Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Recovery Residence for Women Opens

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 1:47 PM

A two-story house sitting at 309 N. Bellevue Blvd will now serve as a residence for recovering women in Memphis.

Officials with Grace House of Memphis, a non-profit recovery program located in Midtown, cut the ribbon on the residence Thursday, making it the "last step" house of its tri-fold program.

Over 5,000 women with drug or alcohol addictions, as well as women suffering from mental illnesses, trauma, grief, or recurring incarceration have walked through the doors of Grace House and received treatment over the past 41 years.

Now, up to six women who have completed rehab programs at the primary Grace House facility for four to six months and at the Grace House halfway house, where they can live for up to a year, will graduate to the North Bellevue residence.

Charlotte Hoppers, executive director of Grace House, said the organization opened the new residence because they wanted to create a safe, affordable, space for women to live when they complete rehab.

The new house will give these women the chance to live independently, while still gaining extended support from a community of ladies working toward the same goal of sobriety.

"It means so much to me for the women to be able to go to the next step," said Hoppers.

Hoppers said the group might also look to acquire the property next door at 307 N. Bellevue Blvd for additional women's residences.

Q&A: Council Chairman Talks Lunch, Travel, and Investing in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 10:02 AM

Berlin Boyd
  • Berlin Boyd

Next year it’ll cost about $2 million to run the Memphis City Council.

The council has asked for just a little more than $1.9 million in next year’s budget. The lion’s share of that — about $1.1 million — will pay for salaries and benefits for the council and council staff, about 24 total positions.

But council members asked for more money next year for travel, catering, legal services, and a lobbyist. You can get all the details of the budget in this story.

I asked council chairman Berlin Boyd about his budget. He said you can learn a lot from other cities, that the council needs someone in Nashville “who looks like” Republican lawmakers, and that the Shelby County Commission’s budget for food was well above that of the city council but rarely gets covered in the press.

Memphis Flyer: Do you feel good about the city council’s budget you proposed?

Berlin Boyd: I feel great about it. I’m confident in it. I stand behind it 100 percent.

My legal contingency budget had to go up due to so many litigations we’ve been dealing with just to make sure we have enough money there. We have active lawsuits that are going on that are council-related. When there’s something that happens we have to make sure this body is protected.

As it pertains to our travel budget, that’s one thing that I wanted to do. When people say, “well, why do you guys need to travel? Why do you guys need to go places?”

You can learn new things by visiting other cities when you’re going through things. One city I’m looking at now is Louisville. I’m curious how in the world that their public safety budget is 50 percent of their city budget when ours is 72 percent of our city budget?

There are things you can learn in other cities. But I also want our staff to be trained and have continuing education to bring things back because they work for council members.

So, we expanded out travel budget to give our staff an opportunity to go to (National League of Cities) and go to (Tennessee Municipal League), places they can go and bring things back.

The one thing we are behind on as it pertains to travel as well, we don’t have lobbyist. So, we have money in our budget to cover a lobbyist.

So, the city council, we’re going to start being proactive on the state levels when it comes to dealing with the legislature, the state Senators and the state Representatives. We will have someone up in Nashville just looking out for the city of Memphis’ interest from a city council/legislative branch of government standpoint.

Those thing we never had in the past. So, with the times changing, and with a Republican-controlled House and Senate, you kind of need someone there who looks like them and that can related to them and help us out locally.

As you know with de-annexation and some other things like marijuana legislation, those things challenge us and when you’re a small-town representative and you don’t deal with big-city issues, you kind of view things differently. Until you walk in a major city’s shoes, until you can say you represent on of the Big Fours — Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, or Knoxville — it’s a little different. So, that’s the reason why it’s important for us to add money to our budget for a lobbyist.

MF: You were talking about Louisville. Would a visit there be like you and another council member would travel to Louisville and talk to council members up there? How would you interact with city officials there?

BB: You want to at least have an opportunity to go and meet with the mayor. You want to meet with their administration or administrative staff. You want to talk to their police director and fire chief. You want to spend a day or two walking in their shoes to actually bring something back to Memphis that we may overlook.

You want to go into their fleet department and look at their expenditures. Look at their fleet maintenance programs and see if they have a system in place that we don’t have. Sometimes it’s best when you can get hands-on experience and share that.
Something else I want to do is set up something where I can go down to New Orleans and talk to their police staff and see how they handle security on Bourbon Street. What’s the difference between their security on Bourbon Street and what we do here in Memphis on Beale Street? Are there any take-aways we can learn from how they use mounted and regular patrolmen that we’re not doing?

You don’t know these things until you visit and until you’re there in person. Why re-invent the wheel when you can only make improvements to it? That’s the way I look at it.

MF: When you were talking about the lobbyist, you said that, with the Republican-controlled House and Senate, you might want to get somebody who looks like them. What did you mean by that?

BB: You want somebody who can talk their talk, that’s of their party, somebody that’s a mover and shaker in Nashville, a lobbyist who is from Nashville, and has relationships in Nashville, that can actually help us out when there are issues coming down that really will affect and impact Memphis.

You know, we lost the Hall (income) tax. If we had somebody up there that could represent us and say, “hey, this is the overall impact that losing $15 million a year will have on Memphis,” maybe we could’ve circumvented that if we had a lobbyist up there in Nashville working on our behalf.
Also, council members now were becoming a little bit more active in going to Nashville and trying to spend time in Nashville to work on the city’s behalf as well.

