City Reporter 

Public Building Authority selects preconstruction manager, and other news.

Getting Ready To Play Ball

Public Building Authority selects arena's preconstruction manager.

By Rebekah Gleaves

In a Monday afternoon meeting held in the Plaza Club at AutoZone Park, the Public Building Authority selected the Beers, Flintco and Bricks group for the highly coveted position of preconstruction manager for the new NBA arena project.

The position was sought by several large national construction companies who partnered with smaller local firms because preconstruction managers usually have an edge in procuring the more lucrative general-contractor job.

Extra chairs had to be brought into the already-tight meeting room and still other attendees were left standing during the proceedings as board members briefly discussed the merits of the Beers group. In an earlier meeting the authority's construction committee had selected Beers as its pick for the project.

Construction committee chairman Dean Jernigan said that in previous weeks his committee heard proposals from four construction companies: Beers, Flintco and Bricks; Hunt Construction Group with Inman Construction and John Williams Architects; Turner Construction with Jameson-Gibson Construction and McKissack & McKissack; and the M.A. Mortensen Company.

Of the four companies, the Grizzlies team group, Hoops, Inc., told the construction committee in the earlier meeting that they would use their voting power to shut out the Turner group but were favorable to any of the other companies.

Jernigan abstained from voting, citing a "conflict" with the Beers group -- presumably related to Beers' construction of AutoZone Park.

In the full PBA meeting Jernigan and PBA chairman Arnold Perl emphasized that board members were still free to vote for the Turner group. However, Perl said that if Turner was selected the board would have to renegotiate the issue with the Grizzlies.

In the vote that followed, the Beers group was approved by the authority. Member Pete Aviotti cast the only vote against Beers, Jernigan abstained, and members Johnnie Turner and David Peck were absent.

In explaining the significance to the preconstruction manager, Perl warned Beers that the authority would be heavy-handed in its oversight.

"Change orders are the cancer of the construction process," said Perl. "We are not going over budget on this. We are looking for a design team and a construction manager ... to ensure that we are not going to be victimized by change orders. We will be holding everyone accountable."

Perl hinted at the scheduling problems faced by other large city construction projects, namely the Cook Convention Center and the new public library, saying that Beers should expect to be kept on schedule with the arena project.

"We will move this project forward on time and within budget," said Perl. "If we say that enough times we can will ourselves to do it."

Although both were on hand to speak with authority members prior to the PBA meeting, Mayor Herenton and his spokesperson Gale Jones Carson did not attend the meeting. However, Don Smith, the new executive director for the arena project, and minority-participation consultant Franketta Guinn did attend. Likewise, the city's chief administrative officer Rick Masson and city finance director Joseph Lee, as well as county commissioner Sidney Chisholm and commission candidate Joe Cooper -- among many others -- were seated in the gallery.

Following the meeting, Guinn told the Flyer that her committee had reviewed the proposals submitted by each of the four construction companies and that all had sufficient minority involvement to satisfy the PBA's minority-participation goals.

The PBA also selected the Ingram Group of Nashville and its partner T. Willis and Associates of Memphis to handle PR for the arena construction.

Causing a Stink

Most industrial polluters are inside the city limits.

By Janel Davis

The Sierra Club recently released its report on the most toxic polluters in Shelby County, with nine of the top 10 located in Memphis.

PCS Nitrogen of Millington ranks first on the list, with Quebecor Printing, TVA's Allen Fossil Plant, Ineos Acrylics, and Cargill, Inc., of Memphis completing the top five. Enenco, E.I. Dupont's Memphis Plant, Southern Cotton Oil, Great Dane L.P., and Witco round out the list.

"[Some of] these companies are located in neighborhoods, next to homes, parks, and community centers," says Rita Harris, director of the Sierra Club's Memphis Environmental Justice Program. "Families are worried about the health risks and the potential for disaster. But most people don't know the true extent of the problem."

Three of the 10 listed companies are located in the Douglass area of North Memphis, and eight are within a 2.3-mile radius of the neighborhood's community center.

