Friday, March 30, 2012

Leaving Memphis Before Easter? Not So Fast

Posted By on Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 3:45 PM

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I'm leaving Memphis tomorrow for a vacation before Easter, but I won't really be leaving all things Memphis and Tennessee.

For starters, how about this exchange:

"I'd go to Memphis for the ribs."
"Now you talkin'. Best bar-b-cue in the world's at the Germantown rib joint."
"The Germantown Commissary. Corky's is good."
"I love Corky's. They serve that pulled pork shoulder. Best anyplace."

A feature in Bon Appetit? Two visitors at the Tennessee Welcome Center? Actually, it's a slice of dialogue from my road read, Elmore Leonard's new novel "Raylan," set in Harlan County, Kentucky.

On Saturday I should get to the beach just in time to catch the sunset and the second game of the Final Four between Kentucky and Louisville, aka Coach Cal vs. Rick Pitino.

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How many times will they mention Memphis-Kansas 2008? I put the over and under at four counting the pregame.

On Thursday night I can catch HBO's offering, "God is the Bigger Elvis," about Dolores Hart, a former actress in Elvis flicks who became a nun. God must be proud, but what does it say about a guy who drove a pretty young actress to join a convent for the next 50 years?

Finally, the Republican Party 2012 Presidential Campaign Quote of the Day, if not the Quote of the Season, comes from former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen. An op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal Friday coauthored by former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, highlights Bredesen's comment that President Obama's health care plan, now universally described as ObamaCare, is "the mother of all unfunded mandates."

As the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported, it was 2009 and Bredesen was speaking of Medicaid and he supported universal health care. But "the mother of all (fill in the blank)" is the mother of all cliches, and who better to pry undecided Democrats away from Obama than a Democrat, so this one will be recycled by every politician, columnist and commentator in America who worships at the altar of the Wall Street Journal.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Snapshots of the Memphis Economy

Posted By on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Electrolux site
  • Electrolux site
How many Memphians do you think could find the Frank Pidgeon Industrial Park? That's where the new Electrolux plant is under construction. I rode down there (it's in southwest Memphis near the river) this week with a friend who is one of the site-preparation contractors. The site was swarming with heavy equipment and (mostly) guys in hardhats, shades, and yellow vests. It reminded me of the mid-1990s when the casinos were going up in Tunica. The main building will be about one million square feet. That's a biggie, on the order of the car plants in Middle Tennessee and Mississippi.

The factory will make ovens. Right now it's hard to put a face on this project, but it's a big deal for Memphis and is good to see. To the south is the Nucor steel plant and to the north is the Mitsubishi Electric site, another big catch. If you want to see for yourself, go to Chucalissa, if that's any help, and then keep going west and you'll be there.

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On a different note, another friend and I took a driving tour of the Memphis airport last week, starting at the Greyhound bus terminal on Airways. The bus terminal looks overdesigned to me, like the one near the train station downtown. It replaced the old terminal on Union that got former mayor Herenton in hot water. I felt sorry for the people sitting in the terminal waiting for over-the-road buses or MATA buses to take them to some other terminal closer to their final destination. I don't see much if any synergy between airplane passenger service and bus service, but we'll see.

By the way, I am thinking of taking the Megabus to Nashville. Depending on when you go, the one-way fare is $1, $4, or $9 and the return can be as low as $1 or as high as $25. Round trip could be less than it costs to park in downtown Nashville these days. And the Nashville bus terminal is within easy walking distance of the Country Music Hall of Fame, arena, and lower Broadway honky-tonks. I would be grateful for some comments from readers who have made this trip or other trips by Megabus.

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Right across the street from the new Memphis bus terminal is an abandoned hotel with curtains flapping in the breeze and mirrors still hanging on the walls. It looks like something William Eggleston would have photographed. I do believe in aerotropolis, I do believe in aerotropolis, I do believe in aerotropolis . . . because if you look a little farther east you see all those FedEx jets parked in rows. But our little circumnavigation of the airport was depressing because of all the blight, vacant office buildings and warehouses, and poor neighborhoods. Three cheers for Smith and Nephew and Medtronic, holding down the fort on Brooks Road.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Grizzlies Execs Met with Memphis Leaders for Four Hours to Discuss Team's Future

Posted By on Mon, Mar 26, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Michael Heisley
  • Michael Heisley
The Grizzlies have raised their game. Now Memphis fans have to raise their game.