MF: Do any of the other Big Four cities have lobbyists?

BB: Yes. Right across the street (at the Shelby County Commission), they have a lobbyist for the commission, Shelby County government. As a matter of fact, they have someone who represents them locally and federally.

MF: And we don’t have anyone locally or on the federal level, do we?

BB: I think (Mayor Jim Strickland’s) administration does but as far as our legislative branch, no.

MF: There was a line item in there that caught my eye. It was $0 before and then it went up to $35,000 and it said “outside communications.” Did y’all get cell phones or something?

BB: No, no, no, no. That’s part of our lobbyist money. So, we had a carry over from last year. We moved a line item. No one on this whole council has any kind of cell phone communications that is provided by the city.

That carryover money was put there because we’re going to put a bid out, an (request for proposal) out really soon for our lobbyist. So, we needed some extra money because we got some ranges as to what a lobbyist would cost us. So, that’s what that $35,000 line item was added to the $60,000 we had there already.


Aha. That’s clears that up. Thank you. 

The whole thing that seems silly but people are interested in….

BB: Food.

MF: They want to know about the food.

BB: (Laughs.)

MF: It was $8,000 this fiscal year and you’re asking for $10,000 for next year. What’s that money go to and why did you ask for more money this year?

BB: We operate on a shoestring budget. A lot of people don’t really understand the necessity as to why we eat.

We get here, sometimes and especially during budget season and budget meetings start at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. We’re here until whenever our business is done. So, if it takes us to 2 a.m., we’re here from 7:30 a.m. until 2 a.m.

We don’t break for our business. If we didn’t have lunch here, literally, it’s one of those situations where, if we took an hour or two-hour lunch, that means all the city business must stop until we get back and reconvene.

MF: But there is a lunch break, right?

BB: Well, we have pretty much…we take an hour for lunch. But we’re right back at work and a lot of people immediately go right into our next sessions. So, some people are still eating while we’re in there. So, it’s just from an overall convenience factor.
What we spend, if you think about it, it’s minuscule. We spend roughly that amount of money to have some person every other Tuesday when we meet to cater us food.

But, one thing that’s amazing to me, no one ever covers the budget from the county commission side. Their budget is way high. They provide breakfast and lunch over there. (Laughs.) We only provide lunch but it’s always highlighted over (at Memphis City Hall).

I tell people this all the time. Until I was on this body, and until you walk in our shoes over here, you don’t really understand why it’s necessary.

MF: Here’s what people say and I know you’ve heard this a thousand times…

BB: Bring your own lunch!

MF: Yeah, or they’ll say, “I get an hour for lunch and I can go out and get what I need on Main Street. Why can’t (council members) do it?”

BB: Because when you have 13 individuals and you’re trying to rein them in and you have important issues that you’re dealing with as it pertains to taxpayer dollars, you want to make sure we can have access to all those members on all of those different committees throughout the day.

We hear a lot of important information in those committee meetings. If it’s a situation where it’s a chairperson of (the Planning and Zoning committee) got caught in traffic or that was out and something happened, now you have people who have taken off work to come here during the noon hour or 1 p.m. that now have to wait. It delays the whole meeting.

We have every meeting scheduled with enough time so we can get downstairs at 3:30 p.m. and start the full council meeting.

MF: Do y’all eat together when you’re having lunch?

BB: Typically, it’s hit or miss. The way it typically works for me, if I have a break, I’ll schedule a meeting during my lunch or I’ll try to meet with a constituent while I’m trying to cram some food.

Or, people will go into their office and try to do real work for their real jobs while they eat. People kind of break ways and they’ll eat in their offices. Some people will stay in the committee room and some people don’t eat. So, it’s kind of one of those hit or miss things. People are really scattered about during that time.

MF: But (the council) doesn’t violate the Sunshine Law where y’all are sitting around a table behind a closed door somewhere talking about policy.

BB: We don’t even have a cafeteria or a place where all of us could sit down in one area. It’s pretty much a situation where everybody runs into their office. (Laughs.) And they’re trying to take care of their own personal business. You know, we have real jobs outside of this.
MF: Chairman Boyd, that was everything I had. I appreciate your time. Is there anything about your budget that people don’t understand or that you want to add?

BB: It’s one of those things that I hope that you covering this it will shine light on it. So, people can understand that if you want to have a great city you must invest into those who represent your city.

There are things that we can learn from other cities that have been successful just merely by going and paying a visit to our neighbors. There’s a lot of great takeaways that you learn from National League of Cities and a lot of great things you learn from what other cities have done.

For example, the last NLC meeting in Pittsburgh, the mayor of Pittsburgh talked about how they changed the identity of their city by identifying what direction the city must take after becoming a dying city after the iron industry.

They identified two key areas — education and healthcare. They stayed the course and re-developed the city and now look at Pittsburgh.

Groups Work to Fight Blight in the City

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 7:57 AM

Blight, irreparable properties, often trashed with litter and crawling with overgrown weeds, is a common sight in Memphis.

Archie Willis, president of Community Capital says these buildings, "nuisances," pose a great threat to the safety, health, and peace of mind to the neighborhoods most affected by blight.

