Thursday, May 23, 2013

Surprise! Memphis Gains Population Since 2010

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 10:40 AM

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A U.S. Census report out Thursday says Memphis is the 20th largest city in the country and its population has grown by more than 7500 people since 2010 when the school merger talk began.

The report says the population of Memphis grew from 647,612 in 2010 to 655,155 in July, 2012. The population of Shelby County increased from 928,792 to 940,764 during the same period.

"It appears we are seeing a leveling off of movement from the city as we approach the merger of the school systems," said Maura Black Sullivan, assistant chief administrative officer for the city of Memphis.

She said annexations did not account for the increase. The Southwind residential annexation takes place this year, and the South Cordova annexation came after July of 2012.

The news is cold comfort. Both Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell say the taxable property base is down and the property tax rate will have to rise to yield the same amount of money as last year. The schools merger takes place this year, and there could be a Big Churn when the suburbs start their own systems.

But a gain is a gain. Discount it all you want. Explain it away if you will. Knock yourself out. They're not downplaying the numbers in Nashville. To see how one newspaper handled the report of the growth in Middle Tennessee, see this story from The Tennessean.

Some other numbers from around Tennessee and DeSoto County, Mississippi:

Davidson County (Nashville), 628,021 to 648,295. Nashville is the 25th largest city in the U.S.

Southaven passed with the 50,000 mark. It's population is 50,374.

Fayette County, east of Shelby County, 38,413 to 38,659.

Rutherford County (Murfreesboro), 263,779 to 274,454.

Williamson County (Franklin and Brentwood south of Nashville), 184,063 to 192,911.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bikes and Memphis Aim Beyond Paint on Pavement

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 5:02 PM

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Grants, sponsors, visiting experts from afar, a mayoral endorsement, the $35 million Harahan Bridge Project, a ranking as "most improved" (from "worst") biking city, a specially designated "Bike To Work Day" and a three-day Tennessee Bike Summit at Rhodes College starting Wednesday.

As a public relations campaign and a public policy priority, bikes have made it. Broad acceptance is another matter. Advocates hope to get beyond paint on the pavement, and the summit is a start.

Beloved by a small number of hardcores who commute by bike and supported in the abstract by Memphians who prefer to drive their cars as a practical matter, bike lanes began appearing on city streets such as North Parkway and Madison Avenue a couple of years ago. The city's Çomplete Streets program put bike lanes (not counting shared lanes for cars and bikes) on 51 miles of city streets.

On Wednesday, Mayor A C Wharton announced that 15 miles of protected "green lanes" will be added in the next two years at undetermined locations. The Green Lane Project is working with six U.S. cities (Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC) to get green lanes on the ground. Green lanes are protected from cars and sidewalks by barriers and buffers and sometimes marked in green paint.

Also announced this week was a $350,000 project to connect Overton Park to Broad Street.

"No longer will we take it for granted that streets are only for those who want to get in their two-ton vehicle and chug up and down the street," said Wharton. He said people who say they would bike if only it were safer will have no excuse when the projects are finished.

Memphis is among several cities experimenting with various bicycle proposals. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made them a key part of his legislative program in New York City, as The New York Times noted recently.

A blog post on the Green Lane Project website last week featured Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. and examined whether biking has grown beyond the white middle-class community.

Speakers at the summit include Kyle Wagenschutz from the City of Memphis; City of Memphis CAO George Little, a frequent bike commuter; Jessica Wilson from the Tennessee Department of Transportation; Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists; Greg Maxted for the Harahan Bridge Project; Hal Mabry from The Peddler Bike Shop; and long-distance rider and Revolutions Community Bicycle Shop founder Anthony Siracusa.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Beale Street Club 152 Hearing Postponed

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 11:50 AM

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The environmental court hearing for Club 152 that was scheduled for Monday to determine how long the club should be closed will be held Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. instead.

The club was shut down last Thursday as a "public nuisance" by District Attorney General Amy Weirich and West Tennessee Drug Task Force agents.

