2019: The Year Ahead in Politics, Business, Government, Theater, Film, Food, and Music 

Politics

As the year 2018 began to fade into the archives, a new year and very likely a new and unpredictable new era were beginning to emerge. To be sure, there were some personalities and issues that would carry over into 2019. One was Jim Strickland, the mayor of Memphis since his inauguration on January 1, 2016, who was active in the waning days of the old year, raising money and pressing the flesh for a reelection campaign that is already well under way and, superficially at least, seemed destined to be invincible.

click to enlarge Mayor Jim Strickland at year-end reception with - (l to r) School Board member Kevin Woods, state Representative Larry Miller, and School Board member Michelle McKissack. - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Mayor Jim Strickland at year-end reception with (l to r) School Board member Kevin Woods, state Representative Larry Miller, and School Board member Michelle McKissack.

Strickland, a genial, giant-sized man, is armed with a fresh poll showing his approval ratings to loom large over any and all potential opponents. Former Mayor Willie Herenton, one declared opponent, can match Strickland in height and more than match him in mayoral tenure (17-and-a-half years, beginning with his 1991 election as the city's first elected black mayor). But Herenton's stock had run low indeed by the time of his 2009 resignation (or "retirement," as he chose to call it), and his dismal, underfunded comeback attempt in 2010, a challenge to 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, resulted in a five-to-one wipeout. So far, there is no detectable groundswell whatsoever for his current, second comeback attempt — apparently fueled by his stated desire, in the wake of this year's MLK anniversary events, to carry on the Great Martyr's crusade. In that regard, it augurs badly for Herenton that the reelection bid of Strickland, who is white, is underscribed by a generous portion of the city's African-American office-holders.

Nor is there any sign of momentum for Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams, whose own crusade on behalf of equity for his union members is only modestly buttressed by support from a small community of activists and dissenters.

Yet who knows, really? Surely one of the lessons of the 2016 presidential election, with its come-from-nowhere Trump win, is that politics — all politics — is undergirded by tectonic plates that can shift unexpectedly. Speaking of which, there's a whole lot of shaking goin' on with the Memphis City Council, where three of the body's 13 seats are vacant and must be filled with interim occupants even before all 13 seats come open in the quadrennial city election of 2019. A deadlock between a mainly white faction responsive to the city's business elite and an African American bloc espousing the cause of grass-roots nominees has so far frustrated agreement on council-named appointees, and sentiment at year's end was building toward a possible special election early in the new year.

Shelby County government meanwhile seems to be on an unusually harmonious path, as new county Mayor Lee Harris attempts to build support for an ambitious reform agenda by mending fences with a county commission whose holdover members are veterans of a prolonged struggle for dominance with former Mayor Mark Luttrell. Harris' gamble is that allowing the commission its own legal counsel and other concessions will not tilt the power balance against him.

On the state front, a special election for the state Senate seat vacated by newly confirmed federal Judge Mark Morris is the only local electoral matter on tap for 2019. A new Democratic momentum in 2018's legislative races did not transform the fact of a Republican super-majority in Nashville, and the appealing personality of new Republican Governor Bill Lee co-exists with his espousal of educational vouchers and open-carry gun legislation and his resistance to Medicaid expansion. These and other positions carry the seeds of a contentiousness that could curtail Lee's political honeymoon in the legislative session of the 2019 General Assembly. — Jackson Baker

Theater

Calm down, people. I know you're so excited to have an opportunity to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical theater phenomenon when it comes to the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. But here's the catch: Hamilton's not rolling into town until July 2019, individual tickets have yet to go on sale, and no date for individual ticket sales has even been announced yet.

Flyer readers have been calling in or emailing, outraged because they've gone online to buy Hamilton tickets only to find third-party websites charging $600 or more per ticket. These sites aren't legitimate, and it's not too difficult to predict that anybody who advance purchases a bogus ticket at that price will be sorely disappointed when the show finally comes to town.

To help combat the problem, the Orpheum has added the following information to its website: "An on-sale date for single tickets has not been set, and individual tickets are not available through any verified ticket seller. Please note: Any ticket obtained prior to the official Orpheum Theatre Box Office and Ticketmaster on-sale period for this show is counterfeit or is being resold by a third-party vendor at potentially inflated prices."

With Ballet Memphis having moved into its new Overton Square facility in August 2017, and the Tennessee Shakespeare Company moving into Ballet Memphis' old Trinity Road building in time to open its 2018-19 season, there are currently no major moves in the works, for the first time in several years. Tennessee Shakespeare is, however, halfway through a capital campaign to fully renovate the interior of a space that was designed with dancers, not actors in mind.