For this reason, hundreds of activists and other community members gathered for the second annual Memphis Blight Elimination Summit on Wednesday, May 17, at the Clayborn Temple, a place Steve Barlow, facilitator of the City of Memphis' Blight Elimination Steering Team, says is poignant considering the purpose of the event.

The summit, presented by the Memphis Urban Land Institute, Neighborhood Preservation Inc., and others, was designed to recognize the efforts made by individuals and groups in the city to end blight, as well as, the goals and objectives for reducing blight in the future.

He told those there that much progress has been made in eliminating blight in the city since the first summit last year, but before moving forward there are legal and systematic challenges, holding the community back, that must be addressed.

"We're here today to encourage you," Barlow said. "We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go."

The goal, Barlow says, is to have all of the legal and systematic barriers, including any policies or programs that stymie eliminating blight removed by 2020.

Memphis' mayor Jim Strickland says the government does not have the resources to tackle blight on its own, however the City is currently trying to fight blight in ways that are obvious and some not so obvious.

Two of the obvious ways the City works to eliminate blight, says Mayor Strickland, is first working with property owners and the court system to remedy conditions that lead to blight and second demolishing buildings that can't be rehabilitated for a productive use.

Internally, the mayor says they are creating ways to measure the state of neighborhoods more often.

"We try to build broad-based prosperity that prevents blight from forming in the first place," said Mayor Strickland. "And that will give us the resources to act swiftly when it does."

The mayor attributes the city's blight to its decreasing population and the large number of people moving out— over 100,000 between 1980 and 2011.

"That's how we got into this situation in the first place," said Mayor Strickland."Our city, quite frankly, has lost population each and every year for the past 40 years."

He believes growing the city's population, bringing people back into the city, and creating demand for these vacant, abandoned properties, is the key to fighting blight.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Horse Massage Issue Gets a Fix

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 4:03 PM

Remember that story we brought you in March about the Tennessee lawsuit involving horse massage?

Well, we can close the loop on that one, at least temporarily.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill (and Governor Bill Haslam signed it) removing the licensure mandate for those wishing to practice horse massage in the state. The votes were unanimous in both houses.

The issue became an issue after two Middle Tennessee practitioners were told they could no longer massage horses without permission and a license from the state veterinary board. Doing so would come with a fine and jail time.

The Beacon Center, a Nashville-based free market think tank, stepped in with a lawsuit.

“When it felt like all hope was lost, the Beacon Center came in and took on my case for free so that I could continue doing what I love for a living, massaging horses,” horse masseuse Martha Stowe said in a news statement from the Beacon Center.

The bill is set to expire in a year on July 1, 2018 but only because lawmakers did not have time to craft more-permanent legislation.

Here’s what a summary of the bill says:

“…specifies that the practice of veterinary medicine does not include massage therapy to animals, which means the manipulation of the soft tissues of the animal body with the intention of positively affecting the health and well-being of the animal.

This therapy does not include the diagnosis, treatment, correction, alleviation, or prevention of any animal disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical or mental condition.”

Memphis Pets of the Week (May 18-24)

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 10:26 AM

Each week, the Flyer will feature adoptable dogs and cats from Memphis Animal Services. All photos are credited to Memphis Pets Alive. More pictures can be found on the Memphis Pets Alive Facebook page.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Artists Wanted to Complete Public Projects Downtown

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 3:35 PM

The UrbanArt Commission is seeking artists to complete two separate public art projects downtown aimed to enhance the pedestrian experience.

The first is a lighting and mural installation on the I-40 underpass at North Main Street between Winchester and Jackson Avenue.

The Downtown Memphis Commission is looking for a design that will improve walkability in the underpass, while encouraging movement between downtown and the Pinch district.

Artists who have experience with designing public art projects are encouraged to apply by June 9. From there, a selection committee will choose three finalists who will complete a schematic design for the space.

In August, one of the three finalist's designs— the one that best creates an experience people will want to revisit, has a good balance of elements that can be seen in both the day and nighttime, and fits the neighborhood character— will be commissioned $168,500.

Secondly, The UrbanArt Commission and Old Dominick Distillery are commissioning an artistic crosswalk near the distillery on South Front Street at East Pontotoc Avenue.

Artists can apply any time before May 23, by submitting examples of past projects, concepts for the crosswalk, a preliminary budget, and a proposed materials statement.

At the end of May, the concept that makes for the most visually appealing and pedestrian-friendly intersection will be commissioned $4,000.

VIDEO: Mississippi River Rises

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 2:03 PM


The Mississippi River is still way up thanks to some recent heavy rains north of Memphis.

The rail construction project on the Arkansas side of Big River Crossing is halted. The floodplain stretches for miles it seems like.

On the Memphis side, towboats are nearly even with the tents going up at Tom Lee Park for this weekend's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

However, local emergency officials have said the flooding won't have much of an impact in Memphis.

Q&A: Railgarten Partner Talks Parking, Shipping Containers, and Getting Permanently Open

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 9:49 AM

  • Facebook (Railgarten)
Intrigue has seemed to shadow the Railgarten project since the very beginning. 
Martha Hample
  • Martha Hample

Rumblings began in the winter about “something” happening in some of the buildings close to the corner of Central and Cooper. It was a diner, maybe? No one was talking. Then, someone pulled building permits for a restaurant (maybe?) called The Ice House. Still, no one was talking.

