The Memphis Pyramid is quite possibly the biggest municipal white elephant in the U.S. today. Built in 1991 for $68 million, the huge arena was never really finished (a planned top-floor observation deck, for instance, was never built).
Now it stands empty -- 150,000 square feet of hulking, unused space downtown that the city can't seem to find a use for. (When Memphis landed an NBA team in 2001, the new team insisted on a new arena. The Pyramid hasn't had a full-time tenant in over 3 years.)
The only idea on the table involves converting the Pyramid into a giant Bass Pro Shop. (Which, first of all, what?) But even that has stalled for the past two years.
The New York Times just took a visit to the Pyramid and found, well, not a whole lot.
I was just talking about this with Governing Managing Editor Chris Swope, and he made a really great point. If you as a city want to create an iconic symbol for yourself -- which is certainly what Memphis did -- it shouldn't also be conceived as a money-making commercial enterprise. Retail (and basketball teams) will come and go, but if you try to tie those fortunes to your symbolic icon, you're in for trouble.
Nobody looks at the St. Louis Gateway Arch and thinks, "Isn't it sad that it's empty inside?"