Feb. 26--Bass Pro Shops wants eye-popping oval logo signs 90-foot-wide by 66-foot-high on each face of the 32-story Pyramid.
Looming along the Interstate 40 gateway into Memphis, the big signs featuring a jumping largemouth bass logo would likely draw motorists' attention from the other smaller outdoor billboards long in place and signs atop the office towers lining the Downtown riverfront.
"Wow," said architect Chooch Pickard upon seeing drawings of the signs for the first time. He called them "inappropriate in Downtown Memphis along the river."
"They're big," said Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris, "and the proposed signage is backlit so they'll glow, so you'll be able to see it deep into Arkansas."
Bass Pro Shops will seek approval March 6 for design details including building signs and numerous smaller, outdoor-themed treatments around the 47-acre campus. A destination retail attraction is the goal of a $191 million retrofit of the vacant, city-owned former sports and entertainment arena.
BassPro has made no secret of plans to stamp its brand on the Pyramid and has been welcomed as a savior that will bring jobs and visitors to Memphis. Supporting documents in its lease agreement, approved by the City Council in August 2010, included similar comparable signs in conceptual form, Morris noted.
But is this like hanging an oversized Budweiser logo on the St. Louis Arch or a huge Starbucks sign on the Seattle Space Needle?
Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane doesn't think so. He believes the city is trading one icon for another.
"Bass Pro as a retail venture has such a recognizable logo across the country that it will not tarnish Memphis' image at all. The Pyramid has been a defining part of our skyline for the last 20 years, but you've got to understand, if I'm Bass Pro, I certainly want to draw people off the interstate, and there's no better way to do that."
John Malmo, Memphis advertising executive, said, "That's one helluva sign package, but if you rent the Lincoln Memorial to a retailer and he wants to put up a huge sign to advertise autographed pictures of Jefferson Davis, he's going to do it unless the lease forbids it."
Pickard, former executive director of the Memphis Regional Design Center, took a different view.
"Although the Pyramid is a large building, these signs appear to be 4 times the size of a large billboard, which is inappropriate in Downtown Memphis along the river. These are also internally illuminated (signs), which in my opinion are not attractive. I hope the (Design Review Board) insists that the applicant comes back with a more innovative design."
Bass Pro officials did not return an email.
Whatever the city-sponsored project's promised economic benefit, it would appear Bass Pro's aesthetic sensibility will be debated over the next 10 days.
The Springfield, Mo.-based sporting goods retailer will seek approval from the Downtown Memphis Commission Design Review Board during a 4 p.m. meeting at commission offices at 114 N. Main.
To see the Bass Pro Shops application, follow this link on the Downtown Memphis Commission website: http://tinyurl.com/apzgmt3
The riverfront district has some of Downtown's most stringent sign regulations, so the company would likely need exceptions. The rules limit signs to 30 square feet, for instance, while each Bass Pro logo sign would be 4,169 square feet (and 30,000 pounds).
Morris said he wouldn't look for the design board to be a rubber stamp for Bass Pro, but he also noted the board has discretion to make exceptions.
"The fact is the sign code wasn't necessarily contemplating a retail superstore in the Pyramid, so it's difficult to apply the sign code to this application. But that's not unusual. We often apply the sign code to unusual situations."
For many, the signs represent an unforeseen but unavoidable consequence of putting the Pyramid back to productive use.
"I had never thought there would be signs right on the four sides of the Pyramid," architect Bill Ferguson of Askew Nixon Ferguson confessed. "I thought there would be free-standing signs beside it."
He hoped Bass Pro has wiggle room.
"It's so visible from so many directions down there. They don't just get a free card to avoid the logic and sensibility behind our signage law," Ferguson said. "I'd like to see them get together and work through that. I'm hoping it's their first shot."