City/County News

Friday, June 3, 2016

ServiceMaster Moves Global Headquarters to Peabody Place

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2016 at 1:38 PM

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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam made things official today when he announced that ServiceMaster is moving its global headquarters from East Memphis to Peabody Place in downtown Memphis. The move means approximately 1,200 employees will occupy the renovated former mall by the end of 2017.

"I'm a former mayor, I believe in cities," Gov. Haslam said. "Cities are the heartbeat of what happens. [Memphis] is a city that, I think has, not just an incredible past with creativity coming out of its pores. But an incredible future." 

Haslam then introduced ServiceMaster CEO Rob Gillette who said he was, "Thrilled to be joining the downtown business community," and excited about plans to create a new technology and innovation center in the new Peabody Place location. 

ServiceMaster moved its headquarters from Downer's Grove, Ill. to East Memphis in 2007. Earlier this year the residential and commercial service provider relaunched its corporate brand and was named one of the world's most admired companies by Fortune magazine.


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Monday, July 20, 2015

TBI Investigating Darrius Stewart Case

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 4:59 PM

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong
  • Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now handling the Darrius Stewart case.

Police Director Toney Armstrong and District Attorney Amy Weirich held a joint press conference Monday afternoon over the Darrius Stewart case where they announced TBI's stepping in.

"The climate we now live in must be taken into account," Armstrong said, citing the events of Ferguson, Mo., among other places where officers have shot and killed civilians. "We are going to be transparent to get to the bottom of what happened and why it happened."

Stewart, 19, was pulled over by police for a broken headlight when a background check came up with two outstanding warrants in other states. The officer placed Stewart in the back of his police car with no handcuffs. An altercation then took place between the two before the unnamed officer shot Stewart.

The officer was treated for scratches and bruises, while Stewart later died in the hospital.

"Under my statutory authority in the law of the state of Tennessee, I have asked [TBI] to conduct an investigation into the death of Darrius Stewart," Weirich said.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mayor Luttrell Tackles Trash, Litter Offenders

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 3:06 PM

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is trying to step up the efforts to clean the streets — literally.

The county is adding eight inmates to its crews from the Shelby County Corrections Center. These crews will be picking up trash in unincorporated areas of the county near Millington, Cordova, Woodstock, and Northaven, as well as the northeast and southeast areas of the county.

Last year, the county spent $350,000 for roadside trash, covering workers, equipment, fuel, and fees to dump in landfills.

“With more crews on the roadways, those costs are likely to rise this year,” Luttrell said in a media release. “However, we’ve budgeted for the additional resources. The appearance of Shelby County needs to improve in order to retain and attract new businesses and residents.”

According to Bill Gupton, director of the corrections center, 24 inmates will be out every weekday picking up trash. On Saturdays and Mondays, DUI offenders additionally undertake the task.

These inmate crews will also be watching for litter offenders. The Public Works division maintains hidden cameras throughout the unincorporated neighborhoods as well, which are monitored daily for littering and illegal dumping. According to a media release, culprits could be “arrested for illegal dumping and, in some cases, face felony charges for large amounts of trash and other debris.”

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ASD Charter YES Prep Pulls Out of Memphis

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 10:36 AM

Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Chris Barbic, ASD superintendent

Houston-based charter operator YES Prep has pulled out of its commitment to run Airways Middle School in the 2015-2016 school year, citing concerns from the community with the school's phase-in model. The charter operator had been authorized to take over the Shelby County School (SCS) by the state Achievement School District (ASD) because Airways Middle was on the state's list of priority schools, those with scores in the bottom five percent statewide. 

YES Prep was set to phase in Airways Middle, starting with just the sixth grade in the next school year. The practice of charter operators phasing in schools grade by grade has been controversial, and state Representative Raumesh Akbari has introduced a bill to ban phasing in by ASD charter operators.