Les Smith of Fox13 News and I ran into attorney Ted Hansom in the lobby of 201 Poplar and talked to him briefly. Hansom said he is representing club owners Charlie Ryan, Kevin Kane, and Bud Chittom. Based on an undercover investigation, the complaint makes allegations of drug use and sales by at least four unnamed employees, and cites a long record of "violence and crime at and around the location on Beale Street."

Hansom said that as of Monday morning there had been no arrests.

"This is like closing Macy's two weeks before Christmas," said Hansom. "Memphis In May and the barbecue contest weekend are big times for all the employees who work there."

Hansom said the owners "tried to be proactive" and contacted former district attorney Bill Gibbons three years ago to do something about drugs on Beale Street. Kane said in an interview last week that the effort went nowhere. He questioned the timing of the club closing during the barbecue contest and a week before the Memphis Grizzlies next home game in the Playoffs.

"The club has been under investigation since last November," Hansom said. "What occurred in the last two weeks that didn't occur two months ago, or what was happening that they couldn't have waited until June 1st?"

The complaint says the club "constitutes a nuisance as well as a clear and present danger to the patrons of the club, the patrons of Beale Street, and this community at large."

It was closed Thursday in a dramatic show of force, with media notified in advance and club patrons ushered out of the club and on to the street. Hansom said the owners face a hard choice.

"If they call the police then the DA says look how many police reports there are. And if they don't call the police . . ." His thought trailed off and he shrugged and turned up his hands.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Two Cheers for the Unified School Board

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 12:48 PM

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One crisis at a time. One year at a time.

That's how the Unified Shelby County School Board played it. And nobody knows better than the 23 members how much was left on the table. This was an 11th-hour budget of necessity, cobbled together under pressure and the eye of a court-appointed special master.

Nobody expects the unified school system, the budget, or the board to look the same a year from now. Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson will probably be gone. A majority of the board members will be gone. The suburbs will probably bolt, taking with them perhaps 30,000 of the estimated 2013-2014 enrollment of 138,629 and tens of millions of dollars of funding. School closings were largely sidestepped. The former MCS has ten high schools where the enrollment is projected to be 550 or less next year. The lowest projected enrollment at a former Shelby County high school next year is 1,300.

What if the MCS board members who voted to surrender the charter had tried to save the unified system, suburbs included, instead of hunkering down, nitpicking the superintendent search process, and criticizing the transition report? What if John Aitken had been offered the job of superintendent six months ago? What if Judge Hardy Mays had appointed a special master a year ago instead of waiting so long? What if some of the suburban board members had said "we should give this a shot"?

It doesn't matter now. Stalemate was not an option. The board deserves two cheers for coming up with a proposed $1.18 billion budget, implementing a version of the 172-point transition plan, doing a ton of homework, attending hundreds of hours of meetings late into the night, and taking public criticism from all sides. And they did it for pennies compared to the six-figure pay packages for corporate directors for rubberstamping the policies of the CEO with zero scrutiny.

At Thursday's session, which featured a new seating chart, there seemed to be genuine affection as well as mutual respect among members who barely knew each other a year ago. That counts for something. As Hopson said, they did as well as they could.

Beale's Club 152: "We'll take care of it," says Kevin Kane

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2013 at 11:44 AM

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Kevin Kane says he was surprised when he got the news Thursday night that the Beale Street nightclub Club 152, in which he has an ownership interest, had been shut down as a public nuisance.

The head of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau owns Club 152 along with Charlie Ryan and Bud Chittom. State drug agents and local prosectors closed it after getting an injunction in, of all places, Environmental Court, signed by Judge Larry Potter. The alleged nuisance includes fights, drug sales and other criminal activity reported to police since 2012 and observed by an undercover officer and an informant over the last five months.

"The law-abiding businesses and patrons of Beale Street deserve better than what Club 152 has allowed to happen, said Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich. A court appearance is scheduled for Monday. The "manager and owners" are ordered to appear.

Kane, father of three young children, said he coaches Weirich's child in youth sports. He said he and his partners bought the club and the real estate in 2009 "as a pure real estate play" because it is next door to Blues City Cafe, which they also own. They bought it with Rusty Hyneman but bought him out after a year.