That was the gist of a four-hour meeting Saturday of team owner Michael Heisley, his top executives, and several Memphis business and community leaders. The meeting was prompted by, among other things, recent reports that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is interested in buying the team and possibly moving it to California. The newly created advisory board or local board of directors — the title is not yet clear — met in an office at FedEx Forum. This account is based on interviews with participants Kevin Kane and Henry Turley.

Others at the meeting were Stan Meadows, Chris Wallace, and Greg Campbell representing Heisley and the Grizzlies, and Memphians Pitt Hyde (a minority owner) Bryan Jordan, Lawrence Plummer, Billy Orgel, Otis Sanford, Bob Henning, and Joe Hall, the head of a public relations firm in Nashville that worked with NBA NOW 12 years ago. Absent were Staley Cates, Willie Gregory, and Beverly Robertson.

Wallace discussed player personnel; the Grizzlies are at full strength for the first time in this abbreviated season, but are battling to make the NBA Playoffs and repeat or exceed last year's exciting run to the second round.

Meadows talked finances. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can earn $20 million a year in revenue sharing if they meet certain attendance goals. The Grizzlies have the lowest average ticket price in the league — $39.50 compared to an average of $101 — and are the only franchise to offer a $5 ticket. Attendance has improved since 2008 when the Grizzlies were 29th in the league and averaged 12,770 fans at each home game. This year, the team is averaging 15,490 in announced attendance, which ranks 21st in the league. When the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, the threshold was set at 14,900, which the team exceeded in 2004-2005, the opening year for FedEx Forum, with average attendance of 16,862. But by 2007 the Grizzlies were last in the league in attendance and in 2008 the Flyer questioned whether Memphis could not cut it in the NBA. And in this follow-up in 2010.

Heisley fielded questions and emphasized that he would like to see the team remain in Memphis indefinitely. But he said he is 75 years old and is going to sell the team eventually. He said the team loses money. His asking price is $350 million.

"There was no threat," said Kane, who is acting as chairman of the new board. "Everybody knows Memphis is a vulnerable market."

The Grizzlies hope to duplicate the success of San Antonio and Oklahoma City as winning teams in cities with a single major-league team. The most vulnerable teams, along with Memphis, are considered to be New Orleans, Charlotte, and Sacramento. The richest teams are the Lakers, Knicks, and Heat, which can buy the best players.

"Memphis probably needs the Grizzlies more than the Grizzlies need Memphis," said Kane. "The Grizzlies are a strategic asset for the region, like FedEx, AutoZone, MLGW, or the airport."

The board has three goals: Increase season-ticket sales by 3,000 next year; advise the Grizzlies as to what local activities they should be more involved with; and be ready when Heisley sells the team to present either a local ownership group or an out-of-town owner who would keep the team in Memphis.

Board members asked if the Grizzlies can coexist with the University of Memphis Tigers, who sometimes play at FedEx Forum less than 24 hours before or after a Grizzlies came. Kane paraphrased Heisley as saying that John Calipari helped bring the team here and “You will never hear me say University of Memphis is taking away from the Grizzlies.” Board members noted that most of the players don't live in Memphis but move to the East or West Coast in the offseason. They invoked the name of Shane Battier, the popular player who was not offered a new contract last year. Heisley, Turley said, is a Battier admirer and would gladly have him running one of his companies.

Turley said his takeaway was "what can Memphis do to help the team?" Kane said his takeaway was "We need to be doing better than what we're doing."

The board will meet as often as six times a year, Kane said.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Naifeh Is Wrong on Segregation Claim

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Jimmy Naifeh
  • Jimmy Naifeh
One more time: Shelby County schools are not segregated. They are white schools only in the sense that a slim majority of the students in the 46,249-student system are white.

The latest offender to use this inflammatory generalization is Tennessee state Representative Jimmy Naifeh, who ought to know better. As a lifelong resident of Tipton County, he attended public schools that really were segregated by law in the 1950s. Naifeh was in high school in 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education and in 1957 when President Eisenhower ordered troops to Little Rock to safely integrate Central High School.

The racial imbalance in public schools in Memphis, Shelby County, and Tipton County today is the result of many factors, but segregation by existing law is not one of them.

According to the Tennessee Report Card, there are 17,513 black students (37 percent) and 24,849 white students (52 percent) in the Shelby County public schools. Another 10 percent of the students are Asian or Hispanic.