A statement from YES Prep cites the fact that community members have concerns with phasing in as its reason for pulling out of Memphis:

"It has become increasingly clear that our "phase-in" model - opening with one grade level the first year and adding one new grade level per year - is not the preference of the community due to the displacement of hundreds of 7th and 8th grade students across the city. We saw evidence of this in December when the Achievement Advisory Council (AAC) did not recommend us for a match with American Way Middle School.
We have never been, nor will we ever be an organization that goes against the will of the community

We believe that in order to meet the current demand of the Memphis community, YES Prep would need to adapt to a "full transformation" model and begin operating with all grade levels at the same time. It is our belief that the stakes are too high for the students of Memphis to experiment with a “full transformation” model, one in which have never implemented before.

Because we have never opened schools this way, we feel the stakes are too high to experiment, with a model that we have not yet found success with."
ASD officials have said they learned of YES Prep's decision to pull out on Tuesday. A statement issued by ASD reads "We are as surprised as everyone else regarding this sudden decision and disappointed that YES Prep is backing out of its commitment to Memphis. The sixth grade families of Airways Middle deserve better, and we're working with Shelby County Schools to ensure they have access to a high quality option next year."

SCS was already planning to move current sixth- and seventh-graders at Airways Middle to Sherwood Middle in the fall because SCS has recently ended the practice of co-locating with ASD charters that are phasing schools in grade by grade.

Airways Middle would have been YES Prep's first school outside of Houston. ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic founded YES Prep in 1998 in Texas, but in 2011, he took the job heading up Tennessee's ASD.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

City's Public Works Division Preparing for Snow

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 12:34 PM

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Seven city Public Works trucks are currently dispensing brine as an anti-icing solution for city streets, and if and when the predicted snow begins falling, the city will deploy up to 14 trucks to spread sand and salt.

The forecast is calling for one to three inches of snow this afternoon. According to the Weather Channel, there's a 78 percent chance that could begin around 2 p.m.

The city's Public Works division will first focus their efforts on major streets with inclines and declines, as well as any bridges or overpasses. Other major streets will be treated as needed.

The city has more than 5,000 tons of sand and 500 tons of salt stockpiled.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Forum Opens Public Discussion Regarding Future of Fairgrounds

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 2:18 PM

Taylor Berger (left) and Kyle Veazey (right) opened the forum for discussion from speakers.
  • Alexandra Pusateri
  • Taylor Berger (left) and Kyle Veazey (right) opened the forum for discussion from speakers.

On a chilly Wednesday night, a mishmash of locals concerned about the future state of the old Fairgrounds property gathered in a Midtown theater. At the Circuit Playhouse, local entrepreneur Taylor Berger and his organization Make Memphis hosted a moderated forum of speakers to provide some public input into the potential of the old Fairgrounds and the Mid-South Coliseum redevelopment.

The forum, moderated by politics reporter Kyle Veazey of The Commercial Appeal, mostly focused on the Fairgrounds’ proposed $233 million redevelopment and the idea of turning that area of Midtown into a Tourism Development Zone (TDZ). By designating the three-mile area as such, the city can use the excess sales tax that would come from a revitalized Fairgrounds — and its surrounding areas, including Overton Square and Cooper Young — to pay off the $176 million public revenue bonds, over 30 years, that would be required to fund its redevelopment.

It was mentioned multiple times throughout the night that the city administration had been invited, but there was no appearance from anyone in city government in the audience except Wanda Halbert, the Memphis City councilmember who represents District 4 and the area that includes the Fairgrounds. Shelby County commissioners, on the other hand, were plenty.

In his designated few minutes, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar mentioned the interest of the bond that would occur over the time it takes to repay the loan, taking away $55 million away from the city during that time.

“[$233 million] is not the total tax dollars going into the project,” Basar said. “It doesn’t include the interest. So when you’re all done, you’re talking about a $300-million project plus. You’re tying up this revenue stream for 30 years.”

The current plans proposed for the old Fairgrounds would include an amateur sports complex, hotel, and retail space spanning over 400,000 square feet. Getting approval from the State Building Commission is the next step for the city to move forward on the project. 