The project got some definition when the project’s developers requested a special use permit for a bar or a restaurant or both with ping pong tables and pinball machines. A letter in the application said it was the called The Ice House because the building used to be an actual ice house back in the day. That’s all we knew at the time and no one was talking.

Later someone floated the idea that it was going to be called “Blazing Paddles.” But we couldn’t ever confirm that.

Work was happening on the site. Finally, the name Railgarten was announced alongside the news that it was to be a diner, ice cream shop, ping pong bar, and an outdoor area large enough for a sand volleyball court.

Hundreds of people streamed into the entertainment campus for its opening last month for beers, outdoor games, music, food, ping pong, and more.

Then there were rumblings that city officials didn’t like the bar’s use of shipping containers outside. Later, officials shut parts of Railgarten down for code violations. Railgarten owners resolved those issues and got the ping pong bar back open.

However, the big backyard remains closed, awaiting a hearing next week to see if the bar’s owners can work out all of the remaining details. If so, all of Railgarten may be open once more. If not, Memphis City Council members could pull the bar’s special use permit.

I sat down last week with Martha Hample, one of Railgarten’s owners, to address everything from parking, safety, shipping containers, and more.

Memphis Flyer: You have some hearings coming up with the city council?

Martha Hample: We have two things coming up. We have an evidentiary hearing coming up with the city council on May 23rd, which was prompted around the permitting of the ping-pong bar.

Then, on the 24th, we’re going to go before the Board of Adjustment again to see if we can get our backyard open.

MF: Tell me about the process to get this place open. It’s different than anything else — even Loflin Yard — because (Railgarten) is a campus, really, not a single entity.

MH: Yeah, and that’s a little bit of how we got into the confusion stage. The other confusing thing is that there is a line right down the middle of this property. The back is zoned for light industrial. The front is zoned for retail.

Light industrial, in theory, is zoned for…shipping containers are okay, right? So, we started thinking about it. We said, we have all this space. What are we going to do?
  • Facebook (Railgarten)
It’s a rail line. We want to further that whole vibe. Archer Malmo’s doing the creative and we named it Railgarten. We thought, wouldn’t it be cool?

What happened was and what we didn’t really understand is when we made those containers into buildings, that triggered the Midtown Overlay. That changes what the rules are. We just didn’t fully understand that.

While - retail-wise - we were following the rules as we understood them and getting permits. We did in the back as well, but the rules sort of started to change. On top of that, this…isn’t like anything else here.

There were question marks down at city hall or wherever about “how do we deal with this?” or “how do we make sure everybody’s safe?” To be sure, all we want is for our staff, and employees, and all the great people who are supporting us to be safe. Obviously, we don’t want anything other than that.
We understand that we have to get this straightened out. It certainly is not our intent to try to go around it. I mean, this has not been great for anybody. We wouldn’t have done that had we known what we were doing.

MF: Has it been frustrating?
  • Facebook (Railgarten)

It’s stressful. At the outset when we first started to realize — me and the other investors — what was happening, we were like “this is a learning experience. We’re doing something no one has ever done. We’re being creative. We’re making decisions about how we want to use the space on the fly because we’re being creative.”

We were like “oh my god, wouldn’t this be great?” There were no set rules to go by. I took it as a great learning experience. I’m invested in other bars and restaurants and I'm taking that information to those groups. That’s terrific for me.

But as it’s worn on and on and on, we’re starting to go, “oh my god.” It’s a little scary more than frustrating. We put so much heart and soul and energy and money, of course, and gotten people excited about it. We’ve done all this creative and, all of a sudden, we’re in a tough place.

MF: The early stories made it seem like we’re just going use the containers as shipping and then you decided to use them for something else and that’s where the confusion came from? Is that correct?

MH: I’m not an operating partner. I’m sort of the marketing and creative partner. So, I can’t honestly say I was not sitting there when those discussion were happening.
I do know that there was a discussion about, “hey, we’re zoned for light industrial, we can have some containers back here.” As far as who knew what about whether it was OK to do that, I’m not sure.

We did hire a consultant, a land use consultant. She’s a good one. She represents many people. We went to the Board of Adjustment and we weren’t the only ones on the docket she was representing.
  • Facebook (Railgarten)
That’s not to put the onus on her at all. It’s more to say that we tried to do the right things and hire a structural engineer and hire (the land use consultant) and get the right information.

MF: It’s been sort of controversial since you’ve tried to get this place open. Is that the right word? Controversial?

MH: Dramatic, maybe, is a better word. Well, you know, a little controversial. It’s something that nobody’s tried to do. We did trigger the Midtown Overlay, which we didn’t know we were doing.

Truthfully, we got an overwhelming response that first weekend we opened, April 5. We weren’t prepared for how many people were going to show up, frankly.

We were so excited. We were like “oh my god, people love this. This is terrific. It’s obviously something Midtown needed.” But, honestly, surrounding businesses, were probably surprised, too.

The truth is, with the exception of (Central BBQ), most of this stuff is closed at 5 p.m. Urban Outfitters, I guess, is opened later than that.

Sure, some people did some parking in some wrong places. But the truth is, this is urban. There is street parking. People can walk. We’re doing what we can to encourage people using ride-sharing like Uber and Lyft, ride your bike, ride your skateboard, walk, share rides with friends.

