Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Clearance

A look at Louisville, blight, MCS enrollment, and the RDC.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 10:10 AM

Did consolidation work in Louisville?

That Kentucky river city consolidated with Jefferson County in 2003, after a referendum passed in 2000. It's one of the "peer cities" consolidation supporters are using in their campaign to rebuild Memphis and Shelby County government.

Louisville is worth a glance because it has some similarities to Memphis — river town, basketball crazy, UPS hub — and it did the deed more recently than Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Nashville, three other cities in the peer group.

Metro Louisville's population went from 260,000 to 700,000 by virtue of consolidation. But in the last decade, U.S. Census reports show the area had a population loss of 8,555, due to residents moving to other cities in the United States. Greater Memphis and Nashville/Davidson County also lost population in the decade because of this "domestic movement."

"The statistics are interesting to consider, but, bottom line, there are no data to show that the forms of government have anything to do with the population gains and losses in either Memphis-Shelby County or the example areas," said Jimmie Covington, a former demographics reporter for The Commercial Appeal, in a recent column for a suburban publication.

One big consolidation proponent in Louisville was Jerry Abramson, the first and only mayor of Metro Louisville. He previously served three terms as mayor of Louisville before consolidation.

In a speech in 2009, he said it reduced the size of government 20 percent and enabled the community to speak with one voice.

"We had some projects that were pending. And sometimes one government was for them and sometimes one government was against them. And generally speaking, whoever was proposing the project would throw their hands up in the air and say, 'Enough! This community simply doesn't have its act together.' And they would walk away from us."

One more time: Detail it. Sweat the small stuff. Pay attention to the blight and maybe you'll get more support for the big stuff. That goes for the mayor's office, Shelby County Code Enforcement, and the Center City Commission.

The junk downtown piles up while big plans are hatched for the Pyramid, Bass Pro, Beale Street Landing, and luring Pinnacle Airlines to One Commerce Square.

Last week, former CCC executive director Jeff Sanford told me about his failed code-enforcement test project near the Spaghetti Warehouse, a popular downtown restaurant for locals and tourists. Sure enough, there's an abandoned recreational vehicle and a giant dumpster in the alley within plain sight of the entrance. It's hard to imagine that being tolerated behind, say, Houston's in East Memphis.

From Jake Schorr, longtime downtown restaurateur, comes this lament for the sorry state of the north end of downtown.

"My understanding is the city has $40 million in federal grants earmarked for improvements to the Pinch District. I spend the great majority of my time in my restaurant in the Pinch District and have yet to see a dime spent on the streets, sidewalks, lights, or even the interstate overpass. Why not start making these much-needed improvements to help the currently struggling businesses in this ghost town we call the Pinch District? The money is there, regardless of whether Bass Pro moves in or not."

Ten more years for the Riverfront Development Corporation? A consulting group called the Consilience Group has been engaged by the RDC to gather opinions from downtown stakeholders about how the public-private partnership has been doing and what, if anything, it should do in the future. The RDC's signature project, Beale Street Landing, is scheduled to be finished next year. Not yet under construction is the $6.8 million renovation of the Cobblestones Landing. The RDC was born 10 years ago during the Herenton administration.

School board shocker: At Monday's board meeting, Superintendent Kriner Cash announced that enrollment for the first week of Memphis City Schools was 92,378 students. That's well short of the 104,000 reported in the Tennessee Report Card and the 107,000 reported to the Memphis City Council.

Some students, for whatever reasons, don't come to school until after the first or second week of class, but 15,000 of them? At $10,394 per student, that's $156 million in state and local funds.

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