The Tipton County school system, including Naifeh's home town of Covington, has 11,639 students, including 2,963 blacks (24 percent) and 8,908 whites (73 percent).

The Memphis City System has 102,798 students, including 94,299 blacks (83 percent) and 8,917 whites (8 percent). NOTE: Counting students is controversial and an inexact science. The "average daily membership" for MCS differs from the "demographic profile," which says MCS has 113,571 students. This is why the percentage of black students is 83 percent.

Private schools in Shelby County generally do not list racial breakdowns of students on their web sites.

But it is safe to say that Shelby County schools are more racially diverse than the Tipton County, Memphis, or private school systems.

At the individual school level, several of the 207 schools in Memphis are at least 99-percent black; there are a few elementary schools, including Campus, Richland, and Grahamwood, that are majority white.

In the Shelby County system, the demographic outliers are Southwind High School and its feeder schools, all of which are at least 90 percent black. Those schools are in the Memphis annexation area but are operated by Shelby County. The schools with the highest percentage of white students are in Collierville, but they are integrated to a degree that would have been unimaginable — not to mention illegal — before 1954.

The high school that Naifeh attended is closed. Tipton County has three high schools; the percentage of white students ranges from 47 percent to 82 percent.

You can spend hours looking at demographic trends and statistics. My point is simply that "segregation" is the wrong word to describe Shelby County schools. Self segregation is not legal segregation. That is not to say that there are not issues of race and class in the school merger debate, especially if private schools are included in the picture. A few years ago, federal judge Bernice Donald ruled that the county schools should be more racially balanced at the individual school level, but she was overruled.

We don't know yet what the municipal school systems would look like or even if there will be such things. If they were to include their current city residents only, then the schools in Collierville and Germantown might well be less diverse than they are today. But in order to fill their buildings and keep their teachers working, the munis need to boost enrollment and include students from unincorporated or annexation areas.

Could there be schools in future municipal school systems that would trend toward becoming 90-percent white schools, while the future unified system could trend toward becoming 90-percent black? History shows that is possible, if not likely.

I have watched the clip of Naifeh's remarks several times. I think he was trying to cut to the chase. This is a time for straight talk, but segregation is not quite the right word.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

City Council Chooses Reserve Funds Over Tax Increase

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 5:48 PM

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Memphis property owners won't be getting that "one time" 18-cent property tax increase after all, at least not for a few months.

The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to use a combination of $10 million in reserve funds and $3 million in spending cuts to offset a $13 million deficit in the fiscal year 2012 budget. The 10-1 vote came on a resolution by Councilman Kemp Conrad which substituted for a property tax rate increase of 18 cents to replace general fund dollars already spent for Memphis City Schools.

The council is not as unified as the vote makes it seem. There is disgruntlement over Mayor A C Wharton and his administration for giving city employees $6 million in bonuses last December after saying the city had no extra money in its budget last summer. And there is unity in calling the now-rejected 18 cent tax increase "the mayor's tax increase" as opposed to something the council came up with. But there are differences on the council that are likely to surface when the fiscal year 2013 budget is taken up in two months.

Budget Committee chairman Jim Strickland, for example, wants to see spending cuts and implementation of efficiency study recommendations. "Frankly, there's been little action on saving money," he said. Councilman Joe Brown wants the council to revisit the buyout for AFSCME workers.

Council chairman Bill Morrison said the measure adopted Tuesday "is just for the next three months."

In June, the council could reconsider a tax increase as well as back payments to Memphis City Schools, spending cuts, and cuts in city employees and/or benefits to overcome a projected $47 million deficit in the next budget.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Catkins Killed My Car

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 9:59 AM

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March is the month when things fall from the sky in Memphis. And a lot of it lands on our cars.

Green-yellow pollen coats our cars and rooftops and triggers allergies. Birds bomb those drivers crazy enough to park beneath trees, like the ones in front of our office, and the droppings always seem to have a high fruit and berry content, usually purple. This is guaranteed to happen within an hour of washing your car. Also, a misty sap appears on your car windows a couple of times a day, and if you don't hose it off before turning on your wipers you can create a near blinding haze on your windshield, especially at night.

And then there are oak tree catkins, also called worms, snakes, strings, and tassels. They pile up in driveways and streets, clog gutters, and eventually blow away. But not before they kill cars, or at least car electronics.