We have since - and this one of the things the council wants to know - is that we’ve done due diligence on leasing some parking. We have leased an additional 140 spaces beyond what we have on site, plus along Blythe.

MF: Where are the other 140 spaces?

MH: So, that I know of, a number of them are at (Palladio Antiques & Art) across the street. Some are at (other Cooper-Young businesses). There’s a lot down toward Southern that I think we leased. There’s probably some other little pieces.

We’ve hired a parking company that’s going to manage that. You drive up and valet. We have’t set a price on that but they can double park people then and turn 140 physical places into more by blocking people in and, then, when you come to get your car, they get your car for you.

Frankly, I think people will love that. I know if I’m going to spend $50 to drink, I’m going to spend another $10 just have someone else deal with my car… Also, they can say, “you’re not fit to drive” and avoid any of those issues. Come get your keys tomorrow and they’ll put you in an Uber.

MF: People were scratching their heads at that Army-looking camper thing in the back and the hammer-and-the-stump game.

MH: So, (laughs) the hammer/stump game is actually a thing. It’s called hammerschlagen. Look it up. I did. I Wiki-ed it. It’s a game commonly played in German beer gardens.

Somebody threw it out there, I can’t remember who it was. I can’t take credit. But people love it. They come and play it.

Same thing (on the Army camper), we wanted to be creative. Of course, kids are going to get excited about a tire swing and a jungle gym. But when they see that thing, they’re like “whoa! This is great!” And parents…I’ve heard from a number of friends and whoever is here that “this is so great.”

I think Loflin experiences the same thing. We can just relax on a Friday night and the kids have something they can do. We can get them a burger and an ice cream cone and we can eat grown-up food. 
  • Facebook (Railgarten)

MF: With some of that stuff, I think they were scratching their heads because they kind of thought it was dangerous. Did you hear any of that?

MH: Not about those two things. I’ve heard some concern about kids on the property. All I can say about that is, as far as the containers go, we hired a structural engineer, we did our homework on that. And it was signed off on as safe.

As far as the hammerschlagen the intent is not for children to play it. And, if you bring your children up here, you’re responsible for your children.

There are wings that come off the camper thing and we lock those in place. So, I don't see that as dangerous. I mean, anything can happen at any time, obviously. Of course, that’s not our intent.

MF: You said you were an investor in other bars and restaurants. I don’t know if Loflin is one of them…

MH: It’s not. Not for me, personally.

MF: I think one of the reasons (Railgarten) was controversial or got dramatic was that people were saying, “well, here we go again. Somebody’s going to open up first and then ask for forgiveness instead of permission to do these things.” Have you heard that?

MH: I’ve certainly seen it in the press for sure. It came up probably at the last Board of Adjustment meeting I attended. But, again, we hired a land planner. We understood the backyard to be zoned for light industrial.

We did what we thought was going to be OK, under her supervision. We made some mistakes, clearly. And I do think this is unprecedented. I’ve seen correspondence where city officials have said, look, we haven’t dealt with this before. You guys are just going to have to be patient.”
Now, we understand. We need to be patient. We want it to be safe. We, obviously, want to get permitted and get open. We’re biting the bullet. We’ve got the backyard closed an have for a number of weeks now.

MF: But the ping pong bar, the diner, and the ice cream shop are all back open.

MH: This (the ping pong bar) is back open and in full, obviously. The back bar is open, full bar.

But there was some confusion. There’s no place where there’s really three different branded places. It’s all Railgarten but I think it was like “is this one place or do we need to permit this separately?”

It’s one place. It’s all called Railgarten. We named stuff so, directionally, people can understand where to go. But it’s all owned by the same people. It’s the same LLC, the same investors in all of it. I think there was fuzziness, which, I think didn’t help us.

MF: Of course, you hope to get this all ironed out at the council and the Board of Adjustment and get open for a future weekend.

MH: Of course.

MF: That’s all I really had. Is there anything you want to add? Anything I left out?

MH: There were some moments when we wished we would’ve turned left when we turned right. But that’s hindsight and, like I said, we’re all in other projects and we are learning a bit as we go, unfortunately.

In spite of having a consultant and in spite of reading the zoning, we triggered the Midtown Overlay and, maybe, didn’t even realize when that happened.

The council is expecting us to meet some certain stipulations, some key issues they had wanted us to resolve before we come back on the 24th, parking being the obvious one.

There were some noise issues early on and we had a sound guy…it was kind of hard for us to know (how far the sound would travel). But people pointed out it was a little loud a little later and we got the sound guy in the next day and we fixed that. We’ve agreed to stop the music earlier.

There are some other stipulations and we’re like, “yeah, absolutely.” Tell us what we need to do to pass muster, get open permanently, and make everybody happy about this.
We want people to be excited. It’s for us, and it’s for Memphis, and our employees. We’ve employed 70 people and those are jobs we’re creating.

John Planchon, another Railgarten partner, added that "when we stacked and penetrated the containers, the city then considered the containers buildings, which we didn't know and we advised that it was OK by the land planner."

Also, Planchon said, that the city determined that the Midtown Overlay was triggered, and that the Railgarten team was "not consulted that this was the case."