"I"m one of the owners but I don't run the place. We didn't know drug sales were going on for six months," Kane said. "We fire people every week trying to get rid of bad employees. I'm outraged, and I want Beale Street to be a positive, safe environment for everyone."

He thinks the unnamed security employees selling drugs in the complaint are four part-timers out of 150 employees.

"We're not sure it was a manager" as alleged Weirich's petition, which says the atmosphere at Club 152 is "quite dangerous with busy crowds both in the club itself and on Beale Street at the heart of the Memphis entertainment district." Beale Street is getting unusual attention and television exposure this month due to Memphis In May and the Grizzlies run in the NBA playoffs. But the rowdy reputation of Club 152 precedes that, as Weirich's petition documents.

Club 152 is ranked Number 71 in Nightclub and Bar's "Top 100" for 2013.

The investigation went to considerable pains to document the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, and Percocet at the club, probably in part because of the high-profile location and ownership. Kane admitted it would be nearly impossible for a club manager not to recognize the smell if not the sight of employees and patrons openly smoking marijuana, as the complaint alleges. He and Chittom said that three years ago they went to then attorney general Bill Gibbons and said "we've got a problem" with drugs on Beale Street but nothing came of it.

Kane said he visits the club maybe five times a year, but not at 3 a.m. He described it as tourists on the first floor, urban on the second floor, and VIPs, big-spenders, and athletes on the third floor. The age limit for admission is 21.

"It draws a diverse crowd," he said. "It is not some rogue, dark, seedy terrible environment. We'll deal with it."

He predicted it will reopen within the month.

Monday's hearing should be interesting. Drug use and sales among bar and nightclub employees are not considered unusual by people who have worked in the business. Owners and managers are supposed to deal with it. Weirich says Club 152 crossed a line. The owners are nobody's fools. The Grizzlies will be playing at home next week. It's Beale Street. Enough said.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Schools Budget "best we could do" says Superintendent

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2013 at 4:30 PM

Dorsey Hopson
  • Dorsey Hopson
The Unified Shelby County School Board voted 17-3 Thursday to send its proposed 2013-2014 $1.186 billion budget to the Shelby County Commission.

Capping three straight days of public comments, staff revisions, and discussion among members, the board got the job done in about 90 minutes in an early afternoon meeting. It is the first budget presented by the combined Memphis and Shelby County school boards and is $75 million less this year's combined budgets. Some members confessed to being groggy after the long work week and watching the Grizzlies play until nearly midnight Wednesday.

"I think we have done the best job we could to cut $75 million but keep as far away from classroom cuts as possible," said Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

The budget has a deficit of $30 million that will have to addressed by the county commission. Hopson said the deficit started at $57 million, so the smaller deficit represents progress, and board members noted that the budget request is lower than the one proposed by the Transition Planning Commission.

It makes some cuts the TPC did not recommend but declines to make others on the scale recommended by the TPC, notably in the area of school closings. Facing intense pressure to get schools open this summer, and working under the eye of federal court-appointed special master Rick Masson, the board left that debate for another year. Enrollment projections released by the schools administration this week peg the unified system at about 138,000 students. Charter schools and Achievement School District schools bring the total to about 150,000. The unified system is expected to shrink drastically next year if suburbs form their own systems.

Voting against the budget were former MCS board members Kenneth Whalum Jr., Sara Lewis, and Betty Mallott. Among those voting for it were the prime movers of MCS charter surrender, Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has proposed a property tax increase that would partially offset the deficit. If it passes, the combined Shelby County and Memphis property tax rate, based on numbers currently being considered by the commission and city council, could be right around $8.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Comparison of Detroit and Memphis, Again

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
  • Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
The frustrated mayor who hoped to save the city decided this week to call it quits later this year in the face of overwhelming problems.

He listed them in an interview with a writer for The Daily Beast: Blight, corruption and crime. Historic financial issues. Declining population and low density. A City Council resistant to his plans for change. A Republican governor appointing someone to take over failing systems. The city's midtown and downtown pocked with abandoned structures, some in the shadows of hotels and stadiums of pro sports teams. Low voter turnout in local elections. Media trashing the city.