A few years ago I let the catkins build up on my windshield, and some of them found their way into the three drains between the hood of the car and the windshield. One morning I noticed that the floor well on the passenger seat side was wet. I inspected the windows and sunroof. Everything was sealed tight. My mechanic checked the drains on either side, and they were clear. The problem was that a third drain in the middle was clogged with leaves, nuts, and catkins.

Water got into the electrical harness, and left my dashboard without a working odometer, speedometer, or gas gauge, plus a couple of lights that never go off. The repair estimate was several hundred dollars, but the car is so old that some of the parts were nearly impossible to find. So I learned to drive with a gas can in the trunk — dangerous, I know — and to pace my speed by the traffic and the tachometer.

I blame it on the trees and those damn catkins.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Weekend Report: Harahan Bridge, Contract Bridge, Good Signs, Hamer, and Big Money

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2012 at 2:30 PM

A Bridge Too Far? I think so. The Harahan Project is exciting, sure, if wishing could make it so, but that estimated $30 million price turns me off, along with the estimated 18-month waiting time. And both estimates could be optimistic. Connecting Main Street to Broadway in West Memphis is aimed, let's face it, at enlisting a second city and state in the cause. And I say that as someone who used to freelance for the Crittenden County Chamber of Commerce and write glowing magazine copy about Broadway. And as someone who has enjoyed walking or biking over the Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga, Eads Bridge in St. Louis, and Mackinac Bridge in upper Michigan. There are simply too many needy projects — the Overton Park Conservancy to name one — with more modest fundraising goals, and too many alternative ways to increase bike traffic along the river and through downtown without spending a lot of time and money. A "Five Parks Bike Tour" modeled after the "Five Boro Bike Tour" in New York City in May is one of them. Include Greenbelt Park, Overton Park, Tom Lee Park, Mud Island Park, and Martyr's Park, with Court Square and AutoZone Park as throw-ins. Last week the city and Parks Department put up a temporary sign on North Parkway. It was made out of plywood by an art student and probably cost a few hundred bucks. But it brands the boulevard, which has been nicely planted in buttercups and flowering trees, and draws favorable attention to Midtown. Grooming our showcase streets and gateways has an immedediate payoff at a reasonable price. I'm reserving judgment on the North Parkway bikes lanes, but note that with excellent weather and near-$4 a gallon gas, there are very, very few weekday riders.

Deputy Superintendent Irving Hamer had to go. But I would not count out Superintendent Kriner Cash as a possible choice for the future consolidated school system. He has friends in high places, knows the Memphis system, there are no unanimously popular superintendents, and I can't see candidates lining up for the job in 2013. Personally, I think Cash should be counted out for several reasons including making it as hard as possible for reporters covering education to do their jobs. ON a related note, I see where Nashville Mayor Karl Dean wants Metro Schools Superintendent Jesse Register to disclose more financial information in the wake of a newspaper investigation of consulting contracts and payments. Excellent idea for Memphis and Shelby County to imitate with all the outside money being thrown at schools. Register, previously superintendent of the consolidated Chattanooga and Hamilton County school system, visited Memphis a few months ago at the invitation of the Transition Planning Commission.

Thousands of bridge players are in town for a big national convention. Good for them, nice boost for downtown. I practically majored in bridge in college, and there are ways to make it entertaining that involve cold beer, music, and penny-a-point scoring. Great game, struggling to become more popular with "younger" people, whatever that means. But a spectator sport it ain't. Of course, I would have said the same thing about poker 25 years ago. And earlier this week I wrote 1000 words about the obscure sport of squash. To each his own.

Page One, Top of the Fold in Thursday's Wall Street Journal: "SEC Cracks Down On Pre-IPO Trading." The SEC is the Securities and Exchange Commission, and it's about time. Ten years ago, New York Times reporter Gretchen Morgenson, who ought to be running the SEC, was writing about abuses of insider trading in private shares of companies about to go public in IPOs, or initial public offerings of stock. Then and now, as I wrote in a Memphis magazine article several years ago, I firmly believed that Morgan Keegan dodged a bullet. Or should I say, the SEC failed to pull the trigger on the kind of investigation it is now undertaking. The case in point was a company called Crossroads Systems, which was a hot IPO. Morgan Keegan insiders got some private shares, the house analyst plugged the stock, and away it went. Except a company sorehead who didn't get any private stock thought it stunk and became my secret whistleblower. Harbinger of things to come with the Kelsoe funds. If President Obama is smart, he'll keep the dogs of the SEC on a long leash and keep generating headlines in the wake of that tell-all op-ed column in the New York Times from the insider at Goldman Sachs this week.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hamer To Resign April 30th

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 at 11:36 AM

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School board member Martavius Jones has confirmed that Deputy Superintendent Irving Hamer will resign effective April 30th.

