A warning to the Memphis set of mustachioed, PBR-swilling lovers of music you've probably never heard of, Gawker knows where you are.
Back in November, the gossip website Gawker asked readers to vote for the hippest neighborhood in their cities in a poll that asked "What is the Williamsburg of your city?" Williamsburg is, of course, the Brooklyn neighborhood known for being hip, or at least being the national epicenter of hipsterdom.
So, the results are in and the hippest parts of Memphis are Cooper-Young, Overton Square, and South Main.
Now before the fixed-gear, humanely raised, locally sourced mud starts to fly on this issue, the poll results were generated "thanks to the collective knowledge of Gawker readers." Each of the Memphis neighborhoods in the poll received one vote each.
East Nashville won the honor for Tennessee's capitol city. Not a single vote was cast for hippest neighborhood in Knoxville, though Happy Holler, the North Knoxville commercial enclave, was noted as an up-and-comer. The St. Louis neighborhoods of Central West End and The Grove were voted neighborhoods hippest there.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton did not announce any new moon shot projects or new directions for the city during his State of the City address Wednesday morning but instead focused on a “recovering” city government that has gone through “rough times.”
Nearly 300 government officials, public safety administrators, lobbyists, reporters, and more filled a large auditorium in the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Wednesday morning to hear Wharton’s take on where Memphis stands and where it’s heading.
Wharton’s speech was subdued, not one of his signature rafter-raising civic sermons that inspire his vision of unity and shared prosperity in others. That’s not to say it wasn’t an optimistic speech but it showed the realities and the ragged edges of a city government that’s been through what Wharton called a “perfect storm.”
That storm came from three primary factors, he said. A court ordered the city to pay an unexpected expense of about $60 million each year to fund schools for several years after the city got out of the schools business, Wharton said. The recession took a $500 million bite out of the city’s pension fund, a hole Wharton and Memphis City Council members are trying to plug. Also, the most recent property tax re-appraisal sucked about $27 million out of the city’s coffers.
“We’re where we are because of factors far beyond our control,” Wharton said.
But Wharton focused on improvements that have been made in the city in the last year and on future plans for four main issue groups: quality of life, public safety, poverty, and the city’s pension fund for its employees.
For quality of life issues, Wharton pointed to bridges have been or are in the process of being replaced, more sidewalks that have been built, and the thousand or more curb ramps to sidewalks that have been built in the last year.
He said to expect in the next year a new master plan for the city’s parks that will be funded by the Hyde Foundation. Also, plans will soon be unveiled for new uses for the Southbrook Mall and the Raleigh Springs Mall. Public works, he said, is developing a new plan that will triple the city’s capacity to check for and respond to potholes.
On public safety, Wharton said and repeated that crime was down in Memphis from 2012 to 2013. He said there were 2,500 fewer victims of serious crimes last year and 20,000 fewer of these victims than in 2006.
“Crime is down,” Wharton said. “It is just that simple.”
But he said changes are coming for the way public safety is administered in Memphis. Though Wharton gave no specifics to those changes, he noted that police and fire employees make up 75% of city employees, which is the largest part of the city’s budget, and that the city “will continue to public safety but also to efficiency.” The Memphis Police Department and the Memphis Fire Department lost numerous unfilled positions last year and more cuts are expected in next year’s budget.
If there was one grand vision and promise that Wharton put forth Wednesday, it was that he is committed to reducing the amount of Memphians living in poverty by 1 percent each year for the next 10 years. Doing this would bring the city’s 27 percent poverty rate to 17 percent by 2023.
To do this, he unveiled the “Blueprint for Prosperity.” Non-profit organizations, foundations, government agencies, and others are helping to create the strategies for the plan. Wharton announced one part of the plan may be to reduce the cost of living for impoverished Memphians by perhaps lowering their utility bills or fares for riding any mode of city-sponsored public transportation.
Wharton spent the least amount of time in his speech Wednesday talking about the city’s pension gap. But he said it is clear that changes need to be made in the program. Those changes need to put the financial risk of the pension on city administrators and the employees, he said, not on Memphis taxpayers, many of whom, he said, may not have a pension plan of their own.