“I’m here to support whatever it is you want to do,” said Reginald Milton, Shelby County commissioner. “If you don’t want to do this, that’s fine. If you do want to do it, that’s fine. I just don’t want us to be the ones to affect what you want out of this.”

Other county commissioners pledged to keep an eye on the project and listen to citizens speaking about the issue.

Non-elected officials also spoke at the forum, including Shawn Massey, who works with the Shopping Center Group.

“Midtown is under-retailed from a retailer’s perspective,” Massey said. “It’s a great community. It’s got lots of density, but there’s a lot of leakage. There’s a lot of Midtowners going and shopping in other parts of Memphis and not shopping at their home.”

Charles “Chooch” Pickard, an architect who is running for city council this year, asked if other ideas besides youth sports may be more viable for the old Fairgrounds.

“Wouldn’t a tourist destination based on music and sports history be a bigger draw?” Pickard said. “I’d rather we base the TDZ on authentic Memphis history tourism, of which there are still a lot of untapped options.”

Mike McCarthy, a proponent to save the Mid-South Coliseum, gathered over 3,000 signatures to save the building itself from demolition, surpassing the goal his group had set earlier in the month.


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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teachers Express Anger Over Compensation Plan

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2015 at 9:44 PM

So many teachers showed up to the Shelby County Schools (SCS) board meeting Tuesday night to protest a proposed performance-based compensation plan that attendees were being asked to watch the meeting on TVs in a separate area of the administration building.

During a nearly hour-long public comment period in a standing-only room, teacher after teacher expressed outrage at the new plan, which provides for annual raises based on performance. The issue for many teachers is that performance is determined by their Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) score, which ranks from level one (lowest) to level five (highest). Those with level one and two scores will not receive raises, but teachers with level three scores will get an $800 raise. Teachers with level four will receive $1,000, and level five teachers will get $1,200.

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The TEM scores are partially determined by student surveys and a school's overall standing, and some teachers don't think those factors should judge their individual performances.

"I've had no cost of living adjustment in four years, and my health insurance has quadrupled in 10 years," said Ethan Randall, a teacher a Kingsbury High School. "And the current TEM process is entirely subjective."

As teachers took turns at the podium, opponents of the compensation plan held up signs and cheered. But when a handful of teachers expressed support for the new plan, the opposing teachers in the crowd booed, leading SCS Board Chair Teresa Jones to chide them. She asked security to remove anyone who interrupted the speakers "by any means necessary."

One of those supporters was Becky Taylor, a teacher at Idlewild. She called the compensation plan equitable and cited the fact that Memphis teachers make higher salaries than teachers in Nashville.

"In most professions, performance-based pay seems rational," Taylor said.

After the public comment period, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson defended the compensation plan, and he claimed that many of the plan's opponents were spreading misinformation.

"When we look at overall performance of this district, we have got to do something different," Hopson said. "We have got to drastically improve achievement."

Hopson said he'd heard some teachers complain that SCS could only afford to fund the new plan if the number of level five teachers was lowered. But he said that wasn't true. He said 80 percent of SCS' teachers were currently at levels four and five, and the new system was based on those numbers.

"It is also absolutely false that there's a plan to rate teachers low," Hopson said. "We want teachers to be evaluated fairly."

Board member Kevin Woods told the teachers in the room that the board is listening to their concerns with the new plan, and he said he'd like to see the board develop a more comprehensive approach to evaluating teacher performance. But he agreed with Hopson that something has to be done to improve overall achievement.

"I heard one teacher say that Memphis was the highest paid district in the state, but we also need to be the highest performing district," Woods said.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

U of M Puts Halt on Proposed Retirement Plan Change for Temp Workers

Posted By on Thu, Dec 18, 2014 at 1:43 PM

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This Friday, six days before Christmas, a two-week layoff period will begin for temporary workers at the University of Memphis. They will have the opportunity to reapply for positions on or after January 5th.

