The Memphis Week That Was 

Everyone is against blight, but blight still wins most of the time.

In his schools speech this week, Mayor Herenton called for removing blight around schools. Fine, but that is a city and county function, not a school function, and he has been running the city for 16 years. So get someone at Code Enforcement to crack down on blight around schools.

And then put the squeeze on COGIC and the old Chisca Hotel on Main Street southwest of FedExForum. Pick on the big guys. If that isn't downtown's biggest eyesore (for more than 30 years) and wasted property, it will do until something else comes along. COGIC's members probably don't like looking at it any more than the rest of us do. When Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson made his famous comment comparing downtown Memphis to Dresden after the war a few years ago I'll bet he was looking southwest.

Tool-belts and tape measures, every child, every day. One Herenton suggestion I liked was more vocational education and less emphasis on college prep. If you are a recent college graduate or the parent of a recent or soon-to-be college grad, ask yourself this question: Are the wages of your college grad keeping up with the wages of your auto mechanic, computer tech, plumber, carpenter, electrician, and handyman?

A college graduate and an ignoramus at all of the above, I was invited to teach a math class at Craigmont High School a week ago. I asked the students current events questions involving basic math calculations (grade point averages, Tennessee Lottery scholarships, groceries, election returns, etc.) and they gave me algebraic equations. They were lame on current events and practical math and I stunk at algebra.

But I'll take practical math and current events over algebra and calculus any day for most graduates.

The interviews with the superintendent finalists begin next Monday and Tuesday and end a week later. The school board and Herenton agree that this is the most important decision the board will make. The plan is to conduct the interviews in public and allow time for members of the community to meet with and question the finalists, too. Two hours have been allotted to each candidate. This could get messy.

The interviews will shift the focus from the pros and cons of Herenton to the pros and cons of the Final Five. Let's see which of the candidates rounded up by the search firm gets the nod from the Herenton haters. Anyone see a clear favorite? The white guy? The Buffalo superintendent whose hometown newspaper describes him as "embattled"? The young woman from a system in Virginia that is less than one-tenth the size of Memphis City Schools? The guy from Florida who is applying for four other jobs? Calling Carol Johnson!

If no finalist gets six votes from the school board, Herenton and A C Wharton must "out" themselves if they really want to be the dynamic duo of future city school superintendent and future city mayor. That would be a formidable combo, but if that's what they want to do then this is the time to stop dropping hints and say so. And if Herenton is not interested in being superintendent under any circumstances then he should say that so the school board and his dwindling band of believers can move on.

Food for thought in the continuing debate over consolidation. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal this week, the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, John Peyton, said his consolidated city/county relies on property taxes for half of its revenue but has reduced millage (tax rates) every year since 1995. "We have accomplished this by operating on a narrow margin: keeping our reserves small, capping the number of city employees, and making significant cuts in general government spending to increase efficiency and pay for growing, and largely non-discretionary, public safety costs."

Pau Gasol was on the front page of USA Today this week. Not the front of the sports page, the front, front page. How happy he must be to be out of Memphis and in Los Angeles, where the Lakers are deep in the playoffs. Quick, name one player the Grizzlies got in return.

So the theme park won't happen in The Pyramid. Well, not many people will lose any sleep over that, or the prospects of Bass Pro Shops either, for that matter. Or the fate of the Zippin Pippin, surely one of the strangest obsessions ever. As city official Robert Lipscomb has said many times, vacant arenas are white elephants, and most of them are demolished or they become churches.

The future of the Mid-South Fairgrounds is another matter. The stadium is a going concern. The proposed Kroc Center has some real money behind it. Stakeholders in the fairgrounds include Cooper-Young, Christian Brothers University, the Belt Line neighborhood, and the University of Memphis. And there is a bona fide development plan by a proven local development team on the table, with several million dollars of state funding. A decision should be made in May.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Mud Island River Park in play for a commercial development package deal next year if attendance flags this summer and the stalemates over The Pyramid and the Promenade persist. The Riverfront Development Corporation is giving the park its best shot, with a refurbished museum, a big-name concert, free general admission, and a family-oriented marketing campaign. If that doesn't work, what's left to try with a park that's closed almost half the year? And when Beale Street Landing and the cobblestones project are finished, there will be a closer, newer riverside attraction for locals and tourists.

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