The city is Detroit, and the mayor is Dave Bing. Detroit is the national standard for failing cities, as we have been told by Time magazine, a couple of recent documentaries including "Detropia" which was shown in Memphis last year, some books by Detroiters such as Charlie LeDuff's "Detroit: An American Autopsy," and about a million newspaper articles, blogs, and reader comments.

Other than that, my view of Detroit is based on nothing more than occasional visits to a small slice of the city. The parallels to Memphis are irresistible, or at least they are to me, a Michigan native, fan of Detroit novelists Loren Estleman and Elmore Leonard, and regular reader of the Detroit newspapers for more than 50 years, back before Bing was the star of the Detroit Pistons.

Finally, I thought four years ago when he was elected mayor, Detroit gets the right person for the job. But when I read the stories about him calling it quits this week, I couldn't help thinking "Is this what's in store for Memphis?"

Taking the indictment one count at a time, I would say Memphis is better off. For now.

Corruption: Detroit's former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is in prison after being convicted in March. Memphis had Tennessee Waltz and Main Street Sweeper, which netted more convictions of public officials. But Kilpatrick's influence was greater. A close call, but Detroit gets the edge as "worst."

Backgrounds of Bing and Wharton: Both men are 69 years old. Bing was a successful Detroit businessman after his NBA career. He was elected in 2009 and served one term. Wharton, an attorney, has held public offices since 2002, including county and city mayor since 2002. The lesson: a "business approach to government" does not necessarily translate to success with unions, other politicians, and loss of population and tax base. Nor do political experience, charm, and personal decency.

Crime: In one recent survey of "most dangerous U.S. cities" Detroit ranked first and Memphis tenth. In another survey, Detroit was fifth and Memphis sixth. On Wednesday, Bing and the emergency manager announced the appointment of a new police chief. As in Memphis, his job will be reducing violent crime on a budget.

Declining population and vast footprint. Detroit's population has fallen from nearly two million in the 1950s to about 700,000 in a city of 142 square miles. The population of Memphis, boosted by annexation of 35,000 residents, declined 0.5 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 647,000 in more than 300 square miles.

Low voter turnout: 17 percent in Detroit, and about the same in the 2011 Memphis mayoral and City Council election. Low turnout has been a given in Memphis for decades and the inflated number of "eligible voters" due to the reluctance of the Election Commission to purge the rolls, makes it look worse.

Blight near stadiums: As we're seeing with the Grizzlies, pro sports can boost community morale and have a big economic impact, but championships (Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons in last ten years) and new side-by-side stadiums (Tigers and Lions) couldn't avert Detroit's population loss, financial crisis, or blighted condition. Downtown Memphis has empty office buildings and blighted sections, but the redevelopment of the Chisca Hotel, South Main Street, and public housing projects will make for a better-looking and more vibrant downtown.

Bad publicity: A Los Angeles sportswriter took some shots at Memphis, as did Forbes and other publications that purport to rank cities. But Memphis gets some good national attention too, for its music, food, and mystique. Our toughest critics are in the suburbs and in Nashville. Wharton, except for complaining that local television news programs over-emphasize violent crime, is not a media critic in the manner of his predecessor, Willie Herenton. Bing was apparently unloading on national more than local media depictions of Detroit.

State oversight: Detroit has an emergency manager. Worst case scenario is biggest-ever city bankruptcy. Memphis has the state-run Achievement School District which has taken over some public schools, and a federal judge and special master overseeing the merger of the school districts. Worst case scenario is failure of the biggest school system merger in U.S. history, but exactly what that would mean in dollars and cents remains to be seen.

City Council opposition: Mayors get things done by cultivating council allies. It is hard to identify anyone currently carrying water for Wharton. On one side is Jim Strickland, pledging to vote against tax increases. On the other is Joe Brown, saying tax the rich because they can afford it and don't care. There will be bad feelings, but also a balanced budget and probably a tax increase next month. That's more than Detroit can say.