In addition to the layoffs, temporary workers were informed earlier this month that the university would cease from contributing funding into their Social Security retirement plans. Rather, they would have workers enroll into a separate "temporary employee retirement plan." 

The proposed change in coverage received negative feedback and opposition from workers. And Wednesday afternoon, the university's Human Resources office sent out a message informing workers that the U of M will refrain from implementing the change until further notice.

If enacted, the alternate plan would mandate temporary workers to contribute 7.5 percent of pre-taxed wages into a private retirement fund. The university wouldn’t contribute anything into the fund.

However, the university and employees would continue to contribute the 1.45 percent Medicare tax into Social Security. 

Presently, temporary workers and the university equally contribute 6.2 percent of their earnings into Social Security.

"As is often the case with privatization schemes, the numbers don't add up," said a representative from the United Campus Workers. "Implementing this plan would be horrible for Social Security and Mid-south seniors, pillaging potentially a million dollars a year from the Social Security trust fund. And the plan would be a real raw deal for the workers. [The] 401(a) retirement accounts under-perform Social Security on returns and reduce the percentage of workers' wages invested in retirement from 12.4 percent (6.2 percent employee funded and the matching 6.2 percent university funded portions) to 7.5 percent — funded solely by the employee. The chart [Human Resources] gave to employees was misleading, leaving out the employer-funded portion of Social Security and unethically presenting this policy as beneficial to the employees."

According to the U of M, the retirement plan change would enable temporary workers to have full control of the investment options within their retirement plan. They would also be eligible to withdraw retirement funds upon separation from employment.

A PDF of a chart provided by the university's Human Resources office regarding the temporary employee retirement plan can be clicked and viewed below.




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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Teachers Say They Need More Support To Achieve SCS Graduation Goals

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 8:26 PM

Dr. Sharon Griffin
  • Dr. Sharon Griffin

Earlier this year, Shelby County Schools (SCS) unveiled an ambitious goal to get 80 percent of high school seniors prepared to walk into a college classroom or enter the workforce by 2025, 90 percent to graduate on time, and 100 percent to seek a post-secondary opportunity, whether that's a university or a technical school.

On Thursday night at the Teaching and Learning Academy on Union, SCS leaders met with the community to discuss the details of what's being called the 80/90/100 plan. During a question-and-answer period, several teachers and parents spoke up to commend SCS on the plan, but they all agreed that teachers will need more support to make the plan work.

Third-grade teacher Trey Willis said he often feels overwhelmed by the achievement gap he sees in some students who enter his classroom without sufficient literacy skills. He said kids are placed into reading groups that are too large and do not allow enough one-on-one time, and he said he could be helped if trained interventionists in literacy and reading comprehension could assist him in working with troubled students.

Dr. Sharon Griffin, the regional superintendent of SCS' I-Zone (the segment of schools in the bottom five percent), said the 80/90/100 plan will do just that. She said interventionists already work with kids in I-Zone schools and that this new initiative would spread that across the district.

White Station High parent Marie Dowling said she often hears similar concerns from teachers who feel overwhelmed. She said she worries that they will become burned out and walk away from teaching.

"It sounds like it will take a culture shift in the entire system [to make this work]," Dowling said.

Griffin said that 80/90/100 plan administrators surveyed teachers and principals earlier this year, and 51 percent said that empowering educators should be the district's number-one priority if they actually hope to achieve the plan's goal.

She said much attention would be turned to literacy in grades K-2 and that the district would begin moving their strongest teachers into those grades.

"Traditionally, we put the strongest teachers in grades 3-5 because because the assessments start in the third grade. But we want to make sure literacy is in line with Tennessee standards early on," Griffin said.

The plan also involves working to improve student attendance and reducing course failures. Griffin said the district would also work to address any social issues children may be facing outside of school, and they want to improve the overall culture of the schools.

"We want school to be a joyous place," Griffin said.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Billy Orgel Purchases Tennessee Brewery

Posted By on Tue, Nov 11, 2014 at 3:04 PM

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Cell phone tower developer and Shelby County Schools board member Billy Orgel has purchased the long-abandoned Tennessee Brewery.