Circuit Playhouse Incorporated, the parent organization of Playhouse on the Square, launched in November 1969, so anticipate opportunities to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary in 2019.

Theatre Memphis is also approaching a major milestone. The East Memphis playhouse launched in 1920, and is entering its 99th year of existence. That sets local theater lovers up for two solid years of celebrating the lively arts in Memphis.

— Chris Davis

Development and Business

Forget feeling bullish on Memphis. We're in a full-on stampede. 

Development projects with multi-million-dollar price tags seemed to fall out of the sky in 2018. So, take a drive around town and take some mental images. This is all about to change, y'all. And 2019 is the year we'll really start seeing that change, especially in the Downtown skyline and the ever-bustling Midtown. 

One Beale: Dirt is slated to finally turn next year on the nearly 15-year-old One Beale project at Beale and Riverside. The latest version of the plan puts construction at $225 million and includes a hotel, apartments, restaurants, retail, and more. The first, $130-million phase of construction is set to begin in January. It'll bring a 227-room Hyatt Centric hotel, 227 apartments, and a 475-space parking garage. That phase is expected to be complete by 2020.

click to enlarge The Citizen, Madison@McLean, Union Row, One Beale, Hyatt Centric, and the Mid-South Fairgrounds — will Memphis “build up, not out” in its 200th year?
  • The Citizen, Madison@McLean, Union Row, One Beale, Hyatt Centric, and the Mid-South Fairgrounds — will Memphis “build up, not out” in its 200th year?
click to enlarge coverstory_the_ravine.jpg

Union Row: The Daily Memphian called the $950-million Union Row project the largest mixed-use project in Memphis history. Marinate in that a minute.

Roughly centered at Union and Danny Thomas, the 29-acre Union Row project is expected to bring a mix of retail (including a grocery store), residential, a garage, office space, and a hotel. But it'll also bring parks, public spaces, and pedestrian connections to more points Downtown. More than half of the lots Big River Partners want to build on are vacant. The company is hoping to get $100 million in public help for the project. Should it get it, the company will begin closing on the properties in February and begin construction in June. The first phase is expected to open in August 2021.

Mid-South Fairgrounds: All right, no dirt is gonna move at the Mid-South Fairgrounds next year, but paper might. City leaders have worked for years on a project that would transform the now-sleepy Fairgrounds into a youth sports destination. The possibly $181 million plan includes an $80 million youth sports complex, a parking garage, upgrades to the Liberty Bowl, basketball courts, a track, a soccer and football field, and more.     

City leaders scored a huge win in 2018 as state officials approved a new Tourist Development Zone for the project. The move allowed city officials to start collecting commitments of the $61 million in private funds needed to fuel phase two of the project. State finance officials will only sign off on the $90 million in bonds city leaders will issue for their part of the project if they can raise those private funds. So, state officials are slated to vote on the plan again next year. 

Other projects: Expect to see work crews in the Memphis Zoo parking lot this year as its re-do is expected to forever halt overflow parking on the Overton Park Greensward by 2020. 

Look for the grand openings of two high-profile apartment projects started in 2018 — The Citizen at McLean and Union, and the five-story Madison@McLean.

Watch hammers swing early next year on The Ravine, a new public greenspace concept between Union and Madison in the Edge District. Developers DSG want the $5 million Ravine to be the Edge's true gathering spot with an active retail plaza, kid-friendly play structures with water features, flexible seating, an amphitheater-style performance venue, and festival and event spaces. Phase one of the project is expected to be finished in May.

Construction of a new seven-story, 109-room hotel was set to begin in the Edge this winter and wrap as early as 2020.

Renovations continue at Central Station, to transform the century-old train station into a hotel, restaurant, and retail space. Malco officials recently told The Commercial Appeal its new Downtown theater could be open by the end of 2018.

Finally, construction was set to begin on Wiseacre's new 43,500-square-foot brewery and taproom close to South Main sometime this winter. 

None of this is even to mention the ongoing, $1 billion expansion of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Phew. Buckle up, y'all. — Toby Sells

Film

The biggest event in Memphis film due in 2019 will be Craig Brewer's Dolemite Is My Name. Written by The People vs. O.J. Simpson's Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the biopic stars Eddie Murphy as pimp-turned-blacksploitation auteur Rudy Ray Moore. With a generous budget and a supporting cast that includes Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, and Keegan-Michael Key, this Netflix production promises to be epic. The street date is still up in the air.

