AutoZone gets Political

Posted on January 30, 2014

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By Frankie Dakin

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The Redbirds and AutoZone Park have a brief, but noteworthy history. The City and County bought AutoZone Park’s land in the late 90’s, and the Park was soon built for $80.5 million ($109 M in 2014 dollars). This was by far the most money ever dropped on a minor league baseball park. The ballpark and the Redbirds current ownership structure are unique in itself. The organization has been owned by a non-profit community foundation, The Memphis Redbirds Foundation. The only American Sports franchise with similar ownership is the Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

Currently, ending the final closing of the deal, the foundation is selling the Redbirds to the Cardinals and the ballpark to the City. The foundation will then refinance their existing debt of around $64 M, leaving a tab of $24 M to be picked up by the City of Memphis. The City will issue bonds to be repaid in three ways: $300,000 in annual rent from the Cardinals, $100,000 annual pledge from AutoZone for the first 10 years, payments in lieu of taxes from the owners of the adjacent building and parking lot, and state rebates on sales tax collected at the park.  The sales tax rebates are the central revenue stream for paying off the debt.

The deal passed through the Memphis City Council on a 8-4 vote, with Harold Collins, Lee Harris, and Janis Fullilove voting ‘no.’ Bill Morrison, Myron Lowery, Kemp Conrad, Jim Strickland, Reid Hedgepath, William Boyd, Joe Brown, and Edmund Ford voting ‘yes.’ (Shea Flinn, abstained on behalf of a conflict of interest) Passage was much easier through the County Commission, with only Terry Roland voting ‘No.’ All would’ve celebrated the deal, if it weren’t for the sales tax rebates. Such rebates fall on the back of students, because the sales tax would have been used to fund education in Shelby County. Despite how you feel about the deal, at least we’ll have beer and baseball come April. If I may make a suggestion though, free tickets to the people who helped pay for it: students of Shelby County Schools.

Frankie Dakin is a Political Economy major at Rhodes and Alderman in his hometown, Millington, TN. His public service work throughout Millington and the Greater Memphis Area has earned him a number of accolades including the 2013 Harry S. Truman Scholarship for the state of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @frankiedakin.

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