Walk into Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid and try not to look up.
It’s a dare, not advice. Not looking up is a challenge.
Walk through the massive, antler-handled doors, step across the rustic, wooden floors and Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid looks like many Bass Pros across the country. But that changes entirely when you emerge into the main chamber.
Cypress trees stretch impossibly high overhead and your eyes instinctively rise to where Spanish moss drapes the spindly boughs that end somewhere above, on the border of eyesight and imagination.
Then there’s the massive elevator shaft. The darkened structure (the largest of its kind in the country) glowed emerald green on a recent visit. In it, a glass box carried tiny, hard-hatted figures through a ceiling just below The Pyramid’s apex and disappeared.
Water gurgles within earshot and your eyes fall to the knobby cypress knees, poking naturally from the water around the trees’ trunks. There, on a spit of land around the trunk, wild boar (taxidermied, of course) hunt and hunker together. You look finally down, over the railing in front of you and fish (live ones) swim in the gently flowing water under the wooden decking.
“[Bass Pro Shops] owner and founder Johnny Morris’ vision was to create a cypress swamp,” says David Hagel, general manager of Bass Pro at The Pyramid. “So, we have three quarters of a million gallons of water features, not only here but in the alligator pit and the aviary with live ducks. We have a three-story waterfall, and a massive amount of cypress trees. You have the rustic feel of the duck lodge cabins upstairs. That’s what he was going for and I think he hit a home run with it.”
Just beyond it all are the walls of The Pyramid, darkened but present, a blank space for your mind to fill in the rest of the outdoor scene with stars and an orchestra of crickets and frogs.
The outdoor scene, replete with nature’s asymmetry and curving lines, is a shocking contrast to the straight lines and stainless steel of The Pyramid’s exterior.
Even adorned as it is now with Bass Pro’s green-lit jumping bass logo, The Pyramid is sleek, clean. The design was a promise of a shiny, modern future for Memphis. For years it delivered on that promise, the major outlet for a “new” Memphis energy that brought thousands back Downtown for Tiger basketball games, world-class boxing, conferences, concerts, and more.
Then, on a cold February night in 2007, Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band closed their Pyramid show with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” As the final chords and the applause faded away, Seger left the stage, the lights came on, and the crowd filtered out into the cold Memphis night.
And that was it. The last big show. No “grand closing” event with speeches and balloons. Just one unannounced last hurrah for the Memphis Pyramid.
And there it sat, an empty icon. But an icon just the same. To this day, tourists on Beale Street can choose among Memphis shirts, mugs, or shot glasses featuring The Pyramid. Many Memphis companies are called “Pyramid” this or that, catering or electrical. Check the Yellow Pages.
Through the gut of the recession, that icon stared back at Memphians as a constant reminder of broken dreams and hard times. The star of our skyline, the most recognizable part of our city, was down on its luck with no prospects.
Fast forward through the rumors of a city deal with Bass Pro. Fast forward through the countless public meetings, PowerPoint presentations, reams of legal papers, hours of arguing, tentative agreements that were struck and expired, jokes about the “big bait shop on the river,” delayed schedules, construction, demolition, retro-fitting, road work, money, money, and more money.
The doors of The Pyramid have opened again, this time to one of the largest retail projects in the world. Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid is expected to bring millions of visitors to Downtown Memphis who are expected to leave behind millions of dollars in spending for Memphis businesses and tax revenues in the city coffers.
Based on those projections, officials say Bass Pro will be a game-changer here. But getting with the new times for the Memphis Pyramid, they ought to say instead that Bass Pro is going to be one hell of a honey hole.