Jones said he received a "privileged" notification Tuesday but did not open it until Wednesday morning. He declined to disclose it but confirmed that Hamer said he plans to resign at the end of April.

Hamer is accused of making crude remarks about an MCS employee at a party for Superintendent Kriner Cash in February. He is currently on unpaid leave.

"I didn't know what the outcome would be," said Jones. "I laud him for the work that he has done and we just have to move forward."

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Videotape of James Earl Ray in Memphis May be Salvaged

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Tom Leatherwood and Bill Morris
Coming soon to a theater near you: James Earl Ray in the Shelby County Jail, a production of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department with videotape shot by former sheriff and noted cinematographer A. C. Gilless.

If all goes well, videotape of Ray in the jail in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King could be restored within months. The tapes were discovered this year by Register Tom Leatherwood and the staff at the Shelby County Archives. They have not been handled for fear of damaging them. Bids have gone out to restore the tapes and should be back next week.

"It's an obsolete format, that's the problem. Plus, it's more than 40 years old," said Leatherwood. "We're fast tracking this."

After he was captured in London, Ray was flown to Memphis in July of 1968. Former county mayor Bill Morris, who was sheriff at that time, went aboard the plane when it landed in Millington and read Ray his rights. Morris said that is on tape, as are historic scenes of Ray being taken into the jail and being interviewed. Gilless, who was a deputy at the time and later was elected sheriff, was the photographer and videographer.

"It's going to be fun to watch," said Morris.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Exclusive: Actual 2011 Attendance at Liberty Bowl Stadium Was 100,000 Less than "Announced"

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2012 at 12:34 PM

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The University of Memphis opened the 2011 football season at home against Mississippi State before an "announced" crowd of 33,990 and ended the home season against Marshall in front of an "announced" crowd of 15,101 in 62,000-seat Liberty Bowl Stadium. The actual numbers, however, were 26,398 for the opener and 3,301 for the Marshall game.

The most recent AutoZone Liberty Bowl drew an "announced" 57,000 and an actual 31,578. And the 2011 Southern Heritage Classic announced 43,532 while actual attendance was 26,398. (Pure coincidence that this is the same number as the Tiger opener, according to Memphis Division of Parks Director Cindy Buchanan and her assistant, who provided and double-checked the numbers at The Flyer's request.)

According to Buchanan, total attendance for the eight games at the stadium last year was 120,300, compared to the sum of the "announced" attendance of 221,002 by the stadium's three tenants.

It is common knowledge that announced attendance, which includes tickets sold and distributed but not necessarily used, is often inflated. It is also common practice among colleges and professional teams and the media outlets that follow them. What is not so clearly known is the gap between reporting and reality. It's a downer, and it does not endear reporters to the people and organizations they must report on.

The gap is especially relevant now in reference to Liberty Bowl Stadium. Tenants and boosters say the stadium needs an upgrade, and the Memphis City Council and city taxpayers may be asked to shoulder some of the costs. The tenants have also told Councilman Reid Hedgepeth that they will bear at least half of the costs of the upgrades and are aware of the city's financial predicament.

In other words, it's time to look at real numbers. The games are an important part of the local sports scene and, even at the low number, bring thousands of out-of-towners to Memphis and help put paying customers in hotels and restaurants. At the same time, however, a ticket that is distributed but unused does not contribute to the stadium ambience, concession sales, or parking revenue. And the city gets a share of the latter two.

On March 20, the City Council must decide how much public support should be pledged to upgrading the stadium. Hedgepeth said the tenants would provide specific numbers then. Actual attendance should be among them.

Here are the numbers Buchanan provided for each game: AutoZone Liberty Bowl, 31,578, Southern Heritage Classic, 26,398; Mississippi State, 26398; Austin Peay, 9,198; SMU, 9,208; East Carolina, 7,128; UAB, 7,127; Marshall, 3,301.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Liberty Bowl Tenants Ready to Pay "Substantial" Sum

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 2:55 PM

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Worlds are about to collide as the financially-strapped city of Memphis decides how much money to put into Liberty Bowl Stadium improvements along with tenants from the success-at-all-costs parallel universe of college football.