Wharton said he’d unveil a larger strategic plan for the city after the 2015 budget is passed this summer. He said he wanted to wait until then to work with real numbers and to be “truthful to the citizens.”
To cap off his speech, Wharton said Memphis and its citizens must work together.
“We must move away from being a tale of two cities and move toward being one city,” Wharton said. “We all need to share all we have to offer.”
A $2.5 million permit was pulled from the city of Memphis for renovations and remodeling to the interior and exterior of the building at 126 Beale. The spot is known to most simply as "the Lansky Bros. building" and was last the home of E.P.'s Delta Kitchen & Bar, which closed in 2008.
The permit names Belz Enterprises as the owner of the building and the tenant as Hard Rock Cafe International.
Memphis architects Hnedak Bobo Group will design the new space, according to the permit. W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. will build the new restaurant, bar, and rock and roll memorabilia showplace.
News of the move excited the Memphis press two weeks ago. Reporters had confirmed the news through Memphis Mayor A C Wharton's office and through former Beale Street manager John Elkington. Monday's building permit is the first confirmation of the planned move by company officials.
Although previous reports alluded that Easy Way co-owner David Carter was killed during a robbery, the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office has now ruled Carter's death as a suicide.
Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong announced the new findings in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Carter was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the chest at the Easy Way Distribution Center on Mendenhall on Monday morning around 6 a.m. He was inside an office area. Files were overturned, and two safes were open. Carter's truck was parked in the lot, and the passenger door was left open. His jacket was found on the ground.
Police originally believed that Carter encountered someone outside the facility who forced him inside. They believed Carter was shot during a robbery.
But surveillance footage from inside the business shows Carter entering the facility alone and deactivating the alarm system. Police were unable to find any evidence that Carter was coerced or threatened by another person, and surveillance video does not show anyone else entering or exiting the office where his body was found.
Newby's bar manager/bartender/booking agent Brian "Skinny" McCabe will never forget the times he's won "Best Bartender" (or the times his Highland strip employer has won "Best College Bar") in the annual Memphis Flyer "Best of Memphis" reader's poll. That's because his BOM awards are tattooed on his body.
McCabe recently had the finishing touches put on his latest Memphis Flyer tat, which pays homage to this year's Mike McCarthy-designed comic book-style cover. McCabe took a few minutes to tell us about his Flyer ink.
You have two BOM tattoos. When did you get your first one?
The first was shortly after I won in 2012.
And what made you think, "I should get a tattoo commemorating this!"?
I want my co-workers to see it on a nightly basis so they know who is the "Boss Applesauce."
Where on your body are the tattoos?
Right (massive) calf muscle
Who was your tattoo artist?
Super Dave at No Regrets. He's done mostly all of my work since I turned 18. I'm 32 1/2 now.
Sometimes I wish it would glow in the dark.
Will you continue this trend for any BOM awards in the future?
I have officially retired from the rat race, but just in that category. But, to answer the question, yes! I still have plenty of room.
Zoning variances for the proposed Truck Stop restaurant, a diner/food truck court concept planned for the corner of Central and Cooper that once housed Midtown Nursery, were granted by the Board of Adjustment on Wednesday afternoon.
Proposed by Chiwawa/Yolo/Tamp & Tap restaurateur Taylor Berger and attorney Michael Tauer, Truck Stop is a hybrid concept that combines a restaurant serving small plates, adult beverages, and desserts with parking space for a rotating cast of three food trucks. Diners place their order for any menu item at the restaurant or from the food trucks' menus at one counter so no one has to stand in line at a food truck. The trucks will stay on the lot for several hours at a time, and when they leave, other food trucks will take their place. The restaurant building's will be constructed using metal shipping containers in a creative design that will create a 35- to 40-foot metal tower on one end. And there will be a large outdoor seating area in the back of the restaurant.