On May 30th, Memphis magazine is bringing New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in for a luncheon called "A Summons to Memphis." If he'll come, Bing would be a good choice for a follow-up. He's a truth-teller, with no worries about being reelected, and he has a story to tell.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Mississippi Casinos and the Upside of Disaster

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 12:10 PM

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All those television ads about how BP is cleaning up the Mississippi and Alabama beaches after the 2010 oil spill have helped the Coast casinos overtake Tunica as Mississippi’s top gambling destination.

The 2013 American Gaming Association survey shows the Gulf Coast, with $1.095 billion gross gambling revenue, is now the 8th largest casino market in the United State. Tunica is 10th, at $822 million. The Coast overtook Tunica in 2011 and has grown nearly 20 percent since then, while Tunica has stayed flat. The 30 Mississippi casinos combined make the state the fourth largest market in the country, behind Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Chicago.

The Tunica market, 20 years old this year, faces competition from Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, which isn’t in the AGA survey but is a casino for all intents and purposes and closer to Memphis. Also, some Tunica casinos were closed in 2011 due to flooding of the Mississippi River.

Bobby Leatherman, whose family owned the land where some of the first casinos in Tunica were built, thinks the Gulf Coast gains can also be traced, somewhat paradoxically, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill. The hurricane forced the beach casinos to rebuild and state legislation allowed them to move on shore. The Coast was flooded with construction workers, federal aid, and insurance money. The oil spill did little damage to the manmade beach on the Mississippi Sound, but Mississippi got a bonanza of BP-sponsored ads urging visitors to come to the Gulf Coast.

With its 30 casinos, Mississippi ranks third among states in the number of jobs, 23,377, which is down from 36,000 in 1999. Mississippi has 36,032 gambling machines (Arkansas has 1,900) and got $273 million in casino tax revenue in 2012, down .6 percent from 2011. The states combined state and local gambling tax of 12 percent is one of the lowest in the country.

The rest pf the casino Top Ten, in order: Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Chicago, Detroit, Connecticut, Philadelphia, St. Louis, The Poconos. New York City is 15th, based on first full year of operations for a casino in Queens.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hospital Charges Vary a Lot: Big Deal or So What?

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 1:51 PM

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Baptist Memorial Hospital bills Medicare $51,152 for a drug-coated stent insertion, while Methodist Hospital bills Medicare $80,635 and St. Francis Hospital bills $82,211 for the same procedure. All three hospitals are in Shelby County.

To put in a pacemaker, the charges are $51,483 at Baptist, $76,490 at Methodist, and $61,614 at St. Francis. So it goes, for scores of medical procedures at nonprofit and for-profit hospitals all over the country.

What Medicare actually pays is another number, and the same goes for private insurance companies, employer-provided insurance, and the patient. So, assuming you know what a drug-coated stent insertion is, is this a big deal or one of those things like the national debt, public pension obligations, and food additives that is vaguely troubling but too complicated to worry about?

The question comes up following release of a massive amount of data on Medicare this week. The story was reported Wednesday, with some nice context and quotes, by The New York Times and The Washington Post and other news organizations.

For the first time, the federal government released the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. The charges have been mostly secret to the average person. What the numbers reveal is a health-care system with lots of variation in the costs of services.

Continue reading »

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Friday, May 3, 2013

A New Documentary about Broad Avenue

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 11:07 AM

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Brighten up a wet weekend with a look at this documentary on the revitalization of Broad Avenue by Edward Valibus.

Valibus, a graduate of Overton High School and the University of Memphis who lives in Cordova, partnered with the Mayor's Innovation and Delivery Team to produce the short doc, doing all the camera, sound, production and interviewing work himself. Most of the filming was done the week before the grand opening on April 19th.

Among the business owners interviewed are David Wayne Brown, Guy Weaver, Tom Clifton and Pat Brown, Cynthia Norwood, Jay and Shalene McLaughlin, N J and Khara Woods, and Michael Andrews. Broad Avenue, with its grade-level train tracks that always seemed to bring rush-hour traffic to a standstill, looked doomed when Sam Cooper Boulevard was extended several years ago. But a combination of owners who wouldn't quit and new ones attracted to what was something of a blank canvas are bringing it back.

