City Reporter 

City Reporter

Buildings As Bunkers?

Architects to consider attacks in arena design.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Not only did the terrorist attacks of September 11th affect businesses in existing buildings around the world, they've changed the way buildings are designed and, specifically, the way business is conducted in large venues. In Memphis, the design teams of Looney, Ricks, Kiss Architects and Ellerbe Becket are having to consider terrorism in their plans for the future 18,500-seat NBA arena.

"We've always considered security in buildings, and the terrorist attacks will certainly have an impact on what we design," says Rob Norcross, a principal architect in the commercial group with LRK, the local firm hired to work on the arena project here. "I think we will all have to consider how we build things. It might mean less glass, but I'd hate to think that we will have to design buildings as bunkers."

A largely glass arena design, though beautiful, may be a thing of the past. Conseco Fieldhouse, the 20,000-seat Indianapolis arena that Memphis will use as a model, is already finding that its glass roof is posing security problems.

"We may have to change some things because of the recent terrorist activity," says Jeff Bowen, vice president for scheduling at the Indianapolis facility. "We may have to take some steps to make things safer and less penetrable. A lot of glass can be a hazard and a plaza opening can be easily accessed. The top half of our building is glass. At night you can see the full moon and television crews often filmed from helicopters looking through the roof. But not since September 11th. We don't do that now because if the glass were shattered it could spray all over the arena. Now we keep the curtains closed and we'll probably get bomb film applied to the glass which prevents glass from spraying if it's shattered."

Indeed, nationwide the terrorist attacks have changed the operations of professional and collegiate sports.

This week Alan Freeman, general manager of The Pyramid, told Pollstar, a national concert and arena news source, that new NBA security requirements have added hours to his workday. Freeman says that now all bags must be searched prior to guests entering the building, additional staff have been added on game days during the hours prior to tip-off, and new NBA rules forbid backpacks and other large bags.

Likewise, dramatic measures have been taken elsewhere in efforts to prevent attacks at other large venues. Earlier this year in Tampa, Florida, a face-recognition system was implemented for the Super Bowl. Cameras scanned the faces of 100,000 attendees as they entered the stadium and electronically compared the guests' faces to photos of known criminals. Currently similar systems are being considered for use at other large venues.

In fact, the days of arena rock may also be dwindling. Due to the attacks, even booking artists at stadiums and arenas is becoming difficult.

"Bigger artists are afraid to go out because they don't want to be in a building with 20,000 people," says Bowen. "The artists who still want to tour can't fill a 20,000-seat venue. It's a real trend now to be more versatile and be able to make the venue more intimate for smaller shows."

This sort of versatility will no doubt be a consideration for Memphis' arena architects and the Public Building Authority. Norcross says that the planning on Memphis' structure has not yet reached specific considerations such as these. However, preliminary thought has been given to how far off the street the arena will be built.

"The attacks may have a direct impact on how close the building is to the street," says Norcross. "But there will have to be a balance there. It's safer to have buildings farther from the street, but in an urban area it doesn't look as nice to set things way off the street."

Norcross does not believe that the attacks will cause much, if any, delay on the arena construction. Rather, he says that all involved in the planning have a realistic view on the time it will take to build the arena.

"I don't think anybody's ever thought that if we started it today we would be finished in time for the 2003 season. Right now the 2004 season is the target."

That's an assessment that Bowen says is on point, from his experience with the construction of the Conseco Fieldhouse.

"To build a building that size, it generally takes two years just to do the actual construction," says Bowen. "If you just want to build a box you can get it all done in about two years. But for us it was worth taking longer because the building itself is so attractive. People come here even when nothing is going on just to wander around."

Bowen also added that with 18,500 seats for basketball games, Conseco is hardly huge by NBA standards.

"We could have built bigger, but I think for our market it's a good size," says Bowen. "It will be interesting to see what happens in Memphis. Your arena will have to compete with two other venues, The Pyramid and the coliseum, and this new arena will need a good booker to lure top acts. Part of our deal was that Market Square Arena would be closed when Conseco Fieldhouse was built. We made sure there was no competition. Later, Market Square was destroyed."

It seems that the arena architects and Public Building Authority have a lot to consider. Like Conseco Fieldhouse, the Memphis arena executives may have to convince terror-struck artists to play and concert-goers to attend. But Memphis also faces some unique challenges, namely, how to compete in a market already facing a glut in large venues and how to design a facility that is both beautiful and functional, all the while keeping guests safe from terrorist acts.

Art Attack

Two works are still missing from Arts in the Park.

By Mary Cashiola

Jennifer Esther Brown didn't even want to sell her painting Hope for Healing (shown at left). But now that it's gone, she's doing everything she can to get it back.

Brown's work, as well as a wooden sculpture by Jeff Justis, was stolen from the Smith+Nephew "Art of Medicine" exhibit during this year's Arts in the Park festival at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

"I had put 'not for sale' on the back," she says, but after a bit of encouragement from one of the workers, she scratched it out and labeled the painting with a price of about $4,000.

Originally, Brown had inquired about entering the work of the senior citizens she teaches but decided at the last minute to enter one of her own paintings. She had been working on it for two years and says that it's about one of her own personal and ongoing tragedies.

But when Brown went to the park on Sunday, she didn't see it in the show.

"I thought maybe they decided at the last minute not to put it in," she says. When she was informed that it had been stolen, she began to cry.

"It was my masterwork out of everything I have," she says.

Each artist signs a waiver releasing the Memphis Arts Festival and any affiliated parties from liability for loss or damage to their artwork during the show.

Christine Todd, executive director of the Memphis Arts Festival, says she doesn't know how the organization is going to do it, but somehow they are going to make it right with both Brown and Justis.

