Memphis Pyramid

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Memphis Pyramid
The Pyramid Arena, as seen from the Auction Avenue bridge in 2002.
Former names Great American Pyramid, Pyramid Arena
Alternative names The Pyramid
General information
Address 1 Auction Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38105
Coordinates 35°9′20″N 90°3′7″W / 35.15556°N 90.05194°W / 35.15556; -90.05194Coordinates: 35°9′20″N 90°3′7″W / 35.15556°N 90.05194°W / 35.15556; -90.05194
Current tenants Bass Pro Shops
Groundbreaking September 15, 1989[1]
Opening November 9, 1991[2]
Renovated May 2015
Cost $65 million
($113 million in 2015 dollars[3])
Owner City of Memphis
Height 321 feet (91m)
Design and construction
Architect Rosser Fabrap International[4]

The Memphis Pyramid, initially known as the Great American Pyramid, formerly referred to as the Pyramid Arena and locally referred to as The Pyramid,[5] 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.[6] Its 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. For a number of years a statue of Ramesses the Great, created from a mold of the actual Ramesses statue in Egypt, stood in front of the Pyramid. In 2011, however, this statue was leased to the University of Memphis for the cost of $1 and was moved to the university's main campus in April 2012.

The Memphis Pyramid has not been regularly used as a sports or entertainment venue since 2004. The facility is currently being converted into a Bass Pro Shops "megastore" including shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range with an outdoor observation deck at its apex.


The "Great American Pyramid" was conceived originally by Mark C. Hartz, a Memphis artist in about 1954. The project included three pyramids located on the south bluffs of Memphis over-looking the mighty Mississippi River. The larger of the three would have be 2/3rd scale of the Great Pyramid of Memphis, Egypt. The flanking structures would have been scaled at 2/3s 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 well-known for his architectural renderings did a new rendering of the bronze glass-glazed pyramid. After countless pitches before the leaders, movers, and shakers of Memphis 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 project along with 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 restaurant, a music museum, and a theme park on Mud Island along with other things. However, the plans were scrapped due to a fallout between Tigrett and Shlenker and the latter's financial difficulties.

Various former uses and events[edit]

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.

It also hosted the boxing mega-fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in 2002, which Lewis won by a knockout in the eighth round.

Filmmaker Craig Brewer used the building as a sound stage for his film Black Snake Moan in late 2005.[7]

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[edit]

The vacant Pyramid pictured in 2010.

On the Pyramid's opening night, 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 arena was also assumed to be NBA ready; however, when the Memphis Grizzlies came to town, it was discovered that the cost of upgrading to NBA standards made it more practical to build an arena tailored specifically for the NBA. As a result, the $250 million FedExForum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies, was built and opened in 2004.

The City of Memphis contract with the Memphis 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.[8] 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 committee on the building's future recommended that it would be used for "destination retail" which would create more jobs and new tax revenues.

Bass Pro Shops and redevelopment[edit]

Artist's rendering of the Bass Pro signage on the outside of the Pyramid
Artist's rendering of the Sky High Catfish Cabin at the top of the Pyramid

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.[9] 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 to help with the seismic retrofitting of the structure which was funded by sales tax revenue in the surrounding area. Bass Pro began renovations and construction in October 2012 with hopes to open its store in Spring 2015.[10]

In addition to the retail store itself, Bass Pro at the Pyramid will be home to an archery range, shooting range, and laser arcade. The building will also include an Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill with a bowling alley and a saltwater aquarium. The tallest freestanding elevator in America will take visitors to the apex of the Pyramid where they can take in the view on an indoor and outdoor observation deck or get a bite to eat at the "Sky High Catfish Cabin"; a restaurant, bar, and aquarium at the top of the building. At the base of the Pyramid will be a 100-room hotel known as the Big Cypress Lodge. Bass Pro at the Pyramid will contain 600,000 gallons of water features and the largest collection of waterfowl and hunting related equipment in the world.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baird, Woody (September 15, 1989). "Memphis Will Celebrate". Associated Press. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  2. ^ Baird, Woody (November 9, 1991). "Big Pyramid, Little Wonder". Associated Press. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  3. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  4. ^ The Great American Pyramid
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ McMillin, Zack. Once filled to the rafters, Pyramid sits empty as its future is debated. Memphis Commercial Appeal, Sunday, May 10, 2009.
  7. ^ "Casting call announced for 'Black Snake Moan'". Memphis Business Journal (Memphis, TN). 2005-08-18. 
  8. ^ Williams, David (2007-12-12). "$250 million plan proposed for Pyramid, Mud Island". Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN). 
  9. ^ "Bass Pro Shops officially announce plans for the Pyramid". WMC-TV. 2006-02-02. 
  10. ^ Maki, Amos (2011-08-11). "Crews to begin transforming Pyramid into Bass Pro store Oct. 11, sources say". Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN). 
  11. ^ "Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid". 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
General Motors Place
Home of the
Memphis Grizzlies

2001 – 2004
Succeeded by
Preceded by
first arena
Home of
Memphis Pharaohs

1995 - 1996
Succeeded by
BancorpSouth Arena