The Board of Adjustment approved variances for accessory structures for the food truck court, the number of buildings per tract (an issue because the existing Clear Channel-owned billboard on the site is considered a separate building, and Truck Stop can't construct its building without the board's variance approval), and site development standards for the metal building since metal isn't allowed as the primary building material for new structures built in the area zoned by the Midtown Overlay.
Two residents in attendance spoke in opposition to the use of metal shipping containers for the restaurant. One man, who lived in Central Gardens, said the restaurant's tower "will ultimately become another billboard" if Truck Stop ever vacates the property and sells to another business. To ensure that couldn't happen, the board passed an amendment that no signage could be placed on the top of the tower.
Mary Baker, the president of the Idlewild Neighborhood Association and the former director of the Office of Planning and Development, asked the board to hold approval on the variance relating to the number of buildings per tract because she wanted more time for a real estate attorney to study the contract for the Clear Channel billboard located on one end of the property. Baker would like to see the billboard removed since it doesn't jibe with the rules of the city's Unified Development Code. But the board denied the request to hold approval of that variance.
After the meeting, Berger said he was very excited about winning the board's approval. But he said it will still be months before Truck Stop is open. Berger and Tauer will receive the property, for which they've signed a 10-year lease, from Loeb Properties in March or April. Then Loeb Properties will help remove two underground gas tanks that have been on the property since it was a gas station in the 1950s. From there, they'll have to check for soil contamination and do any clean-up work. Then construction can begin. Berger said he hopes Truck Stop can be open by the spring of 2015.
Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich announced Friday that she has recused her office from a new trial of a murder case saying the office's involvement in the case has become a "distraction"
Two convictions of accused murderer Michael Dale Rimmer have been overturned. Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Henderson argued the government's case in both.
Last month Henderson was reprimanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court after he pleaded guilty to the charges of misconduct and violating state rules governing prosecutors in the murder trials.
For this, he got a censure, a “public rebuke and warning,” from the court’s Board of Professional Responsibility. He was also ordered to pay the expenses associated with the matter back to the board, an amount that totaled $1,745.07.
Weirich said Henderson’s actions were not responsible for the turnovers in the Rimmer case. But, she said, the attention generated by Henderson's censure had become a "distraction."
“In this case and in every case, our job is to ensure that justice is done,” Weirich said. “The continued involvement by our office in this case, has and would create a distraction that the victims and the citizens of Shelby County do not deserve.”
She said Friday she asked for and was granted a special prosecutor on the Rimmer case from the District Attorney General’s Conference this week.
Weirich said she talked about her decision Thursday night with the son and daughter of Ricci Ellsworth, the woman Rimmer has been convicted of murdering.
Weirich has said many times she will not punish Henderson and repeated that course of action in Friday’s news conference.
“He has been punished by the Board of Professional Responsibility, is enduring a public censure, and is facing financial penalties,” Weirich said. “Furthermore, I removed him from handling this case several months ago. To a career prosecutor, that is punishment in and of itself.”
The atmosphere inside Shelby County Schools Frances E. Coe Administration building was more pep rally than public meeting on Thursday evening as parents and students from the 13 Shelby County Schools (SCS) that are being considered for closure chanted and displayed signs supporting their endangered school.
Schools that may close include Alcy Elementary, Riverview Elementary, Graves Elementary, Westhaven Elementary, Lanier Elementary, Corry Middle, and Riverview Middle in the southeast portion of the city. In the northwest, Gordon Elementary, Klondike Elementary, Shannon Elementary, Vance Middle, Cypress Middle, and Northside High may close.
SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson briefly addressed the standing-room-only crowd to explain why the schools may close and what parents can do to prevent some of the closings. He said the schools were chosen because of low enrollment and low academic achievement. Many of the schools on the list currently have less than 300 students. One example Hopson focused on was Northside High, which has 293 students enrolled even though the building has a capacity of 1,061 students. Westhaven only made the list because the building is falling into disrepair, according to Hopson, who said it was "coming up on not being safe for these babies to be in."
