Saturday, December 05, 1992

Welcome Center for I-40 to Miss Award Target

Commercial Appeal
By Roland Klose

The state has put off approving bids to begin work on a new I-40 Welcome Center until at least February, a Tennessee transportation official said Friday.

The delay has resulted, in part, because of questions raised about how the site at Jefferson and Riverside will be conveyed to the state. The state wants to own the property; the city hasn't decided whether to turn over the site or lease it to the state.

The question of ownership is the latest ripple in a protracted public debate about the I-40 Welcome Center, but state and local officials said they do not view the ownership issue as an obstacle.

Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton and Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris jointly announced the location for an I-40 visitors' center in February, ending years of debate about where to build the facility, which will be designed to showcase the city's attractions to motorists traveling along the east-west interstate corridor.

Several alternative locations had been considered, including putting the center on Arkansas farmland straddling the interstate.

The center, which is estimated to cost about $4.5 million, is being divided into two contracts: one for site preparation and one for actual design and construction.

The state originally planned to take bids for site preparation for the project this week, said Ray Terrell, director of the Bureau of Planning and Development for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Besides the ownership issue, a contributing factor to the delay was that not all the utility contracts for the site were in place, Terrell said.

Before site work begins, sewer, telephone and electrical lines have to be relocated, and those contracts were not in place to meet the December target date, City Engineer James Collins said.

While awarding a contract for site preparation has been delayed, the state is moving forward with the selection of an architectural and engineering firm for the center.

City Atty. Monice Hagler said the city is considering leasing the property to the state because the property is part of the promenade, a narrow band of land stretching roughly north and south from near Saffarans to Beale Street that was preserved for public use in the initial city plat of 1819.

"We need to make sure what we do is legal," Hagler said. She said the city and state are "not in an adversarial position."

Hagler said neither the option on the property granted to International Paper Co. in 1987, nor the existing lease to APCOA Inc., which operates a parking lot on the property, are factors responsible for the delay.

APCOA was awarded the parking lot concession for the property by Sidney Shlenker's Pyramid Management Authority, and the contract was assumed by the city when Shlenker was ousted as Pyramid manager.

Hagler said the contract provided that APCOA would lose its rights to the promenade parking lot if the state exercised its option to put a Welcome Center on the property.

A non-disturbance certificate between the city and APCOA, signed last December by former mayor Dick Hackett, did not change that provision, she said. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

The city granted International Paper a 99-year option to lease 650 of 800 parking spaces in the promenade parking lot.

The option, one of several offered as inducements to lure the company to Memphis, was never exercised.

Copyright 1992, 1994 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Sunday, October 18, 1992

Pyramid Dreams: Pyramid Schemes, Part 3 of 3

How did Sidney Shlenker's Promise Die?

Commercial Appeal
By Louis Graham

Part 3 of 3 (Continued from Part 2, Part 1)

Fuji, the huge Japanese lender, bowed out over fear the company would not get the project completed. This wasn't another apartment development. It would be hard to find someone to step in and complete the pyramid additions. The Japanese would reconsider, but only if the city and county would guarantee completion.

Pyramid Dreams: Pyramid Schemes, Part 2 of 3

How did Sidney Shlenker's Promise Die?

Commercial Appeal
By Louis Graham

Part 2 of 3 (Continued from Part 1)

"At 76, I have no obligation to anyone in the world except my family - certainly not to politicians. In fact, if there is any obligation, it is the other way round. If my position is not crystal clear, please advise."

Clearly chafed, Morris fired back. But his letter was never mailed.

"In eleven years of office, I have never received a letter quite like yours of February 24, 1989. . . .

Pyramid Dreams: Pyramid Schemes, Part 1 of 3

How did Sidney Shlenker's Promise Die?

Commercial Appeal
By Louis Graham

Part 1 of 3

SIDNEY Shlenker faced his anxious employees with evidence of salvation in hand.

He unfolded a one-page letter, apologized for the hardship and uncertainty, then began to read aloud. The letter confirmed Shlenker had landed an $80 million loan.

Cheers, even tears of relief, burst from many of the 30 employees at The Pyramid Companies office on that May morning last year.

Shlenker rushed off to deliver the letter to Mayors Dick Hackett and Bill Morris. The city and county mayors had been exuberant allies, but as one promised loan after another fell through, they had grown impatient and cynical.

Pyramid Dreams: Pyramid Schemes: Cast of Characters

Commercial Appeal
By Colin Ruthven

(Main article starts here)

1. Sidney Shlenker. Controlled the day-to-day management of The Pyramid Companies as president and majority owner. Under Shlenker, the company took on responsibility for managing the taxpayers' arena in April 1989 and making millions of dollars' of additions. Also controlled city-owned Mud Island.

2. John Burton Tigrett. Recognized as the father of the pyramid project. Lobbied for tax dollars to build the project with commitment of private investment. Recruited Shlenker, then became minority owner and chairman of company resulting from their partnership.

3. O. Gene Bicknell. Chairman and majority owner of National Pizza Co. Company committed millions to project as sponsor and concessionaire. Bicknell evolved as possible replacement to Shlenker.

4. Isaac Burton Tigrett. Hard Rock Cafe co-founder and John Tigrett's son. Original signator on a deal requiring a minimum of $10 million private investment in the pyramid.

5. Dean Bonham. President of a Denver sports marketing firm responsible for selling $44 million in sponsorships and concession deals for the project.

6. A. Jerrold Perenchio. Wealthy Hollywood mogul and friend of both Tigrett and Shlenker. Responsible for introducing the two in late 1988.

7. James Goldsmith. British billionaire and longtime friend of John Tigrett. Controlled General Oriental Investments Ltd., whose stock figured prominently in the pyramid deal. Reputed source of a $1 million loan to the project.

8. Dick Hackett. Former Memphis mayor. Heavily involved from the outset because of the use of city funds in project. Defeated for re-election by W. W. Herenton in October 1991.

9. Bill Morris. Shelby County mayor. Heavily involved from the outset of the deal in 1987 because millions of county tax dollars were invested in construction of the pyramid.

10. Walter Richards. Chief financial officer, The Pyramid Companies. Followed Shlenker from a Houston investment firm to the Denver Nuggets, then to Memphis.

11. Marshall Criss. Chief operating officer and general counsel, The Pyramid Companies. Initially involved as John Tigrett's lawyer.

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