"We have no major grocery or dry-goods store in our neighborhood, but we are surrounded by polluters," says Douglass resident Belinda Moore. "Not only is there a high asthma rate here, but also more people die of cancer than of stroke or heart attack. These statistics are scary."

All of the companies cited in the report have permits for their emissions, but the substances are classified toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency due to studies that have shown they pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Facilities that emit more than 100 tons per year (tpy) of an air pollutant, 10 tpy of a hazardous air pollutant, and/or 25 tpy of a combination of hazardous air pollutants are not eligible for a state operating permit but must obtain a Title V operating permit.

A Title V operating permit is required of companies whose operations involve a major air-contaminant source, which is any type of business, plant, or building that emits any combination of dust, fumes, gas, mist, or smoke. All of the companies on the Shelby County list emit more than 100 tpy of air pollutants.

The Sierra Club report stems from a previous Toxic Release Inventory, which is a self-reporting system requiring certain facilities to file annual reports with the EPA. The inventory covers 632 regulated toxic chemicals, like ammonia and methanol. More than 80,000 chemical substances used daily in the United States.

According to a report by the Environmental Defense Scorecard, Shelby County ranks third among Tennessee counties for the amount of toxic discharges to air, water, and land; and Tennessee ranks 14th among all states in total environmental releases.

Steve Hill, plant manager of Southern Cotton Oil, 2782 Chelsea Avenue, in North Memphis, would not comment on the report and referred the Flyer to its parent firm, Archer Daniels Midland Company in Decatur, Illinois. Southern Cotton Oil produces cottonseed-derived protein products through fermentation for the commercial production of antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetracycline.

Calls to plant managers of the remaining Memphis companies were not returned.

Although the Sierra Club's listing only included the top 10 polluters in Shelby County, Penn Chemicals and Williams Refining LLC, both of Memphis, were cited as the 11th and 12th top pollution emitters.

A Game Of Tag

Artist takes to street to protest removal of work from gallery.

By Mary Cashiola

After his installation piece was washed off the side of the Art Farm Gallery on Monroe, artist Sabe decided to replace it with another -- a work that read, "ART FARM KILLS ART" in big white letters -- on the street outside the gallery.

"I wanted to spell out their hypocrisy," says the single-named Sabe. "That's a new piece. It may be a little more propaganda-ish than the first one."

Sabe's first work was a painting that used his name numerous times on the outside of the gallery's front window. But the debate the piece sparked was: Where does graffiti end and art begin?

Sabe and Art Farm co-founder Mark Nowell differ on how they got into this conflict. Sabe says Nowell asked him to do the installation on the window; Nowell says Sabe had done a few pieces on a dumpster and some old furniture in the area and asked if he could continue.

"He had already done art installation, or 'tagged,' depending on what neighborhood you're from, around the Art Farm area a couple of times," says Nowell. "It's supposed to be an art community and public art is good, so I said, 'It's cool, keep doing it.' "

About a week later Sabe painted the piece on the outside of the gallery. Nowell says the installation didn't really bother him, but it did bother others in the community who felt Sabe was putting artwork where it wasn't wanted. There was also some confusion about the publicity for Sabe's show that he submitted to this publication's calendar section. Another show is currently ongoing inside the gallery as well.

Sabe, who uses only water-based materials and is a picture framer by day, says his art centers on words and their different meanings. Usually he works on glass or mirrors, so that the world itself can be seen as part of the art.

"I'm disgusted by the hypocrisy from someone who says, 'Yes, it's art,' and then another party steps in and they say, 'No, it's not art,'" explains Sabe. "I don't think art should be that fragile."

He decided to let his feelings be known.

"If you're going to advertise something, you've got to keep it up," says Sabe. So after the first piece -- which he had said would be up until the 16th -- was removed by the building's owner, he went back to the gallery and replaced it with "ART FARM KILLS ART."

"I'm supposed to be angry at this," says Nowell, chuckling a little. But he's not. Water-based paint on glass is pretty benign compared to, say, animal feces. And both art and artists have traditionally stood for freedom of expression.

