Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Midtown Christmas Story

Posted By on Tue, Dec 25, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Midtown's a pretty great place to live. I can walk from my house to the zoo, Rhodes College, Cafe Eclectic, or down my broad street where the historic streetlamps are wrapped in red Christmas ribbons every year by an industrious neighbor. Another neighbor and his son play horns and do concerts for shut-ins on Christmas Eve. Most people hang up a wreath or two and string lights on their porches and trees, and you can count on getting a bag of cookies or pecans on your porch a few times each season.

But you can never let your guard down, even on Christmas. In fact, especially around Christmas, as I have learned from living here more than 25 years. Bad guys know you've got stuff and you're distracted. The year after we moved in a neighbor and her daughter were raped during a break-in. The couple across the street had all of the wheels stolen off their new car one night just before New Year's. A few years ago some I caught some dude breaking into my wife's paintermobile in the middle of the night. He was right under the porch light and just stood there looking at me in my underwear like I was the one who was out of line. I chased him down the driveway until he chunked a can of paint at me as I stood there cussing him, barefoot in the cold.

So yesterday afternoon a guy I don't know pulls into my driveway in a brand new white SUV. He's a young guy with two little kids in the back seat. He rolls down the window, hails me, apologizes for taking my time and asks me a favor. He lives just around the corner. The new car is a surprise for his wife. He's gone to some trouble to leave his other car in the parking area of the duplex next door to my house. The plan is to leave the new car there overnight so I can drive it to their house Christmas morning, put a big red bow with a magnet on the back on the hood, and leave the keys in a chair on the front porch.

He's come to the right place. I'm up for it. He and the kids thank me profusely. I take the key and carefully put it on the key hook in my house. And almost immediately I start worrying that some SOB will try to steal the car. So I take a late walk just before midnight. Everything is cool. I go to bed.

The next morning everything works as planned. He calls, I do my thing, and go hide to watch the wife and kids come out for the big surprise. It's perfect.

An hour later, while my family and I are opening presents, there's a knock on the door. It's our next door neighbor who lives in the duplex. He and his wife moved from Cordova last summer because they always wanted to live in Midtown.

"Did you happen to notice my car last night?" he asks. "The 2011 Nissan?"

Sure, right there next to the new SUV, I say.

"Well, it's not there now. Someone stole it."

No broken glass, no room for a tow truck, no unusual noise between midnight and 8 a.m. Just a couple of professional car thieves doing their thing, maybe with a master key from a dealer, who knows.

Two cars, two wives. One crying tears of joy, one crying tears of anger. A Midtown Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bass Pro Plans "Fluid" But Pyramid to Reopen in 2013

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 at 12:52 PM

Here's the latest on Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris's plans for The Pyramid, as told by a representative of his partner, O.T. Marshall Architects, to a group of downtown stakeholders Thursday.

The plans are "fluid" and some things that were included in June are either out of the picture now or being reconsidered. There will be lodging of some sort inside the building, but the number of rooms (which has been described as "a hotel" and "cabins" in previous statements) is unknown.

The Bass Pro logo will adorn each of the four exterior faces of the building, but there will not be a band of glass around the middle as there was in a rendering displayed at a splashy ceremony with Morris, Mayor A C Wharton, and fishing pro Bill Dance in June. That was deemed too expensive. The fate of the observation deck has not been determined.

The opening is set for late 2013 in time for the holiday sales season. The building of the interior space will begin in February. There will be retail on two levels, as well as an indoor swamp with boat slips so prospective buyers of Tracker boats can see how they feel in the water. The total amount of space in use, including the swamp, is about 200,000 square feet. There will be one restaurant, Uncle Buck's Fish Bowl, and possibly a Starbucks or similar coffee shop. A bowling alley, nature exhibits, and zip lines through the trees are other features. Otherwise Bass Pro will be the only retailer insider the building.

The main entrance is on the south side, with a system of drives, trails, trees, man-made ponds and a stream leading to the doors. There will also be a single entrance on Front Street at street level roughly where there used to be two entrances in the Pyramid's earlier incarnation. Customer parking lots will be on the south side of the building. There will be no covered parking, only surface parking.

