Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stories With Legs

We haven’t heard the last of these news stories from 2010.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 10:57 AM

If Black Friday can start on Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations can go up before the leaves fall, why hold off on the year-ender column? Technically, there are two more Flyer issues in 2010, but not much happens the weeks before and after Christmas, so here goes.

This year's list separates the real big stories from the pretenders. Some "big stories" are not really that big. See Bass Pro Pyramid delays, stock market moves, Willie Herenton comebacks, the presidential aspirations of Mike Huckabee, and bashing Nancy Pelosi. "Real big stories," like the following, are often sleepers, but they have legs:

Bad times for book stores. Bookstar on Poplar will close in January, and the Joseph Beth Group, the parent company of Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Laurelwood, filed for bankruptcy and is closing its store in Nashville. It's easy to blame Kindle, but a new hardcover at $25.95 has a hard time competing with a like-new hardcover for $5 or less on Amazon or at the main library's second-hand book store. The retail presence wasn't that large, but the helpful staff, shared experience, and author events will be missed.

The criminal indictment and suspension of Memphis City Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware. A diligent worker who rarely missed a meeting until she became ill and a pivotal vote on the 13-member council, Ware is the first casualty of the council's revised ethics policy. In previous years, an indicted member could continue to serve, raising all kinds of protests and generating more stories. No longer. The message: No means no, even if the alleged illegality involves small change and small favors.

The University of Memphis football team goes 1-11 and attendance continues to slide. A spiffier stadium, Tiger Lane, and a new head coach couldn't save this Tiger. A crowd of 30,000 for UT? A berth in a BCS conference such as the Big East looks like a pipe dream now that TCU got one of the expansion slots that the U of M wanted. Memphis must weigh the financial realities of relatively little money from bowls, the gate, and television against the cost of 80 scholarships and trying to keep pace, albeit distantly, with the Southeastern Conference schools.

The failed consolidation referendum. The totally ineffective campaign in the county and the close vote in Memphis were the story but not the ending. The sequel is the December 20th vote at the Memphis City Schools Board of Education on giving up the charter. Depending on what happens then, the sequel to the sequel will be a city referendum and politicking in the 2011 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, which could take up special school districts.

GTX Inc. fails to take off. Not exactly a household name, the Memphis biopharmaceutical company founded by Pitt Hyde and others to develop a breakthrough treatment for prostate cancer was going to put Memphis on the biotech map. The stock was trading at $13 in 2009 before bad test results sent it skidding to $4 overnight, and in 2010, GTX has not recovered. This week it was trading at $2.58.

Glankler Brown law firm moves to the suburbs. Such hardcore downtowners will be missed. Sentiment was on downtown's side, but the firm moved anyway. Pinnacle Airlines' move to One Commerce Square could offset it. The Wall Street Journal, in a story this week, says there's a downtown office revival in several U.S. cities, but that will be hard in Memphis. Baptist Hospital and several government offices are in the 'burbs, and the "Big Three" Memphis-based banks of 15 years ago — Union Planters, First Tennessee, and National Bank of Commerce — have been taken over or downsized.

The Shelby Farms Greenline. A modest six-mile bike trail on an abandoned railroad track is part substance and part symbol in a city not known for such things. Future connections to Shelby Farms, Overton Park, and the river will mean bigger and better things.

Charter schools are here to stay. They are the biggest innovation in Memphis City Schools since the optional program started more than 30 years ago. Optional schools attract students who chose their parents well; charter school students, by law, come from disadvantaged homes and schools. Memphis opened seven charters in 2010, has 23 of the 38 charter schools in Tennessee, and is approved for 12 more. They are attracting motivated parents and a corps of young teachers willing to work longer school days in exchange for smaller classrooms and more autonomy. The Republican-controlled general assembly is likely to loosen the rules and further expand them.

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