"We had round-the-clock security," says Todd. "I don't see how this could have happened.

As of yet, there are no plans to change security for next year's festival.

"If we, in America, cannot keep planes from crashing into the World Trade Center, how can we ... it's the most frustrating thing," she says.

"Why in the world would someone steal someone's artwork? I could see a million dollars. But artwork?"

A Nashville artist's piece was stolen in the late '80s from the show and was never recovered. Todd hopes that's not what happens this time; in fact, she's still hoping that this will turn out to be one big misunderstanding.

"I want artists to feel safe showing their work," she says. "The Memphis Arts Festival exists for performance and visual artists to have a place to show their work. It's to benefit Memphis."

Anyone with information on either one of the pieces from the Smith+Nephew exhibit should contact the Memphis Arts Festival at 761-1278.

city beat

A Tough Race

A C Wharton has the credentials for mayor, but problems loom.

by John Branston

A C Wharton is such a neat dresser and workaholic that close friends swear they have seen him mowing the lawn at his Midtown home while wearing loafers, creased slacks, and a shirt and tie. But the veteran Democrat and public defender may have to get his hands dirty if he wants to be Shelby County mayor.

"For parts of the Democratic Party, the stakes are high and I think it is going to get rough," said Bill Gibbons, who announced Monday that he won't seek the Republican nomination for county mayor.

Former four-term Shelby County mayor Bill Morris agrees "it could get pretty divisive in the general election."

Wharton entered the race last week, boasting name recognition, an impressive resume, friends in high places, and crossover appeal. So far he is the only black candidate, although that could change before the Democratic primary which is not until next May. Blacks now account for almost half of the county population, while blacks and people who classify themselves as "other" total 53 percent of registered voters.

But there are several things that could waylay him.

Foremost are his opponents in the Democratic Party, which so far include state Sen. Jim Kyle, state Rep. Carol Chumney, and businessman Harold Byrd. Like Wharton, Kyle and Chumney are lawyers. Unlike him, they have actually won elections as candidates. Wharton has held the appointed job of Shelby County public defender for 21years and was campaign chairman for Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in 1995 and 1999.

Byrd, a Bartlett banker with biracial support, has more money than any of his rivals and isn't hamstrung when it comes to raising more. Members of the General Assembly have to call it quits on the money chase after the House and Senate go back in session in January, five months before the primary.

Then there is demographics.

"At the end of the day, it's the soccer moms that elect people," says City Councilman Jack Sammons, who sought the Republican nomination for county mayor in 1994.

Being the only black candidate in the Democratic field could help Wharton in the primary but hurt him in the general election if, as now seems possible, all the headliner candidates on the Democratic Party ticket are black while all the Republican candidates, as also seems likely, are white.

"We've got to have a racially balanced ticket to win some of those offices for the Democrats, and we should have a racially balanced ticket," says Gale Carson, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party.

Gibbons foresees a "divisive, expensive, Democratic primary" and a Republican Party united behind former city councilman John Bobango.

Despite their past association, Wharton won't be able to count on Herenton for much help. The mayor says, "I am going to assume a position of neutrality." He notes that each time he ran for city mayor the county mayor stayed out of it, and this is "good policy" since the two mayors have to work so closely together.

The long campaign could present other problems for Wharton. He has been routinely reappointed each year as head of the 68-lawyer Public Defender's office, which pays $73,116 this year. For several years, however, Wharton has been better known for taking on high-profile criminal defendants in his private practice including Sen. John Ford, sheriff's deputy Ray Mills, would- be corporate terrorist Auburn Calloway, basketball coach Tic Price, high school football coach Lynn Lang, and various day-care center operators.

Wharton, who taught law at Ole Miss for 25 years, sees this as almost a badge of honor.

"Somebody has to be willing to stand alone to make sure that Constitution means something," he says. "I am not afraid to stand alone."

Wharton has also used his name and legal skills to help corporate clients seeking lucrative city business. He was an attorney for Systems and Computer Technology, which landed an outsourcing contract for computers and telecommunications worth at least $40 million, the largest in city history. He says he received "less than $50,000 in fees" for work over one year. He billed hourly and there was no bonus for getting the contract.

"The only thing I am ashamed of is the small amount that I got," he says, denouncing rumors that he earned several hundred thousand dollars.

Roland McElrath, who was director of the division of Finance and Administration at the time, said Wharton did not lobby him or the chief information officer. Wharton worked on issues of minority involvement and displaced workers. SCT officials did not respond to a request for comment.

As an occasional pundit and election-night analyst, Wharton has talked about the importance of "quick wins" for Memphis. Now he will have to spell them out and, possibly, implement them. Asked to identify some quick wins, he said "in this case it would be education, education, and education."

"I mean getting conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, and both superintendents together," he says. "We aren't going to get out of here until we have a call to action for this entire county. That step itself would be a quick win."

Or, perhaps, miraculous. From the Jobs Conference 20 years ago to Goals for Memphis to an aborted Chamber of Commerce-led effort two years ago, Memphians have consistently failed to address school performance and funding issues, even with a former city schools superintendent as city mayor for the last 10 years. Wharton has little first-hand experience with public schools. He and his wife Ruby have three grown sons who all graduated from Memphis Catholic High School.

Wharton's early supporters include mayoral aide Bobby Lanier, former commissioner Charles Perkins, and suburban developer Jackie Welch. Democrats are likely to accuse him of coddling the crowd that has a vested interest in separate governments and suburban sprawl.

"As far as I'm concerned, the idea of a suburban or urban mayor is a distinction we cannot afford," he says. "We are talking about survival issues. We are all tied up in this together. I am just as comfortable in Capleville or Collierville or Cordova as I am in Orange Mound."

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