conceived by 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 project along with construction of the building was managed by Sidney Shlenker. Originally, there were several plans to have various attractions at the Pyramid site, including a shortwave radio station broadcasting Memphis music, an observation deck with an inclinator along the side of the building, and a theme park on Mud Island along with other things. However, the plans were scrapped due to Shlenker's financial difficulties. Later on, he was investigated by the FBI for fraud.
Various former uses and events
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.
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.
The Pyramid was the site of the WWF St. Valentine's Day Massacre: In Your House pay-per-view, in 1999.
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.
Troubles and closure
Ever since its inception there have been problems at the Pyramid. On the Pyramid's opening night, someone shut drainage pumps off and by the time it was realized, the entire arena began to flood causing stage-hands to sandbag the entire perimeter to preserve the electrics which ran under the stage. This also caused plumbing problems and was considered a disaster. The arena was also assumed to be NBA ready. However, when the Memphis Grizzlies came to town, this was discovered not to be the case. The cost of upgrading the structure to NBA standards exceeded the cost of a new stadium. The new FedExForum was built and opened in 2004.
When the FedEx Forum overtook the Pyramid as the city's primary indoor sports arena, the Pyramid did not have any long term tenants. A committee studied possible uses of the arena in 2005, and considered such uses as converting the arena into a casino, an aquarium, a shopping center, 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.
Bass Pro Shops and redevelopment
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 now-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 which would create the main store, additional retail stores, restaurants, offices, and a river museum. In addition, the redevelopment plans include revitalizing the Pinch District, which is the neighborhood around the Pyramid. The city would invest $30 million to help with the seismic retrofitting of the structure which would be funded by future sales tax revenue in the surrounding area. Bass Pro began renovations and construction in October 2012 with hopes to open its store on December 1, 2014. The store will include an archery range, shooting range, laser arcade, and an Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill restaurant. Additionally, sixteen bowling lanes will be included, to be built as if it were underwater, with ball returns resembling sharks and alligators, and bowling balls bearing the likeness of sharks, seagulls, bobbers, octopus, leopards, mermaids, and more.  Recent plans indicate that the top of the Pyramid will consist of a restaurant and an indoor observation area, in addition to an open-air observation area.
- Baird, Woody (September 15, 1989). "Memphis Will Celebrate". Associated Press. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
- Baird, Woody (November 9, 1991). "Big Pyramid, Little Wonder". Associated Press. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2013. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- The Great American Pyramid
- McMillin, Zack. Once filled to the rafters, Pyramid sits empty as its future is debated. Memphis Commercial Appeal, Sunday, May 10, 2009.
- "Casting call announced for 'Black Snake Moan'". Memphis Business Journal (Memphis, TN). 2005-08-18.
- Williams, David (2007-12-12). "$250 million plan proposed for Pyramid, Mud Island". Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN).
- "Bass Pro Shops officially announce plans for the Pyramid". WMC-TV. 2006-02-02.
- Maki, Amos (2011-08-11). "Crews to begin transforming Pyramid into Bass Pro store Oct. 11, sources say". Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN).
- "Memphis Pyramid to become 220,000 sq ft Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World". Bass Pro Shops. 2012-06-01.
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