"We will come to every one of these schools and have community forums inside these schools," Hopson said. "We're looking for 'Does the community have a better plan than closing the school? Is there a community plan to increase literacy?' You don't need money [in the budget for parents] to volunteer to read to these babies."
Hopson said some of the schools on the list may not close if the community can come together and improve academic performance through tutoring and other programs. He said SCS would try to come up with alternative uses for the buildings of schools that do end up closing.
"I know closing these schools will have a negative impact on the community. We will have to find other uses for those buildings," Hopson said.
After Hopson spoke, parents, students, alumni, and other supporters of the endangered schools were invited to speak. In an eloquent and passionate speech, Gordon Elementary fourth-grader Daniel Peoples, the president of his class, told the room he was "sad and disappointed my school is on the list to close. In my opinion, that is a big mistake."
His mother, Dena Peoples, spoke about how speech teachers at Gordon had worked wonders with Daniel. She said his last report card boasted straight A's.
Jade Jordan, a third-grader at Westhaven, and state representative Raumesh Akbari shared a similar sentiment about Westhaven. Both said SCS should spend the money to renovate the building rather than closing the school.
"We want our school to remain open. Repair it. Restore it. Or renovate it. Don't close Westhaven. Just fix it," Jordan said.
And high school senior Sie Bradley made a plea for Northside High: "We may not have the largest school body, but we have one thing — the urge to learn."
Over the 2013 calendar year, Memphis witnessed a 4.5 percent reduction in "part one" crimes, which include criminal homicides, robberies, forcible rapes, and aggravated assaults.
From January 1st - December 31st, 2013, there were 2,313 fewer victims of part one crimes reported as opposed to 2012, according to Memphis Police Department statistics. In 2012, there were 50,917 part one crimes that took place in Memphis. However, these numbers dropped by 4.5 percent to 48,604 crimes last year.
Among the part one offenses that have decreased include criminal homicide. There were 11 fewer criminal homicides in 2013 compared to 2012, which is a 7.9 percent decline. Also, there were 71 fewer forcible rapes in 2013 compared to 2012, which is nearly a 17 percent decrease.
Other part one crimes that declined in 2013 include robbery, which saw a 7.5 percent reduction; aggravated assault, which was reduced by 5.9 percent; burglary, which saw a 5.3 percent reduction; and motor vehicle theft was reduced by 8.7 percent.
“We do not believe that these reductions could have been realized without the hard work of our officers utilizing crime fighting and efficiency promoted by the department,” said MPD spokeswoman Karen Rudolph in a statement. “These methods include our Community Outreach Program (COP), Blue CRUSH, Precinct realignment and the movement of General Investigation Bureaus back to the precincts. All of these initiatives have worked hand-in-hand to accomplish the city’s success in reducing crime.”
Since 2006, the city has experienced a 29 percent reduction of part one crimes. There were nearly 20,000 fewer victims in 2013 (48,604) than 2006 (68,543).
The Shelby County Health Department is now offering free flu vaccines at all of its locations while supplies last.
Flu deaths are mounting in Tennessee. Twelve people in the Nashville area have died this flu season, according to The Tennessean. The Tennessee Department of Health only tracks flu deaths of children and expectant mothers.
To find a Shelby County Health Department clinic visit www.shelbycountytn.gov or call (901) 222-9000.
A pair of Memphis colleges may get multi-million-dollar upgrades this year, though few details of the projects are known.
Building permits have been pulled recently for projects at both Memphis College of Art and for Rhodes College.
A building permit requested in November describes a $1.47 million project at Memphis College of Art. That project would finish out the fourth and fifth floors of the existing MCA graduate school building at 477 South Main Street, according to the permit. The college moved parts of its operations to the South Main Art District in 2010.
At a meeting of the Memphis Animal Services (MAS) Advisory Board this week, MAS director James Rogers called 2013 a "historic year" for the shelter because euthanasia was at an all-time low while the live release rate was hit an all-time high.
But critics of the animal shelter say that's because intake of animals is at an all-time low as well.