"Broad kind of has a wild-card feel about what it can turn into," said Valibus. "Other areas like Overton Square and South Main have more of a theme. Broad can become anything."

(Mural by artist Guillaume Alby)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bike Ride from Little Rock to Memphis

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 9:50 AM

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Ward Archer and friends have reposted this excellent video of their group bike ride from Little Rock to Memphis last summer. It shows the current scary sidewalk over the Mississippi River and a computer-generated rendering of the future Harahan Project, scheduled for completion in 2014. The rendering is not state of the art as far as the fencing and other details but you get the idea. Nice photography, music and narration. Check it out while the Harahan Project and Main Street to Main Street Connector are in the news. The ride was 186 miles. For those interested in something shorter, Little Rock has a great network of trails on both sides of the Arkansas River and over the Big Dam Bridge.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thoughts on Maxine Smith, Harahan Bridge, Grizzlies, and Desegregation

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Willie Herenton and Maxine Smith
  • Willie Herenton and Maxine Smith
In the aftermath of the obits and tributes to Maxine Smith, this old story came back to me. Mrs. Smith and the NAACP opposed Plan Z — the busing plan for 40,000 students in 1972. They wanted 60,000 students bused and unsuccessfully sued to overrule Plan Z, which they called “a grotesque distortion of the law.” Two dozen schools were left out of the plan because there was no hope that white students would go to them. Fear went both ways. Louis Lucas, one of the NAACP lawyers, told me several black parents complained to him that marijuana and other drugs were more prevalent at white schools than black schools.

Mrs. Smith went on the school board when it was majority white and majority male. The Memphis School System was majority black and trending moreso. One of the things I liked about her as NAACP secretary was that she worked out of a small office in a small building on Vance Avenue in a poor part of town. When I needed some historic photographs for a Memphis magazine story, she got up and dug them out of a file cabinet herself and gave them to me at no charge. We would have paid.

Desegregation was hard, even where it wasn’t violent. But there was a just goal that blacks and white rallied to. The age cutoff for people who remember separate "white" and "colored" public facilities and restaurants is about 50 now. Resegregation is harder in another way. Nobody has an answer. Nobody. There are no leaders because there are no followers who want to be led to a common goal, which is the definition of leadership.

Mayor A C Wharton suggested naming one of the parks for Maxine and Vasco Smith. That came up Monday at the meeting of the parks renaming committee. “Naming a park after her would not do her justice,” said Harold Collins, who suggested a school or school administration building might be more suitable down the road. Doug Cupples, who voted on the other side from Collins on the Confederate names, agreed it would be “premature” to name a park for the Smiths.

The pedestrian and bicycle path on the Harahan Bridge will be 10 feet wide or 12 feet wide, depending on how much planners want to pinch the budget. As an occasional bike rider, I say width matters on a path to be shared by bikes going fast and pedestrians with small children going slow. It is the main thing. Get the main thing right and spring for the extra bucks. The Greenline is 10 feet wide but there are shoulders on both sides most of the way. There will be no margin of error on the bridge path, just fences.

The bridge path from one side of the river to the other will be one mile long. One mile is about the distance from the eastern approach to the A. W. Willis Jr. Bridge to Mud Island to the entrance to Mud Island River Park. Try walking or biking it, there and back, some time on a 95-degree summer afternoon.

I watched the Grizzlies on television with friends in Michigan last weekend. They couldn’t believe that Marc Gasol was a good but hardly great player at a small private high school, Lausanne, and didn’t play college ball.

A year ago I flew Delta to Detroit for $415 round trip. This year it was $260 for the same itinerary. Go figure. And can someone explain why car rentals are so cheap? I got a car for three days for $51, tax included, and a month ago my gang and I got an even better car in Richmond, Va. for $11 a day.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Biking the Harahan Bridge as $30+ Million Thrill Ride

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 10:14 PM

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Once called the Harahan Project, the Main Street to Main Street Connector Project is nine miles of street and sidewalk improvements in downtown Memphis and West Memphis, Arkansas and one mile of pedestrian and bike bridge across the Mississippi River.