Orgel, who is president of Tower Ventures, paid $825,000 for the brewery, which prior to the purchase seemed destined for the wrecking ball. Leasing agent James Rasberry said earlier this year that the building's previous owner would have the building torn down by the end of the summer if no one stepped up to save it.

Orgel stepped in toward the end of July, and at that time, Rasberry told the Flyer that the contract with him was "as good a contract as I've had since the top of the real estate market when we were promoting it more of a residential development than a mixed use."

The Memphis Business Journal is reporting that the brewery may be turned into a mix of apartments and commercial space.

The Tennessee Brewery building was once home to the now-defunct Goldcrest Beer. No beer has been brewed there since 1954, and the building, which was sold to A. Karchmer and Sons Scrap Metal in the mid-1950s, has been vacant since 1981. The building's owner, Kevin Norman, purchased the property in 1997 in the hope of salvaging the historic building. He's been trying to sell the building unsuccessfully for years.

From late April to early June, a group of investors — restaurateur Taylor Berger, attorney Michael Tauer, commercial real estate executive Andy Cates, and communications specialist Doug Carpenter — organized a pop-up beer garden inside the brewery to raise awareness about the need to save the building. To read more about "Untapped" and the brewery's history, check out this Flyer cover story.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bass Pro Details Emerge in Tour

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 2:28 PM

The south-facing view of the new Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. - BASS PRO SHOPS
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • The south-facing view of the new Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.


Imagination and enthusiasm, it seems, pushed the opening day for Bass Pro Shops in the Pyramid back about six months to May 1, 2015 from a previously announced date of December 2014.

Bass Pro Shops leaders gave Memphis leaders and media a behind-the-scenes tour of the enormous construction project Thursday.

Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops said his company has gotten lots of questions about the Memphis Pyramid project, namely, he said: “What in the world is going on in this giant building called The Pyramid?” “What’s this going be like?” “When’s it going to be open?”

The new opening date was the biggest news to come from Thursday press event. Company officials said they pushed the open date back so they could open the entire establishment — the store, the restaurants, the hotel, and the Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center — all at the same time.

Here’s how Morris explained it:

“This started off as kind of a bait and tackle shop. It’s evolved to be considerably more than that. I just say from everybody in the company and all involved…we’re very proud of the progress that we’re making and the grand plans that have been developed.”

“It’s an undertaking that’s become probably larger than any of us probably envisioned at the outset. Partly, that’s because as time’s gone on we’ve become more and more excited about the potential of this facility here in Memphis."

"I can tell you that this — what is taking place here and outside of our headquarters store in Springfield, Mo. — represents the biggest commitment we’ve ever made as a company in retail, not only financially, but also in terms of the incredible amount of passion, and thought, and energy that’s going into this.”

An artist's rendering of the retail floor. - BASS PRO SHOPS
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • An artist's rendering of the retail floor.

RETAIL
David Hagel, current manager of the Memphis Bass Pro Shop location on Macon, will oversee the retail end of the business inside the new Pyramid location.

He said Thursday that the May 1 opening date was “consistent with our original plan.”

“We wanted, contemplated December but we want to open the entire establishment at one time,” he said.

But outside of news about the new opening date, Thursday’s press event was all about details and color, what visitors can expect when they visit the new Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

Hagel said Bass Pro shoppers can expect all their favorite hunting and fishing items. But the store will also features “shops within shops.” Havel said to expect a Beretta gallery, a Sunglass Hut, and duck call shop all inside the store. The Memphis store will have a focus on duck hunting with one the largest collections of waterfowling gear anywhere, Morris said.

Hagel said officials are now in the process of re-designing a boat ramp that will lead store visitors from the Pyramid down to a dock in the Wolf River Harbor. That dock will be the spot for some of the company’s fishing and bow-fishing events, Hagel said.