In 2013, 12,181 animals were taken into Memphis Animal Services, either because they were picked up by animal control officers or were surrendered by their owners. Of that number, 4,047 were released from the shelter alive (meaning they were adopted, transferred to rescue groups, or returned to their owners), and 7,692 animals were euthanized.
In 2009, the year MAS was raided by the Shelby County Sheriff's Office because some animals were malnourished and dying under former shelter director Ernest Alexander's care, there were 16,256 animals taken in at the shelter. Of that number, only 2,614 were released alive and 13,255 were euthanized. The intake rates have gone down every year since 2009.
Rogers points out that, although intake rates are lower for 2013, the percentage of animals released alive compared with how many were taken in is higher than in year's past. In 2013, 33 percent of the animals taken in were released alive, while in 2009, only 16 percent of the animals taken in were released.
"Adoptions have trended up for the last two years, and we have had a record breaking year for live release rates and adoptions," Rogers said. "And we will continue that course."
Regardless, several in the shelter reform camp believe the animal control officers aren't bringing in as many animals as they can. When MAS advisory board member James Adams asked Rogers why intake was so low in December (679 animals) compared with other months, Rogers blamed the Christmas holidays.
"In December, we usually have a lot of people out for the holidays. We have two holidays in December, and we had a cold snap where government was closed for a day," Rogers said in an interview after the meeting.
Cindy Sanders, a long-time advocate for shelter reform, has another theory: "I believe Mr. Rogers has fallen into the attitude that if they bring in less animals, they kill less animals. And it makes his numbers look better."
Several other issues were brought up at the quarterly MAS Advisory Board meeting, including two resolutions passed to try and tighten controls in the euthanasia room. The board recommended live feed cameras in the room to monitor euthanasia technicians, and they also recommended that every animal that is euthanized be sedated first. Currently, only 10 to 15 percent of animals receive tranquilizers before they are euthanized. A full story on these two resolutions will appear in the next print edition of the Memphis Flyer.
A high-ranking Shelby County prosecutor was publicly reprimanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court late last month for what some say amounts to hiding evidence in a murder trial and his office said they don’t plan any disciplinary action against him.
Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Henderson pleaded guilty to violating Tennessee Supreme Court evidence rules and was censured by the body on Monday, December 23.
“While prosecuting a capital murder case in 1998, and again in 2004 during a retrial, Mr. Henderson responded to the discovery in a manner that did not make timely disclosure of all exculpatory evidence,” according to the release from the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Larry Buser, a spokesman for Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich’s office, said flatly that his office plans no reprimand for the attorney.
“Tom has been a long-time prosecutor in this office; he’s been here since 1976,” Buser said. “He’s prosecuted over 400 jury trials, including 50 first-degree murder trials, many of them the most heinous in Shelby County. He’s never been disciplined and never had a disciplinary action in all that time.”
A censure is a “rebuke and a warning to the attorney, but does not affect the attorney’s ability to practice law,” according to information released by the court a week after the censure on Monday, December 30.
At the center of Henderson’s censure is the capital murder case of Michael Rimmer, who was convicted for killing motel clerk Ricci Ellsworth. The victim’s body has never been found.
Rimmer was originally convicted in 1998 and again in a 2004 re-trial. Henderson served as prosecuting attorney in both cases. The 2004 re-trial was granted because a judge ruled that Henderson had suppressed evidence in the original trial.
Rimmer, now a death row inmate, will get a new trial in July as a judge ordered that it was likely that Henderson had suppressed evidence that could have helped Rimmer’s defense.
Rimmer’s attorneys have requested a special prosecutor to be brought in for his new trial.
Attorneys representing the family of slain Memphis resident Steven Askew have filed a $3 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and several Memphis Police officers.
On January 17th of last year, 24-year-old Steven Askew was shot and killed by two Memphis police officers as he sat in his Ford Crown Victoria. Minutes before the shooting, Askew was asleep in his car awaiting the arrival of his girlfriend at the Windsor Place Apartments complex. Multiple residents have stated that Askew waited in his car for his girlfriend on a regular basis.