City Councilman Reid Hedgepeth told his colleagues the tenants — the University of Memphis, the Southern Heritage Classic, and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl — are prepared to pay a "substantial" amount of the unspecified cost of a new scoreboard, Jumbotron, field surface, lights, elevator, and press box. He brought the resolution for "appropriate funding" to the Parks Committee Tuesday to get it on the agenda for March 20th, when he said specifics would be provided.

Pressed by colleagues, Hedgepeth said the tenants would pay "at least half" of the cost, but that might not satisfy council members who have already spent $16 million on Tiger Lane two years ago and are looking at a $17 million deficit in this year's budget.

The University of Memphis starts play in the Big East Conference in 2013, and backers want the stadium upgraded before that. It takes five or six months to get a new Jumbotron, Hedgepeth said, adding that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam got stuck in the elevator last year and the current Jumbotron is so outdated that it is difficult to get parts for it from Chicago. He said he and the tenants would lay out funding sources and dollar amounts in two weeks.

"They are very aware that if they don't come up with significant funding we will never hear them" he said.

The city has lost money on the stadium the last two years. Cindy Buchanan, director of the Parks Division, said the shortfall was about $200,000 in the $1.5 million budget for the fairgrounds, which consists of the stadium and the vacant coliseum and lots of parking and grass. The city gets parking and concessions revenue but does not get advertising revenue from the Jumbotron under the present contract. That is why it is so important to increase actual attendance, as opposed to "tickets sold" attendance at the eight or nine games a year.

Actual attendance for University of Memphis football games was below 5000 for some games under former Coach Larry Porter. The figures were not immediately available. Porter was paid $750,000 a year, most of it by private donors to the athletic department. The mayor of Memphis makes about $172,000. Executive directors of college bowl games make as much as $600,000 or more. And new head football coach Justin Fuente is making $900,000. Former Memphis basketball coach John Calipari made much more than that, but he turned the program around, packed the house, and his teams won most of their games.

City Council members, on the other hand, live in a world where city employees took a 4.6 percent pay cut last year, where a tax hike of 18 cents is a very big deal, and where they are routinely pilloried for spending other people's money. They are well aware of the city's philanthropic community and football boosters. I have a feeling that "half" might not be enough.

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Allen Stanford Convicted in Houston

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 2:04 PM

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Allen Stanford, whose company, Stanford Financial, had a big presence in Memphis including sponsorship of the PGA golf tournament, was convicted of fraud Tuesday in Houston.

The New York Times reported that Stanford was convicted on 13 of 14 counts in the jury trial in federal court. The star witness against him was his former college roommate James M. Davis, whose home is in Baldwyn in northeast Mississippi and who worked out of Stanford Financial's former office in East Memphis.

The office was raided in dramatic fashion by federal regulators. One of the key employees of the firm was Davis protogee Laura Pendergest Holt, also formerly of Baldwyn.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Looking Back: Reunions, Hank Williams, Davy Jones, and Al Green

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2012 at 3:41 PM

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Who knew that Al Green can write as well as he can sing and preach? Or that Hank Williams could heal so many broken hearts? Or that the Jimi Hendrix experience once opened for Davy Jones and the Monkees?

I learned all of these things this week because of a confluence of musical forces.

One of them was an advance copy of a new book by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, former columnist for The Commercial Appeal. "Hank Hung the Moon, and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts" is not a biography of Hank Williams but more of a musical memoir. The Alabama-born singer has been a comfort and inspiration to the Alabama-born writer all her life, helping her through the awkward phases of childhood, hundreds of long lonely drives as a columnist, and the sudden death of her second husband in 2009. The book is published by NewSouth Books and should be out soon.

Changing genres, Davy Jones, the cutest of the Monkees, died this week at the age of 66. The tidbit about Jimi Hendrix was in one of the obits. If you think about it, it's pretty funny that Jimi Hendrix opened for anyone, especially some goofy white boys. The Monkees were the sixties answer to "American Idol" — a made-for-television band modeled, loosely, after the Beatles. Their big hits came out in 1967, the year I graduated from high school, and you could not possibly avoid them. Which brings me to . . .

Class reunions. If you are 27 or over you probably have gotten an invitation to one or two of these. Now they come supercharged by Facebook and e-mail, although I wonder if many in my demographic are paying attention. The Class of 1967 is having a 45th reunion. A tenth, sure, a 25th, maybe, a 50th if you're lucky, but a 45th?