"Who decides what the best way to get to God is?" asks Nowell. "It's the same way with art. People who do quilts and crafts, they say that's art. Intellectuals wouldn't necessarily agree. Who decides what is art; who decides what is good art?"

In this case, it's probably the person who owns the property. But, even on this small scale, the debate is far from over.

"I don't think this is the end," says Sabe. "This is just the beginning of my work out there."

City Beat

The New Faces Of Public Housing

MHA's new College Park project reveals a dramatic transformation.

by John Branston

Kimberly Franks (left) and Molly Jones
For years, it was one of those idealistic proposals that always looked so good on paper but never quite materialized: Tear down the housing projects and replace them with low-density neighborhoods where people of different income levels would live side by side in comfort, safety, and harmony.

Memphis is a giant step closer to turning that vision into a reality in a grassy, colorful project called College Park taking shape south of downtown between LeMoyne-Owen College and Elmwood Cemetery.

"This is the new face of public housing," says Robert Lipscomb, executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA). "If you closed your eyes and someone dropped you here, you would think you were in the middle of Harbor Town."

To build College Park, MHA demolished 824 units in the LeMoyne Gardens housing project. MHA then leased the site to LeMoyne Redevelopment and Edgewood Management to develop it, lease and manage the apartments, and sell the single-family homes.

The transformation is startling. The projects were dirty, crowded, run-down, and home to a gang called the LeMoyne Gardens Mafia. After MHA closed them and relocated the residents and bulldozed the buildings, the site stood empty for a few years, with the rolling terrain and stately oak trees looking something like a golf course. The narrow streets and parking lots were replaced with a handsome apartment building for seniors that faces the front of the campus across the street. Behind the 68-unit apartment building is what looks like a suburban subdivision of winding streets, new sidewalks, street lights, underground utilities, acres of sod, and heavy landscaping. The new two-story houses and apartments -- a mix of single-family homes, duplexes, and quads -- are brightly colored with white front porches, individual yards, and common areas. There are a few homes partly built with brick, but most are covered with siding.

When the project is completed a year from now, there will be 341 apartments and 70 homes. MHA and the developers hope the renters will become home-owners. The amount of rent or the cost of the home is based on the occupant's income.

Katherine Ashford, for instance, a 68-year-old woman who lives in the seniors' apartment building, pays $150 a month for her one-bedroom unit.

"I love it," says Ashford, who grew up in LeMoyne Gardens years ago and graduated from nearby Booker T. Washington High School. She has new appliances plus good bus service and a National Bank of Commerce branch and a police station practically next door. The partially reconstructed Stax Studio, part of the Soulsville project, is two blocks south.

The developers are new faces, too, and probably not whom most people would expect to find doing a big project in the inner city.

The key players in LeMoyne Redevelopment LLC are Molly Jones and Kimberly Franks, a pair of young working mothers who first joined forces three years ago. Jones, 31, a graduate of St. Agnes and the University of Memphis and mother of three children, is the project manager and handles the financial side. Franks, 33, a graduate of Germantown High School and State Tech and mother of five, is assistant project manager in charge of construction.

College Park is a Hope VI project similar to the much larger Hope VI development planned to replace Hurt Village in North Memphis near St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and The Pyramid. MHA secured the key piece of financing, a $47 million federal grant.

"MHA has done a phenomenal job in putting together all the community support necessary to do this project," says Jones.

Jones hopes the smaller apartments and homes will appeal to LeMoyne-Owens graduates, families, and former residents of the housing project. Current and former MHA residents have priority, providing they and their children can pass a criminal background check and a credit check. Already there have been some tough calls. One family was initially disqualified because a teenaged son had a bad credit record because his parents had put their utilities in his name when he was just 13.

"I want to move the people who are renting into my homes," Jones says.

There will be a grand opening ceremony for College Park Monday at 10 a.m. For anyone familiar with the painful history of public housing, this bold step in a new direction has to be seen to be appreciated.

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