The police officers involved in the shooting, Ned Aufdenkamp and Matthew Dyess, noticed Askew sleep in his car and upon suspicion, approached the vehicle. The officers stated that as they got to the window of the car, they noticed a handgun in between Askew’s legs.
The officers tapped on the window while shining flashlights into the car, awaking Askew. The officers stated they gave Askew verbal commands to raise his hands. Instead of complying with the officers’ request, they allege Askew threw some “gang signs" before arming himself with the handgun and pointing it at them. The officers reacted by discharging their weapons. In the end, 22 shots had been fired, nine of which hit Askew in the back, arms, and back of the neck.
The incident led some to question whether or not the shooting was justified. It was later revealed that one of the officers involved, Aufdenkamp, had a past history of performance issues. It was also disclosed that Askew had a permit for the handgun in his car; ballistics tests determined that Askew’s firearm wasn’t discharged during the incident.
Under the representation of attorneys Jeffrey Rosenblum and Howard Manis, Askew’s family is suing the city along with both officers involved and Memphis Police director Toney Armstrong for $3 million in damages for the killing. View the Askew family's complaint here
A week before Askew’s shooting, 67-year-old Donald Moore was fatally shot by an Memphis Police officer at his Cordova home on January 11th. The officer involved, Phillip Penny, said he shot Moore after he pointed a gun at him and several Memphis Animal Services employees who were there to serve an animal cruelty warrant.
Moore's family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, Penny (who also has a troubled past with the department), TACT unit commander Major Charles Morris, and Armstrong. The case is also being represented by Manis and Rosenblum. Similar to the Askew family, they’re seeking $3 million in damages. View the Moore family's complaint here
None of the officers involved in the two shootings were prosecuted and remain employed with the department. Both of the fatal shootings took place a month after Memphis Police officer Martoiya Lang was killed while serving a search warrant on December 14th, 2012.
We bought a ball park.
The Memphis City Council approved the purchase of AutoZone Park Tuesday for $24 million in a deal that will keep the Memphis Redbirds baseball team in Memphis for the next 17 years.
The deal comes after a month of wrangling and negotiations between the council and Memphis mayor A C Wharton's administration. The mayor and his staff have been negotiating the deal with Fundamental Advisors, the investment firm that owns the bonds on the park, and the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, which will buy and manage the Memphis Redbirds baseball team and will manage the park.
The new deal approved Tuesday will have the city issue bonds to buy the park for $19.5 million and for $4.5 million in improvements to the park. But the loans would not be paid for directly from the city coffers.
Instead, the park will be paid for with a mix of tax credits, tax rebates, and $300,000 in annual lease payments from the Memphis Redbirds baseball team. The St. Louis Cardinals and AutoZone Inc. will each provide $100,000 annually for the first 10 years of the 17-year contract to provide financial backstops for the city, should the park not meet revenue projections.
Council members Janis Fullilove, Lee Harris, Wanda Halbert, and Harold Collins voted against the deal.
The original deal asked the city to issue $25 million in debt — about $20 million to buy the park and about $5 million to improve the park. The council entered a counter offer last month that reduced the purchase price to $15 million and the funds for park improvements to $2.5 million. Also, any excess city funds generated at the park would go exclusively to stadium improvements, up to $2.5 million.
Proponents of the park purchase filled the seats at Memphis City Hall Tuesday and roared with applause as the approval vote tally was read. The fans of the deal sported red, Redbirds t-shirts, foam fingers, baseball caps and rally signs that read "Vote Yes - Rally for AutoZone Park."
Hundreds gathered at AutoZone Park Tuesday afternoon for a rally in support of the city's purchase of the ballpark ahead of Tuesday evening's vote. The crowd gathered were given free hot dogs, hot chocolate, Redbirds baseball hats, and beanies.
Rousing speeches in support of the deal were given by members of the Redbirds Foundation and management of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. The crowd marched from the park at Union and Third to Memphis City Hall.