The 13-lane bowling alley inside Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. - BASS PRO SHOPS
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • The 13-lane bowling alley inside Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

The Pyramid store will also feature Uncle Buck's Fishbowl and Grill, a nautical-themed restaurant with a 13-lane bowling alley. The alley is designed to look like it's underwater with ball returns that look like sharks and alligators.


DESIGN
Tom Marshall, architect and principal with Memphis firm O.T. Marshall Architects, said the project has been a “tremendous effort” and is “almost beyond words.” But he said the delays in the project will pay off.

“Had we built the store that was first designed and contemplated and opened a year ago, it would be but half as grand as it is now,” Marshall said. "Although it has taken a bit more time, it is very, very well worth it.”

Key to Marshall’s remarks on the Pryamid’s new design was a focus on the new dining and drinking spot at the apex of the Pyramid. Called the “Sky High Catfish Cabin,” the access given by the new space will be the fulfillment of a promise to Memphians, Marshall said.


The Sky High Catfish Cabin. - BASS PRO SHOPS
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • The Sky High Catfish Cabin.

“Very few people have received access to the top of the Pyramid,” Marshall said. “We had this notion of an inclinator climbing up the sides of the (building). There is evidently no longer a company in this country that makes an inclincator that can climb up the side of a building.”

View from the top of the Pyramid. - BASS PRO SHOPS
  • Bass Pro Shops
  • View from the top of the Pyramid.

So, they built an elevator, the largest free-standing elevator in North America. The 28-story glass shaft of the elevator is massive, jutting up from the middle of the Pyramid straight to the apex. Getting to top now is 432 steps, Marshall said. Riding the elevator to the top when it’s finished will be “one heck of a ride,” Marshall said.

The apex space will give visitors a 360-degree view of Downtown Memphis and the Mississippi River. The south and west sides of the apex will have outdoor walkways, or “porches.” These spaces will have glass bottoms and glass railings for what is expected to be “incredible” views.

At night, the apex will be lit. Marshall said it will glow at night “almost like a diamond shard” that the space will “truly transform the skyline of the city Memphis.”

The south side of the Pyramid will feature the Bass Pro Shops logo and the logo of Ducks Unlimited.

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HOTEL
The Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid will also be home to Big Cypress Lodge, which will offer 100 “rustic” and “uniquely appointed” rooms.

The rooms feature fireplaces, handcrafted furniture, and a screened-in porch. Some rooms are designed to look like tree houses, “perched among the hundred-foot cypress trees” inside the Pyramid. Some rooms are designed to look like vintage duck hunting camps and decorated with Ducks Unlimited artwork. Another room, the governor’s suite, will offer "sweeping views of the Pyramid, vaulted ceilings, and a full kitchen.”

Room rates start at $259 per night. Reservations for the Big Cypress Lodge can be made starting Monday, Nov. 17 by calling 1-800-BCLODGE.

The Big Cypress Lodge will be the second Bass Pro hotel. The first is the Big Cedar Lodge, an 800-acre resort located next to Table Rock Lake close to Branson, Mo. The Big Cedar Lodge now hosts about 1 million guests per year.

DUCKS UNLIMITED WATERFOWLING HERITAGE CENTER
The Memphis-based Ducks Unlimited will have a new 4,600 square-foot exhibit space inside the Pyramid meant to educate visitors about conservation efforts.

“We want to have people understand what hunters and conservationists have done for wetlands and rivers along the way,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall.

The center will feature a mock-up duck lodge where visitors can “relax by the fireplace and watch videos and a look at artwork and taxidermy and admire waterfowl collectibles such as guns, decoys, and duck calls.”

“Culturally hunters have always taught through the culture of hunting, one-on-one,” Hall said thursday. “(Hunters take) someone to a duck club, take them out into a blind, and take them out somewhere to help teach them about conservation. That’s how each of us learn.”