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Fiery Suicide Galvanizes Midtown Music Community

Posted By on Tue, May 16, 2017 at 9:22 AM

Everyone knew something was up with Alyssa Moore last Friday, according to Kim Koehler. Koehler was playing at Murphy's that night, and as they spoke, Moore, who runs sound at the bar, was constantly interrupted with texts. “I think some of the texts were from him,” said Koehler. “He was letting her know something was going to happen.” 
  • Alyssa Moore

By now, most of us have heard or seen the horrific events that took place at Murphy's that night. Jared McLemore, local audio engineer and musician, committed suicide by self-immolation, attempting to harm and terrorize others as he did so. His troubled psyche was not a secret to most of the community in recent months.

Moore, his estranged girlfriend, had reported him to the Memphis Police Department multiple times, starting when he first threatened to kill her last September. She had a restraining order placed on him. After that, he was institutionalized for a time, only to gain release and make his way back to Memphis. Only days before, he sent Moore an image of himself with a gun to his head, then broke into her home and threatened her again. He was clearly more disturbed than ever. A concerned roommate called the Memphis Police Department well before the incident at Murphy's, but to no avail. Moore, who also engineers and manages the rechristened Move the Air Studio next door, was at her usual job at the Murphy's mixing board that night.

The best account of what happened next comes from the GoFundMe site ( where Jessie Anäis Honoré initiated a campaign to raise money in support of her friend:

“[McLemore] walked through the crowded bar, making his presence known to all of the patrons. He crossed the street, and when he saw Alyssa had walked outside, he quickly doused his body with more kerosene and lit himself on fire, streaming on Facebook Live, in full view of onlookers concerned for Alyssa's safety.

Murphy's patron Paul Garner tried to stop Jared and ended up hospitalized with second degree burns. Jared ran for Alyssa, in his final attempt to take what he was supposedly denied, by trying to catch her on fire too. Jared underestimated Alyssa though, because she didn't freeze in fear. She held the door to Murphy's open for everyone running from him inside to safety. When Jared finally reached the door, Alyssa held it closed trying to lock it to keep him from her and anyone else. He pushed his body against the door and the heat from the flames finally became too much for Alyssa to stand. She made a fast decision and screamed at everyone to 'RUN!' and then she ran too.”

To some, this highlights how determined, resourceful, and strong a woman must be in the face of terror, even if she has done everything right. Koehler faced a similar situation in Knoxville over a decade ago, yet could not get the local mental health professionals to respond. It too culminated with her ex trying to burn her alive – she was saved by a thunderstorm – and then killing himself. The memories were overwhelming as Koehler joined other patrons' efforts to extinguish McLemore.

Like Koehler, Moore had been compassionate in the months leading up to the incident. As her family wrote, “We want to make clear that this happened because of a perfect storm of domestic abuse, the stigma around it, and the visceral reality of mental illness. Alyssa tried to help Jared, and she also had to keep herself safe from him.”

Garner feels the incident could have been avoided if the police had responded more quickly. Some point to the under-staffing of the MPD as the problem. Therapeutic care has also received short shrift since Ronald Reagan slashed federal funding of mental health programs in the 1980s. While progress has been made in recognizing domestic violence and its links to mental health, last weekend's events underscore how far we have to go.

“Many situations like this just fester in darkness,” says Koehler. “There are still men and women out there who are suffering silently and alone and who have done all the right things, and are still having the person come and mess with them. And now were are left to deal with the effects. But this violent act does not need to define us, or defile us. We are beyond what the perpetrator did. ”

Those needing support for domestic violence issues or mental health assistance can contact the Memphis Family Shelter at 901-278-2728.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Strickland Backs Police on CLERB Decisions

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 2:44 PM

  • Saniphoto |
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Thursday he supports the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) and Memphis Police Department director Mike Rallings' decisions on internal discipline.

Rallings decided this week to not take any further action in three police brutality complaints, and a request for additional evidence in a First Amendment suppression complaint brought by CLERB.

Here's what Strickland had to say about the matter in a Thursday statement:
"As a councilman, I supported the reinstatement of CLERB and as mayor, I have fully staffed its office. My office supports the board’s mission to make recommendations to the Memphis Police Department," said Strickland, who added, "But they are just that—recommendations. I fully support and trust Director Rallings to manage his department and to discipline his staff in a manner that he deems appropriate.  And that gives him the autonomy to accept or decline CLERB’s suggestions in part or in whole.” 

The letters declining further action were made available to the public on Thursday, and at least one complainant, Paul Garner, organizing coordinator for the MidSouth Peace & Justice Center, said Rallings erred in his response. Garner said the response shows him that the MPD doesn't take CLERB complaints seriously.

Garner complaints says he was arrested outside of Manna House in 2013 and charged with disorderly conduct because he was filming the police arresting another citizen. Those charges were dropped soon after. However, he brought  formal complaint to CLERB that the MPD violated his right to film police in public.

Garner pointed to two errors in Rallings' letter addressing his sustained complaint — possession of video evidence and the date of the arrest.

In his letter to CLERB administrator Virginia Wilson, Rallings notes that, "Mr. Garner declined to allow investigator's an opportunity to review video he had in his possession," and recommended the board release the video to the Internal Services Bureau for additional findings.

"That's sloppiness," said Garner. "Go talk to your boys in Internal Affairs, they already have the tape."

Garner also said his arrest date was listed as December 11, 2011, almost two full years before his arrest on November 21, 2013.

"This kind of inattention to detail when it comes to allegations of police misconduct is disturbing," said Garner.

