Wharton asks to delay AutoZone Park vote to Jan. 7 - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Wharton asks to delay AutoZone Park vote to Jan. 7

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Tim Andrassy / FOX13 News Tim Andrassy / FOX13 News
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Mayor A C Wharton asked Memphis city council on Wednesday to delay its vote until the first week of January on the purchase of AutoZone Park by the city.

Originally council has told the Wharton administration to offer a lower price of $15 million to purchase the stadium to avoid the possibility of taxpayers being burdened by the purchase. Council members were considered to vote on the park purchase Dec. 17.

MORE: Council throws slider in AutoZone Park purchase deal

In their first sign of assertiveness, since they were almost bowled over to accept a deal for the city to buy the downtown baseball stadium for $25 million in tandem with the St. Louis Cardinals buying ownership of their cash-strapped Triple-A team, the council came up with a hardline proposal of their own.

Mayor Wharton released this statement concerning the delay:

"In light of the questions that remain and the resolution that Memphis City Council passed Monday night, my administration has asked that the vote concerning AutoZone Park be held at the January 7th Council meeting. This allows additional time to analyze again every part of the proposed agreement, including all financial figures, and to continue negotiations to determine if it is possible to reach agreement with Fundamental Advisors within the context of the Council resolution regarding price and capital investment.

"As we continue, I have instructed my team to work with a renewed sense of partnership and collaboration with the City Council.  I share this commitment.  We look forward to conversations with the Council as we conduct the analysis and negotiations, and we look forward to working together to ensure that we keep this $408 million economic impact over 17 years in downtown Memphis, along with the 500,000 baseball fans that come to Redbirds games every year, and spend money and create new tax revenues in restaurants, hotels, and attractions."

Mayor Wharton had asked that the subject be removed from the Shelby County commissioner's committee agenda, but that didn't stop commissioners from getting in some verbal pot shots at the city's intention to buy AutoZone Park.

After years of observation I have learned if you are of the executive branch of local government among the worst things you can do is tell the legislative branch you don't want them to talk about a subject. Especially if that legislative body is the totally opinionated county commission.

Mr. Wharton had asked Commission Committee Chairman Steve Basar to delay a vote on a resolution to have the commission sign off their interest for any forthcoming deal for the city to buy the ballpark.

In 1997 before the park was constructed the county commission gave the project $4.2 million with the agreement if there were any profits from the stadium use they would get half. But, somewhere in the sands of time that stipulation in the agreement was forgotten since the non-profit ownership baseball foundation never made any money.

The city needs the commission to give up their interest and simply sign it over so the city can complete its deal to buy the park from a New York-based equity firm.

But, in being told to hold off on discussions until a potential deal is approved by the city council some commissioners said they might like to revisit what' could be owed to the county if a deal goes through.

"We got to get a return on our investment," said Commissioner Terry Roland. "We got to have $4.25 million at least for that piece of property. I cannot support this unless we retrieve that money."

"As I understand it, so far, what's out there is $20 million to acquire the bonds of a venture that has no possibility of succeeding," Commissioner Walter Bailey aid. "So, for that reason alone, I may be an antagonist in terms of us relinquishing anything in it, and vote, no."

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FOX13 News reporter Les Smith contributed to this report.

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