"This is a number-one priority for us," Mayor A C Wharton said Monday in a briefing on the project that is now estimated to cost "more than $30 million" in local, private, and federal funds. It will tie Main Street in Memphis from north of the Convention Center to Main Street (Broadway) in West Memphis. The ten-mile project includes one mile of cantilevered boardwalk off the Harahan Bridge, 3.8 miles in Arkansas floodland and downtown West Memphis, and a little over 5 miles in downtown Memphis from desolate blocks of Main Street north of The Pyramid and convention center to South Main Street and a new pedestrian bridge over Riverside Drive at Channel 3 Drive.

Because $14.8 million in federal transportation funds are involved, all of this has to be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Construction will begin in September and the bridge section should open in August of 2014.

The bridge section will be either 10 feet wide or 12 feet wide, depending on how much planners and funders decide to pinch the budget. There will be a high, unclimbable fence on the railroad side and a lower fence with a mesh screen on the other side to permit river views. The deck will be light-weight aluminum coated to lower the summer heat. New steel bridge supports are raising the project cost. The "boardwalk" will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and have security cameras and emergency telephones.

There will be a parking area on the West Memphis side close to the western entrance to the pedestrian bridge. The western approach is covered because it is lower than the train tracks.

Wharton said it is time to accept the Main Street Mall with its trolley tracks, empty buildings and vacant storefronts in downtown Memphis for what it is — a pedestrian and trolley mall where (most) cars are banned.

"What we need to do now is make it the absolute best we can and make it distinctly Memphis," he said.

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Stage Set for Renaming Forrest Park

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 6:57 PM

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The stage is set for the Memphis City Council to either put the park names controversy to bed or engage in a nasty battle over Forrest Park and the statue and remains of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

A committee of citizens named to rename three parks split 4-4 Monday on a motion to go back to the original Confederate-themed names. In separate votes, the committee then, by split votes, chose new names for the parks. The recommendations are only advisory.

Forrest Park would become Civil War Memorial Park; Confederate Park would be Promenade Park (Naval Battle of Memphis Park was rejected); and Jefferson Davis Park would be Harbor Park (Wolf River Cobblestones Park was rejected).

In an ominous note, Councilman Harold Collins, a member of the renaming committee, requested an opinion from City Council Attorney Allan Wade on whether ithe council could rename Forrest Park and move the statue and the remains of the general and his wife. Short answer: Yes.

"In our opinion, the Council's authority over the renaming of the park, relocation of the statue, and re-internment of the remains of Mr. and Mrs. Forrest has a sound legal and political foundation."

The remains of Forrest and his widow were moved from Elmwood Cemetery to the park in 1904.

"We have been advised that the Forrest family burial plots still exist at Elmwood Cemetery and that there is adequate room for the reinternment of Forrest and his wife. We have also been advised that there is also room for the Forrest statue."

In order to reinter Forrest, the city would have to initiate a Chancery Court lawsuit, which would keep the controversy alive indefinitely.

Beale Street Landing Restaurant Operators Bail Out

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 9:20 AM

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Score another one for Beale Street Landing and the Riverfront Development Corporation.

Last week, RDC director Benny Lendermon notified board members that restaurant operator Beale and Second Inc. "is no longer interested in pursuing the lease of the restaurant space at Beale Street Landing." Beale and Second consists of Bud Chittom, Kevin Kane, and Charlie Ryan, who also own Blues City Cafe on Beale Street. The group was the only one to respond to an RDC request for restaurant proposals.

"Based on this discovery, Beale and Second Inc. should cease and desist all actives (sic) on the Beale Street Landing premises other than specific catering services that RDC may contract with you to perform," the memo says.

"You should turn in the keys to the premises to our manager Jimmy Ogle. Any access to the premises to remove equipment or supplies belonging to you should be coordinated with Mr. Ogle. We are disappointed that this didn't work out but certainly understand that you have to protect your financial interests."

Continue reading »

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