CLERB was slated to meet Thursday afternoon, but it is unknown if further discussion regarding the overturned complaints will occur.

This story will be updated with additional information.

MATA May Restore Part of Crosstown 31

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 1:43 PM

  • Photographs by Justin Fox Burks
The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) is proposing a North Memphis route that partially restores service to an area once covered by the Crosstown 31 Route.

The proposed route, Firestone 31, would restore service to a part of New Chicago weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

"MATA is planning several service adjustments of fixed-route bus service in order to provide improved service, simplify routing and increase productivity," said MATA spokesperson Nicole Lacey. "As for the 31 Firestone, MATA is proposing this route as a result of conversations with customers, the community, and key stakeholders."

The Memphis Bus Riders Union has been persistent in their efforts to raise awareness of the fallout on multiple fronts — employment, food, and social access to name a few — following MATA's decision to eliminate the route in 2013.

"It's a start," said MBRU organizer Cynthia Bailey, of the possibility of restoring part of the route. "We still have a lot left to fight for until the Crosstown route is brought back fully, but this is a good start."

After this year's public hearing for the proposed budget allotment for MATA, MBRU will present the full city council with a petition with more than 2,000 signatures from Memphians in support of restoring the old route, gathered from volunteers canvassing neighborhoods directly affected by the cut.

Lacey did not indicate that the proposed Firestone 31 route was a direct result of MBRU's campaigning, but acknowledged the broader theme of citizen input wielded direct influence in MATA's proposed route.

Both MATA and MBRU are encouraging citizens to show up to the public hearing about the proposed routes on May 31 at the Benjamin Hooks Library from 5:00p.m. until 7:00p.m.

Air Conditioning Units to be Donated to Seniors

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 10:36 AM

  • MLGW
This summer a couple hundred homes will get a reprieve from the Memphis heat, as Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) will donate 200 window air conditioning units to qualified low-income seniors.

The utility will launch the "Play it Cool" program by holding a screening and application process on Tuesday, May 16, at the Neighborhood Christian Center on Jackson Avenue from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Those wishing to apply should have a Tennessee State ID or driver's license to verify age and address, as well as, their most recent pay stub or social security income statement.

To qualify, an applicant must first be a low-income senior over 60 years old, residing in Shelby County, who currently does not have an operating air conditioning unit.

Secondly, the applicant's home must pass an inspection by MLGW to ensure the home meets all of the installation requirements, such as having non-storm windows free of bars.

After all field inspections are complete in late May, MLGW employees will begin installing the 200 units in the first weeks of June.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Opposition Arises to Hotel Proposed for Beale Street

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 2:28 PM

Vacant lot on Beale Street  that the VIB Best Western would occupy
  • Vacant lot on Beale Street that the VIB Best Western would occupy
Property owners around a proposed new hotel on Beale Street worry that its construction may upset their buildings.

A Special Use Permit was issued for a new, high-end six-story hotel at 404 Beale Street, a space just north of the historical Robert R. Church Park, sitting a block away from both the Fedex Forum and the Beale Street entertainment district.

The hotel, developed by KNM Development Group LLC , would be a VIB by Best Western housing 101 guest rooms, meeting rooms, a coffee bar, a rooftop bar, a fitness center, and an accompanying parking garage for hotel guests and other downtown customers.

Although, the hotel is good news for some, others, like Charles Carpenter, owner of the Tri-State Bank building that sits at 386 Beale Street, oppose the proposal.

Carpenter stated in a letter of opposition that he, along with members of Beale Street Baptist Church, have not been well-informed of specific details for the building, including how the construction with impact the surrounding buildings and how to mitigate the negative impacts.

"As an owner of a historic building located so close to the proposed construction site, I am concerned that the vibrations from digging with heavy equipment will cause damage to my historical structure," said Carpenter.

Until the plans are fully disclosed, Carpenter has requested the project not be approved to proceed by the Land Use Control Board (LUCB), which is set to review the application at the next available hearing.

The Day After: Council Sets Up Votes on Beale Bucks, Railgarten, Pinch Plan

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 12:04 PM

An image from the Pinch District Concept Plan - CITY OF MEMPHIS
  • City of Memphis
  • An image from the Pinch District Concept Plan

Tuesday was kind of a big day at Memphis City Hall but it really set up what could be a big day of votes when the the council meets again in two weeks.

The morning was packed with budget hearings, which produced some fireworks, including the debate on Beale Street Bucks (more on that below), the silence on the council’s own budget, and City Court Clerk Kay Robilio saying a contract from her office went to a “man of color.” Council chairman Berlin Boyd politely reminded Robilio that the preferred term is “African-American.”

Beale Street Bucks

  • Alaina Getzenberg
  • Beale and Third

Race stirred the discussion of this controversial program, which was started by the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), to support security and curb overcrowding on Beale Street on certain days and after certain hours.

Some council members felt that paying to get on Beale Street was a form of racial profiling and a way to keep African-American off the street during popular hours.

DMC president Terrence Patterson (who is African-American) said race had nothing to do with the Beale Street Bucks program. The program was initially instituted as a response to some stampedes on the street last summer.

Check here for details on the program.

A council committee did vote to end the program. But that vote certainly was not the final word on Beale Street Bucks, despite a misleading headline in Wednesday’s Commercial Appeal that said "Council to end Beale Street Bucks."