January 4th brings the Memphis release of If Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins' brilliant followup to Best Picture winner Moonlight is a must-see. Later in the month, we get Samuel L. Jackson in Glass, the sequel to M. Night Shyamalan's best movie, Unbreakable.

February looks wintry with an unwanted remake of the 1990 mind-bender Jacob's Ladder and James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez's live-action anime adaptation Alita: Battle Angel. A possible bright spot is The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. March will be ruled by the superhero blockbuster Captain Marvel. I'm sorry, but the first images from Tim Burton's live-action Dumbo adaptation look hideous.

Big studios come out swinging in April, with DC's Shazam and reboots of Pet Sematary and Hellboy, before Avengers: Endgame blows everything else out of the multiplex. I'm most excited for It Follows director David Robert Mitchell's long-delayed neo noir Under the Silver Lake.

May has Pokemon: Detective Pikachu and a third John Wick film, but I'll be lining up for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In June, Dark Phoenix takes another crack at the best X-Men storyline, in which Game of Thrones' Sophie Turner does Jean Grey's heel turn. July 4th weekend brings Spider-Man: Far From Home, then later in the month Quentin Tarantino's Manson Family epic, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

August looks pretty dire unless you're a Dora the Explorer fan. I'm telling you right now I'm not sitting through another Angry Birds movie. September will no doubt be dominated by the scary clown sequel It: Chapter Two. October kicks off with Will Smith playing clones in Ang Lee's Gemini Man and the godforsaken Joker movie starring Joaquin Phoenix.

November sees Ahnold back as the Terminator, a Sonic the Hedgehog film, and schlockmeister Roland Emmerich remaking the World War II drama Midway. Bet instead on Rian Johnson's star-studded murder fest Knives Out. The box office matchup of the year comes in December when the Taylor Swift-led adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats bows on the same weekend as J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode IX. And finally, Greta Gerwig helms a promising Little Women with Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March.

City Government

Council Conundrum: The Memphis City Council, down three members, is slated to fill its three vacancies at the first meeting of the year on Tuesday, January 8th. The council began its attempt to fill the first of the three, the District 1 seat vacated by Bill Morrison, in late November. As of press time, the body has been at a deadlock and unable to reach the necessary seven votes for any one candidate.

Both of the top two contenders for the seat are out of the running, as Lonnie Treadaway pulled his bid for the seat, and Rhonda Logan was eliminated. Only Tierra Holloway, Paul Boyd, Mauricio Calvo, and Danielle Schonbaum remain as candidates for the District 1 seat.

click to enlarge The Memphis City Council (above) has been much in the news in 2018 and still has hanging business to be completed in the new year. - MAYA SMITH
  • Maya Smith
  • The Memphis City Council (above) has been much in the news in 2018 and still has hanging business to be completed in the new year.

The council has been unclear about how it will move forward with filling the position, if they will consider the aforementioned candidates, or if the application process will be re-opened.

The vacant District 6 and Super District 8-2 seats, which were slated to be filled at the council's most recent meeting, will also be addressed at the January 8th meeting.

At this point, after the council has had hours of debate and is still seemingly unable to reach a decision for the District 1 seat, some Memphians, including representatives with the Memphis chapter of the NAACP, are calling for a special election to fill all three positions.

Tension has been a constant in the council chambers throughout the process, with accusations of racism and gerrymandering being thrown at council members, outbursts from onlookers, and spats among members. The fate of the 10-member council for 2019 is unknown.

Third Century Plans: Memphis could adopt a new comprehensive plan — dubbed the Memphis 3.0 Plan — as the city enters its third century. Drafted with input from more than 15,000 citizens, public and private partners, and city officials, the hundreds of pages of the plan detail a plan for future growth in the city: "Build up, not out."

The Memphis 3.0 plan largely revolves around improving public anchors — centers of community activity — in the city's core and surrounding neighborhoods. In sum, the plan focuses on connectivity, opportunity, and land, touching on everything from transportation, safe streets, housing, parks, the environment, as well as access to fresh food, jobs, and education.

Public comment on the plan, which will be reviewed by the Office of Comprehensive Planning, is accepted through February 8th via email, mail, or fax. If adopted by the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board and subsequently the Memphis City Council, the plan will be the guiding document for the city's future development and investments for the next 20 years.

Bag Tax: The bad news is you could start paying seven cents for every plastic bag you get from certain stores. The good news: The environment could benefit.

At its January 22nd meeting, the city council is set to vote on the third and final hearing of a city ordinance that would implement the seven-cent tax at stores that have more than 2,000 square feet of space or are part of a chain.

