Church wants to buy Memphis Pyramid arena

Published 5:35 pm Friday, July 25, 2008

The 32-story pyramid-shaped arena sitting empty beside the Memphis riverfront once held screaming crowds of sports and concert fans. Now, a Memphis church wants to fill it with worshippers.

“Every time we’ve occupied a space, we’ve filled it,” said Gary Faulkner, pastor of Cummings Street Missionary Baptist Church, whose 5,000-member congregation is offering $12 million for the Memphis Pyramid.

Once home to University of Memphis basketball and the NBA Grizzlies, the arena has been a financial drag on city and county government for years. Opened in 1991 at a cost of $65 million, it never lived up to financial expectations, though it often hosted top grade concerts and sporting events.

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The city and county, which still owe more than $8 million on the building, have been talking for more than two years with Bass Pro Shops of Springfield, Mo., about turning the Pyramid into a megastore for outdoors recreational equipment.

But the city and county have failed to get a solid commitment from Bass Pro.

“I’m pro-Memphis. If Bass Pro works, that’s great,” Faulkner said.

But if it doesn’t, a megachurch rather than a megastore would be fine, too, he said.

Faulkner’s church is not the first local group to propose new uses for the Pyramid and he has not gone into detail about financing.

But Jim Hutzicker, the county’s chief administrative officer, said the church’s interest appears genuine.

“We want to get a solid commitment from Bass Pro by the end of the month,” Hutzicker said. “If we don’t, we will recommend to the (city council and county commission) that they open up the process. The church would be one of those we could consider.”

Faulkner said his church is strapped for space and now holds five Sunday services at three different locations.

Robert Lipscomb, director of city efforts to find a new use for the Pyramid, said he was unsure a church would be the best way to go.

“What’s the economic benefit of that?” Lipscomb sad. “You’re not putting any businesses in there.”