  • The Commercial Appeal
The full council decided to delay a discussion and final vote on Beale Street Bucks until the end of Memphis in May, per a request from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

The discussion emerged during the budget hearing for the DMC. The group manages Beale Street for the city. Council members wondered if they had the authority to direct the DMC, or if that authority rested with the mayor’s office.

Nevertheless, the council decided to hold the DMC’s budget until the council’s attorney, Allan Wade, had an opportunity to issue an opinion on the matter.

That’s where the issue stands and where it will be until the council convenes again in two weeks.

  • Facebook (Railgarten)
The council also set up a hearing to possibly decide the fate of Railgarten.

The next council meeting will feature an evidentiary hearing on whether or not the council should take back the permit it gave Railgarten owners back in February to operate their entertainment complex in Midtown.

The hearing will likely be a public review of the facts in the case in which council members will weigh the pros and cons of revoking the permit, according to Wade. After the hearing, the council could (or could not) vote to revoke Railgarten’s special permit, which could, effectively, shut the place down. 
  • Facebook (Railgarten)

However, council chairman Berlin Boyd struck a hopeful note about the issue and the process in his wrap-up of Tuesday’s council meeting. He said the hearing was “a first step in getting the process back on track for this new development in the Midtown area.”

The resolution presented to the council by Wade Tuesday afternoon, though, is a little tougher. It states that Rallgarten owners did not tell council members that they were going to use “the other portion of the property” (apparently the yard behind the diner and the bar) in “an integrated manner.”

Doing so, according to the resolution, caused “a substantial and undue adverse effect upon adjacent property, the character of the neighborhood, traffic conditions, parking, utility facilities, and other matters affecting the public health, safety, and general welfare.“
The move also caused “severe parking congestion and issues” for surrounding businesses including Central BBQ, Palladio Antiques and Arts, Urban Outfitters, and Mapco.

However, the resolution did not mention Railgarten’s use of shipping containers on the site. The resolution says that the council can revoke all or a portion of the permit issued to Railgarten.

The hearing will take place at the beginning of the council next meeting on May 23.

The Pinch Plan
An image from the Pinch District Concept Plan - CITY OF MEMPHIS
  • City of Memphis
  • An image from the Pinch District Concept Plan
In two weeks, the council will also review (and possibly cast a final vote on) a final plan that will guide development in the Pinch District.

The council halted all new construction in the nine-block district back in July 2015. Since then, city leaders have been working with Pinch neighbors and stakeholders to devise a plan that will give possible developers a map as to how they can and should build there.

City leaders held four community meetings about the plan and it “reflects the will of the community,” according to Paul Young, the director of the city’s division of Housing and Community Development.

But the plan also reflects interests of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which owns four and a half blocks of the Pinch, according to Young. St. Jude plans to expand its facility in the next five years, adding 1,800 employees and spending some $9 billion here.

Wade explained why the Pinch plan was important to St. Jude.

“Essentially, they have a lot of families coming to their campus and they now disperse those people throughout the city,” Wade said. “It is important for them to have a plan like this to help those families stay near the campus.
That’s why some of the buildings (in the plan) are larger than typical and why we need retail there, so families can stay close to campus.”

The plan features some requirement on building heights, setbacks, and more. But Young said his office is already at work to build a pedestrian bridge to connect Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid to the Pinch. Also, a connection to the Riverwalk is also being constructed around Bass Pro.

Memphis in May Announces 901Fest Lineup

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2017 at 11:20 AM


Memphis in May has announced the entertainment and activities lineup for the May 27th 901Fest, which will cap this year's MIM festivities. The official press release:

Serving as a celebratory cap to the city’s most festive month, on Saturday, May 27, 2017, 901Fest returns for its second year to once again exalt everything that makes Memphis wonderful - food, music, merchandise, and people. We love all things Memphis and 901Fest will showcase many of our city’s most positive elements in one day at one festival with live 901-based entertainment on multiple stages, local area artists, local food & beverages, an airshow, and a 901-themed Fireworks Finale!

As at last year’s event, this Festival will be filled with family-friendly activities; from cornhole, to Zorb, to painting a mobile mural on a 45’ bus, to an interactive Water on Wheels unit sponsored by the University of Memphis. Of course, it’s not a Memphis event without great local music, and the lineup is fantastic once again!

The Orion 901Rocks stage will feature acts such as The Band CAMINO, Star & Micey, Drew Erwin, and Kyndle McMahan; the 901Beats stage will have Da Mafia 6ix, Hippy Soul, THE PRVLG, and Unapologetic. On the AutoZone 901Arts stage, you’ll find Opera Memphis, the New Ballet Ensemble, STAX Music Academy, the School of Rock, Sebastian Cameron with a spoken word performance, and a storytelling session with “Mark Twain.” The 901Choice stage will feature John Paul Keith, Under the Radar, and Bailey & Wyly Bigger.

Local pilots will perform in a spectacular airshow at 6:00pm, and the night will end with a stunning fireworks finale lighting the skies over the Mississippi River at 9:30pm.

For the complete lineup and schedule of events, go to

Tickets are $9 in advance at, and $10 at the gate, with all activities included in the price. Kids 6 and under get in free. Blankets and lawn chairs are permitted, but outside food, beverages, and coolers are not.

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