I guess it's fitting because in a lot of ways we were the Class of In Between.

We were the first class of freshmen in the "new" East Grand Rapids High School. Newbies in a new building. You can't get much lower than that. The old high school, still standing, reeked of history and tradition. The "new" one, which will be 50 years old next year, reeked of newness, Clearasil, and Canoe.

The touchstone of our freshman year was the assassination of President Kennedy on a Thursday afternoon in November. The see-you-later after graduation was the riots in Detroit in the Summer of '67. We were products of the fifties but took the full brunt of the sixties.

The significance of those events was not lost on us, even then. But the truth is, my mind was probably preoccupied at the time with impure thoughts of some of my female classmates or the first day of basketball practice the next day. In sports as in algebra, the schedule proceeded as normal. Friday afternoon, as the nation mourned, the boys who would disappoint our classmates and coaches for the next four years took the floor. The athletic production line that had churned out so many champions pretty much shut down on the Class of '67 and we managed to break winning streaks, start losing streaks, and set records for ineptitude. We even lost in sports like tennis and swimming as other schools and suburbs discovered the wonders of country clubs, affluence, courts with nets, and indoor swimming pools. Girls had three sports options: cheerleading, water ballet, or not being in cheerleading or water ballet. But times changed. Thanks to them, the school now boasts hundreds of championships.

We lived in an unannexed bedroom community not unlike present-day Germantown or Collierville, minus the black students. The Grand Rapids ghetto was a few miles from my house but might as well have been another planet for all I knew about it. Only last year, when someone loaned me "Thin Ice," a book of coming-of-age stories about growing up in Grand Rapids, did I learn that one of its residents was a future Memphian and musical legend.

Al Greene, as he spelled his name then, moved from Forrest City, Arkansas to Michigan when he was a boy and lived there for about ten years. His story, "Half a Chance to Prove Myself," is the best one in a very strong collection, for my money. He took and gave some beatings, learned that his gift was for singing not fighting, formed a group called Al Greene and the Creations, went solo, dropped the final "e" and moved to Memphis to record with Willie Mitchell's band in 1968.

His autobiography is called "Take Me To the River." Get it, or get "Thin Ice." He was saved, as he tells it, by his own toughness, a caring teacher or two, and a local church. And, of course, that voice.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Mariachi Band Was a Bad Omen for Aerotropolis

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 1:03 PM

mariachi-band.jpg
Memphis as America's Aerotropolis can't catch a break.

The latest news is Delta Airlines' decision to halt the Memphis to Amsterdam direct service via KLM from September 2012 to May 2013 and make it seasonal after that. The story was first reported by The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal.

Delta has been steadily cutting back service in Memphis even as the airport expands and modernizes. The Ground Transportation Center, a $89 million project announced by the airport authority in 2010, is scheduled for completion this year. A new $72 million tower opened last year in November.

In an interview for MBQ magazine, International Paper CEO John Faraci told me the trend is troubling for the Fortune 500 company that employs more than 2000 people in the Memphis area.

"Yes it is a problem. Especially on the international side. On direct flights from Memphis to anywhere we are impacted because we're a global company. Memphis not being the hub it once was, it's more difficult for us. We can deal with it. We have our own fleet of planes. But the more nonstops, the better off you are."

Getting in and out of the airport has never been easier for those who fly. The problem is the highest average fares in the country, the declining number of North American direct connections, and now the Amsterdam news, which leaves Toronto as the only real claim to international status.

It seems like every time someone tries to drum up some good news about the airport it backfires. University of Memphis Athletic Director R. C. Johnson was widely mocked when he said "Memphis has a great airport" as a strange rejoiner to the firing of football coach Tommy West in 2009.

In 2010, Delta and the Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Amsterdam flight in this announcement that only highlights the pain of the latest announcement.

"America's Aerotropolis" is the theme of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority promotion of the airport. There was a world conference in Memphis in 2011. But the conference had to compete with some discouraging news.

In January of 2011, city officials and the chamber of commerce called a news conference to announce service to Mexico City and then it was promptly canceled. The new service, which only operated on Saturday, lasted exactly four flights. Bad idea all around. It is never a good idea for people in business attire to put on a topper any larger than a baseball hat or a hardhat. A sombrero photo would have lived in infamy.

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