When Karl Dean, mayor of Nashville, comes to Memphis next week in answer to the second annual "Summons to Memphis," he'll be following in the footsteps not only of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the inaugural invitee at the Memphis Magazine-sponsored event last year, but of Dean's son Rascoe, who was a Teach for America volunteer at East High School for two years.
"He loved the city, he loved living on Mud Island, and he loved teaching those kids at East High. He goes back regularly to see them," said the elder Dean who, like Landrieu before him, will be sharing his insights about urban management in the 21st century to a blue-ribbon Memphis luncheon audience at the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis on June 6th.
Dean hasn't settled on a theme for his address yet, but he's eager to talk about his own affection for Memphis, which he sees not as a rival but as a genuine sister city with a shared music tradition and a history that in many ways overlaps with that of his own city.
It did so recently and tragically, in the case of Nashville police officer and Memphis native Michael Petrina, who was killed while directing traffic.
"Nashvillians were deeply hurt by that event," Dean said. "I was in Memphis for the service, and the city and both mayors could not have been more helpful."
Dean and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton have been friends and comrades-at-arms for decades. Dean recalled a time when he was in Memphis for a ceremony celebrating the revival of steamboat traffic here and "A C was giving me a hard time" about the difference between the mighty Mississippi and the Cumberland, joking good-naturedly that there wasn't enough room on the latter "for a boat to even turn around."
That was the same Cumberland, however, that in May 2010 overflowed its banks, causing an estimated $1.5 billion in damage in Nashville and putting such major venues as Opryland and LP Field, home of the NFL Titans, temporarily underwater.
But if Nashville, which had also suffered major tornado damage downtown in 1998, has had to withstand significant natural setbacks, it has undeniably been one of the nation's boom cities during the last few decades. Dean has been a major architect of his city's rise, notably as the moving force behind the building of Music City Center, a state-of-the-art Taj Mahal-sized edifice that opened last year and occupies 16 acres and several city blocks south of the bustling Broadway area.
"It may not be the biggest, but we think it's the best," Dean said of his city's new convention center. But he's equally proud of Nashville's "honky-tonks," his term for the numerous music-entertainment locales in Nashville, a city already world-famous for country music but now, as he noted, a haven for such rock artists as Kings of Leon, Kesha, Jack White, and the Black Keys. As Dean said, Nashville is the site of a full-fledged music industry comparable to New York and Los Angeles.
But Nashville is also a center of the health-care industry, the home of Vanderbilt and other universities, and a place, Dean said, where economic development is on continual display.
Tickets to "Summons to Memphis" are $50 per person, and a table for 10 people may be reserved for $450. They can be purchased at summonstomemphis.com