The center will teach visitors about the organization’s history, Hall said, noting it has conserved 6 million acres of wetlands and raised $6 billion.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Officials said the Pyramid will be a “the perfect place” for Bass Pro to host its many outdoor events, including the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Fitness Festival, Outdoor Days, Tour de Bass cycling event, Dogwood Canyon Trail Run, the Zombie Run for Kids, and the Bass Pro Marathon Weekend.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Report: Bicycling Amenities Deepen Memphis Inequality

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 12:59 PM

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Building bicycling amenities in Memphis deepens inequality here and shows a bias in the power structure toward the “creative class” and “growth machine elites.”

That’s the “sobering conclusion” of a new academic article soon to be published in the journal Urban Studies.

The report is called “Behind a bicycling boom: Governance, cultural change, and place character in Memphis, Tennessee.” It’s by three academics: Kevin T. Smiley from Rice University; Wanda Rushing of the University of Memphis; and Michele Scott of North Carolina State University.

The report notes that bicycling has taken root in Memphis as the city has seen a “massive increase in bicycling infrastructure.” While the movement has been a boon to the city, the authors say it raises “important questions about place distinctiveness, place-building, and urban development.” Simply put, the city is changing but a closer look is needed as to how it’s changing.

The bicycling culture here has been pushed by a new political culture, “particularly an energetic, creative, class-centric government and the many citizen-consumers on bicycles.” This new culture wants to push bicycling in Memphis to attract tourists, and lure creatives here to live and work. This is a new model of economic development, the study says, and the new bicycle amenities feed it.

But this focus does not serve all in Memphis equally, the article says.

The government and private developers got behind the group of citizens who clamored for bike amenities years ago. Specifically, the study cites an online petition signed by 1,301 bike proponents pushing Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to paint bike lanes along Madison Avenue.

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That petition came with more than 500 comments many of which claimed the person’s interest in living, working, playing, or eating on Madison. Many of those comments came, too, with the notion that the person who left the comment had the financial means to back up their preferences.

“These themes are associated with a class status higher than that of many of their fellow city residents, and also map onto typical portrayals of creatives,” the study says. “Moreover, among the more than 100 comments stressing bettering portrayals of Memphis through bicycling infrastructure, none made any connections or references to race and few took up issues of inequality as something that can be addressed through bicycling, despite the centrality of those issues to the city’s place character.”

Looking forward, the study says the Main Street to Main Street bicycle path project will deepen the “racialized gentrification” already present in the South Main neighborhood. The authors point to U.S. Census data that show a “sharp decrease in black population and a rise in socioeconomic status” in the neighborhood over the last decade. The Main to Main project will further this, the study says.

“More generally, it shows the symbolic shift toward making projects like the [Harahan Bridge portion of the Main to Main project] a priority for citizen-consumers as well as traditional growth machine advocates, the latter of whom stand to benefit politically from the popularity of bicycling and to gain from the financial windfall associated with the property development adjacent to bicycling infrastructure.”

Finally, the study notes that Memphis is, indeed, experiencing changes in “place character,” though it remains “deeply shaped” by divisions of race, city/county boundaries, and stagnant population growth. So, the new bicycling culture here may only result in “superficial changes to the city’s image.”

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“With place distinctiveness as the backdrop, researchers and citizens alike need to consider how place character changes, such as those with creative class amenities like bicycling infrastructure, will come to define the city. Our analysis offers a hopeful point paired with a sobering conclusion. Place character at the city level is more malleable than previously theorized; yet, change does not automatically benefit all citizens. In fact, changes in place character of cities may play an active part in perpetuating inequalities in who has power and for whom that power is used.”

Federal Highway Trust Fund Shortfall Slows Local Road Projects

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 11:14 AM

Southbound traffic on I-55 near Crump Boulevard
  • TDOT
  • Southbound traffic on I-55 near Crump Boulevard

Two Shelby County highway projects — improvements to the Crump interchange on I-55 and improvements to State Route-4 from the Mississippi state line to south of Shelby Drive — have been delayed to fiscal year 2016. Both Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) projects were originally scheduled for delivery in fiscal year 2015.