The city of Memphis will solicit a developer for the Pinch District from Front Street to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital after the opening.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stadium ADA Funding Gets Council Approval

Posted By on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 1:56 PM

A City Council committee approved spending $12 million on ADA compliance at Liberty Bowl Stadium after being warned that if nothing was done the U.S. Justice Department might "shut the stadium down."

"Not only could they shut the stadium down, they could hold the whole fairgrounds hostage" said Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb. He said that meant forcing the city to make everything at the fairgrounds ADA compliant, but he did not say what will be allowed to be out of compliance.

The 61,000-seat stadium, which is rarely even half full in recent years, added more wheelchair-accessible seats and companion seats a few years ago but not enough to satisfy the Justice Department. The letter of the law would be one percent accessible seating, or 620 seats and 620 companion seats, but the department typically settles for less. Lipscomb said the city bargained with Justice to lower the cost from $40 million to $12 million, which includes some non-seating expenses. A handout said the reduction was due to "new technology and alternate design solutions." There will be 564 ADA/companion seats. The maximum projected loss of seats is 2,000.

If the full council approves the expenditure as expected, construction will be done between January and August of 2013. Lipscomb said projected new taxes from a proposed Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) to include Cooper-Young and Overton Square would pay the bills. The council will be asked to vote on the TDZ on January 22, 2013. If approved, the city will apply to the state in February and expects to get approval in June. The vision is a youth sports complex.

Committee members asked few questions about the project. Some said they had a "moral obligation" to vote for the proposal. Three people in wheelchairs came to the meeting but did not speak. Interviewed after the meeting, they each said the current wheelchair-accessible seating is inadequate, but they also each said they do not go to games at the stadium.

"There are a lot of people who are not trying to come," said Louis Patrick. "This is one of those questions of if they build it will they come."

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Best Basketball Book of the Season

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 11:03 AM

The people who produce and write about college basketball wisely mix in a dose of nostalgia from time to time. This is pleasing to old fans who remember short pants and set shots and enlightening to young ones who think the game began with Michael Jordan. This season's offering comes from Kyle Veazey, sports writer for The Commercial Appeal and author of Champions For Change.

The book is about the 1962-63 Mississippi State team that defied segregationists and boarded a plane to East Lansing, Michigan to play Loyola of Chicago, which had several black players, in the NCAA Tournament. It's a good tale well told by Veazey, and arguably as important, as sporting events go, as the 1966 NCAA Final between all-white Kentucky and all-black Texas Western, subject of the 2006 movie "Glory Road."

Two things stand out in my memory of that season’s tournament.

First, the games were on the radio instead of television. This made the finals, which went into overtime, even more suspenseful, partly because the radio signal kept fading in and out and partly because announcer Red Rush (“It’s GOOD, good as Gonnella Bread”) was one of the all-time greats.

Second, the core of the Loyola team was two players from Nashville Pearl High School, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter. They were the “big men” on the team and on the floor, for that matter, although they were 6’7”, the size of forwards in high school these days. My first job was in Nashville, and one of my colleagues, Tarver Smith, had played on a Pearl team, no small feat for a man under six feet tall. There was a simple way of making cuts: If you couldn’t dunk you couldn’t play.

Loyola and Mississippi State were undersized by today’s standard, but not as much as the 1964 NCAA champion, UCLA, whose center, Keith Erickson, was only 6’5”. Even two years later, when Kentucky was in the finals against Texas Western, 6’4” Pat Riley jumped center for the Wildcats. The tipping point for big men came in 1967 when Kareem Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, started for UCLA.

Memphis fans have a chance to jump in on the nostalgia action. This is the 40th anniversary of the “Memphis State” team with Larry Finch and Larry Kenon that lost in the 1973 finals to Bill Walton and UCLA.