Seniors and those in the SNAP program would be exempt from the fee. The council said the motive behind the move is not to make a profit, but to help sustain the environment. Specifically, council chairman Berlin Boyd said he wants the ordinance to protect the city's waterways, which he claimed are overly polluted by plastic bags.

Local environmentalists such as Scott Banbury with the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, agree that plastic bags are a problem and that taxing them is a good step toward addressing the issue.

— Maya Smith

Food and Restaurants

For 2019, keep your eyes peeled on various locations that once held restaurants.

There are some key spaces in some key locales waiting to be filled. One of them is the Kitchen in Shelby Farms. There is interest in this pretty spot, and Shelby Farms expects to have a restaurant up and running there in 2019.

Plans for Beale Street Landing, which once held Front Porch, are fuzzier. The site is currently being used for special events and is part of the overall Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP) overhaul of Tom Lee Park and other Downtown public spaces. In 2019, the MRPP plans to set up Beale Street Landing as an "engagement center." According to George Abbott of MRPP, "Quality food and beverage options will be a part of the new park experience, but we're not sure yet how they will be provided — and what role [Beale Street Landing] will play in that."

click to enlarge The Kitchen - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • The Kitchen

Other spaces up for grabs include the old LYFE restaurant Downtown, Paulette's/Stanley BBQ in Overton Square, Indian Pass near Overton Square, and Strano in Cooper-Young.

A few projects that were set for 2018 have spilled into 2019. David Scott of Dave's Bagels, announced his brick-and-mortar spot earlier this year. He says he's still working on it. Bogard was supposed to go into the old Paulette's/Stanley BBQ spot, but that project fizzled after a couple partners backed out of the deal. But don't count Bogard out yet. They are aiming for a spring or summer opening in an unnamed location. Porch & Parlor, going in the old Bar Louie space, is now looking at a spring opening. It's set to start its construction phase in January.

Rizzo's on South Main will be closed for a few weeks for some necessary renovations. A leaking wall caused damage to the electrical system and the floor. Michael Patrick says the restaurant will be closed, starting in early January and probably throughout the month. Patrick has been actively feeling around for places to hold pop-up shops. He says his main concern is keeping his staff intact. "I have a great team," he says. "I don't want to lose them." The goal is have to restaurant back open by Valentine's Day.

Salt/Soy, Nick Scott's sushi pop-up, is making it permanent with a brick and mortar restaurant somewhere in Cooper-Young. And Pop-a-Roos, the gourmet popcorn seller, is due to set up shop some time in January at Crosstown Concourse in the spot vacated by So Nutz.

Susan Ellis

Music

We get announcements of upcoming releases all the time, but a few on the 2019 horizon have us especially impatient. Next month, Big Star's Live on WLIR, recorded during the band's final tour in 1974, will be available again thanks to Omnivore Recordings. February will see the release of previously unheard tracks by Alex Chilton. Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None) mixes tracks from his Clichés album with others featuring the singer and a full jazz band, lending his distinct voice to standards like "Look for the Silver Lining." Also in February, the soundtrack for Waiting: The Van Duren Story, a documentary about the songwriter, will drop before the film itself. It collects choice tracks from his debut, Are You Serious?, with a few from later in his career.

click to enlarge NOTS
  • NOTS

Goner promises new albums from both Hash Redactor and NOTS in the months to come, and Negro Terror, the African-American hardcore band, whose live shows have everyone flipping, promises a new work, Paranoia, sometime next year. Finally, the City Champs have been playing again, most notably in a show with Al Kapone at the Railgarten. Could a new album be far off? And what Champ collaborations does this portend?

Speaking of live shows, GPAC promises eclectic fun with shows ranging from the Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra, to Shawn Colvin with Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, to Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. The Bar-Kays will be bringing the funk to Soulsville's "Staxtacular" event, February 8th. The Buckman Arts Center will bring eclectic shows into the spring, including the intriguing "Italian World Music" of Newpoli. And in April, the old reliable Lucero Family Block Party will take over the Minglewood Hall environs once again.

Speaking of spring, the Beale Street Music Festival should be interesting in May, as they coordinate with designers overseeing the remodel of Tom Lee Park. Performers have not yet been announced, but tickets are on sale. The Levitt Shell will no doubt bring another jam-packed schedule of musicians of all stripes to Overton Park for music under the stars. As will the Live at the Garden concerts.

Despite rumors to the contrary, September's Gonerfest 16 is on! The new year will also bring events celebrating the record store/label's quarter-century mark.

And, finally, MemphoFest looks to be back at Shelby Farms for another year.

— Alex Greene

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