Revenues in the federal highway trust fund have fallen short of the expenditures authorized by the U.S. Congress. And that has caused the TDOT to have to delay highway projects across the state. TDOT has been transferring some general funds to support projects, but a letter from TDOT Commissioner John C. Schroer to the Tennessee General Assembly calls that practice "not sustainable."

Twelve state projects ready for construction totaling $177 million and 21 projects ready for right-of-way acquisition totaling $217 million have been shifted to fiscal year 2016.

"While these projects are only delayed and not cancelled, they represent almost $400 million in transportation investments and could be helping to modernize our transportation network and reducing congestion and making Tennessee a more attractive destination for economic expansion," reads Schroer's letter.

TDOT has said the Crump interchange on I-55 is "structurally deficient, out of date, and creates multiple safety and efficiency problems."

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pyramid: Now With More Alligator Pit

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 2:14 PM

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The Pyramid is “teeming with activity with the work of construction, creative, and design teams,” according to the latest update on the construction project that is changing the former arena into a huge, “one-of-a-kind” Bass Pro Shop.

Crews have been transforming the Pyramid into a cypress swamp with fish, alligators, 24 "faux" cypress trees “stretching to the upper reaches of the building,” the new report says. Here’s some other new work included in the report:

• Additional water features that brought the total gallons of water in The Pyramid to 600,000 gallons.
• Two elevators rising 254 feet from the floor to the apex, where the 23-year-old dream of an attraction at the top is being met.
• A restaurant and aquarium at the top of The Pyramid and two cantilevered glass balconies, similar to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, that offer spectacular panoramic views of Memphis and the Mississippi River.
• Ducks Unlimited’s National Waterfowl Heritage Center.
• In addition, in response to community input, only one sign on the south side of The Pyramid.
• The two elevators have been constructed and the operating systems are being installed.
• Construction has begun on the balconies, the bowling alley, restaurants, stores, and the hotel rooms. Two huge aquariums — one for the ground floor and one for the apex — are on site and will be installed in the near future.

Elevator shafts inside the Pyramid.
  • Elevator shafts inside the Pyramid.

What’s Happening Now?
• Attractions to the apex are under construction
• Full service hotel now includes spa and fitness facility and construction is under way
• Installation of sculptural trees measuring up to 100’ tall and 8’ in diameter are underway
• Elevator tower connecting the retail floor to the rooftop facilities has been constructed
• Swamp installation including the alligator pit is 75% complete
• Finishes for retail store and Ducks Unlimited National Waterfowling Heritage Center have started
• State’s I‐40 seismic work scheduled to end in October, making way for construction of Bass Pro Boulevard
• (Workforce Investment Network) facilitating hiring for Bass Pro Shops

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“There is no destination retail in America that will rival Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid,” the report says.

The latest update on the project was delivered to media outlets Thursday from Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery. It is originally dated September 24, 2014. Lowery said Robert Lipscomb, the city’s director of Housing and Community Development, gave it to council members and some members of Mayor A C Wharton’s administration in September but it was never shared with the media.

A new tour of the facility for the media and city leaders is scheduled for next week.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'Hotboy' Gets 20 Years on Ammunition Charges

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 11:23 AM

A Memphis man known as “Hotboy” will serve 20 years in a federal prison on ammunition possession after witnesses identified him as a shooter in two separate incidents last year.

Brashard Gibbs, 21, was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman to serve the time with no parole followed by three years of supervised release.

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Witnesses put Gibbs, also known as “Hotboy,” on the scene of a drive-by shooting last August at a car wash at 2562 Lamar. Robbie Webb was shot and killed in the incident and another person was injured.

Witnesses said they saw Gibbs firing an assault-style weapon from a vehicle. Ammunition matching that kind of weapon was recovered from the scene.

Gibbs was identified firing an assault-style weapon at a person during another shooting in September 2013. Again, ammunition recovered from the scene matched the kind of weapon Gibbs was seen shooting.

During both of the incidents, Gibbs was a convicted felon. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in February on two counts of felony possession of ammunition. He was convicted on those charges in July.

The crimes were investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Multi-Agency Gang Unit.

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