I look forward to replays of the 1963 and 1973 championship games in this boom year for college basketball nostalgia.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Blogging Scandal: Federal Prosecutors Busted in New Orleans

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Jim Letten
  • Jim Letten
All sing: "Birds do it, bees do it, even U.S. Attorneys do, let's do it, lets post to blogs."

How strong is the urge to pop off on public controversies? Strong enough to get three federal prosecutors in hot water in New Orleans, where U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned this week, as the Times-Picayune reported.

This story should resonate in Memphis. Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission in the schools case tried (without success) to get The Commercial Appeal to divulge the names of anonymous commenters on 45 stories about the proposed merger and the federal court lawsuit. The newspaper called the subpoena "a virtually unprecedented assault upon its rights as a newspaper and as the host of an important community forum on its website, as well as upon the rights of the many users and commenters who participate in this forum."

In New Orleans, two federal prosecutors admitted posting anonymous comments, some of which were alleged to be defamatory, about a hot case.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Downtown Heritage Trail Gets a Hearing

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Robert Lipscomb
  • Robert Lipscomb
Downtown residents and activists — sometimes one and the same — are a savvy lot. They like to be in the loop. So about 25 of them turned out Thursday for a meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency to see what's up with the blockbuster 20-year plan called Heritage Trail.

I told a curious colleague that "nothing happened" at the meeting, but on second thought that is not exactly right. The fact that these people came to the meeting of an agency that fills its meeting room about as often as the 100-year flood is significant in itself.

Heritage Trail, previously called Triangle Noir, has been around for years. The target area is south of FedEx Forum, but the potential funding area is a much bigger chunk of downtown. Its author is Robert Lipscomb, head of the Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority. Downtowners have learned to pay attention to anything that has his fingerprints on it.

As well they should. Many a grand plan starts out as a consultant's report loaded with jargon and details about monster economic impact and possible creative funding sources such as PILOTs and TIFs that mean little to the average person. They go to second-tier agencies such as the CRA for original endorsement, then to the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission. Depending on who wants to do the deal and how badly they want to do it, the proposal can suddenly move from the drawing board to the fast track. Then the argument will be made that so-and-so has already signed off on this, studies have been done, state and federal funds hang in the balance (or a small amount has already been appropriated as bait), and elected officials must act NOW.

At the meeting Thursday, the CRA board chairman, Michael Frick of Memphis Bank of America, repeatedly assured the small crowd of people opposed to Lipscomb's Heritage Trail plans that "this is still early in its development," that "the plan has not emerged from our committee yet" and "at the end of the day everything we do here has to approved by the City Council and County Commission."

"I hate for everybody to spend a lot of time on something that is not going to happen," he said, adding that a vote might not come until February.

If and when that happens, Heritage Trail is in for some tough sledding because downtowners have learned to pay attention and get involved early and often when something comes out of HCD.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Actual Tiger 2012 Football Attendance: 67,181

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 2:39 PM

A new head coach and three more wins this year didn't help the University of Memphis football team much at the attendance gates of 61,000-seat Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

For six home games, the Tigers drew a total of 67,181 fans. The announced attendance was 146,227. Under Coach Justin Fuente, who replaced the fired Larry Porter (still on the payroll), the team won four games, or one more than Porter's teams won in the previous two years. Total actual attendance for six home games in 2011 was 62,320.

The attendance for each game in 2012, provided by the city of Memphis at the request of the Flyer, follows:

UT Martin: 21,293

MTSU: 12,789

Rice: 5,034

Central Florida: 10,509

Tulane: 9,158

Southern Miss: 8,398

The Southern Heritage Classic, played in September, drew a crowd of 24,643. The AutoZone Liberty Bowl this year features Tulsa and Iowa State. Last year's game between Cincinnati and Vanderbilt drew a crowd of 31,578.

Announced attendance, which is widely reported by pro and college teams and the media that follow them, is typically much higher than actual attendance because it includes tickets sold and distributed whether or not they are used.

Memphis is preparing to spend another $12 million on Liberty Bowl Stadium to accommodate federal dictates for seating for handicapped fans.


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