The Memphis City Council sent a proposed lease of Handy Park on Beale Street back to committee Tuesday, Sept. 3, for more discussion about the details.
And the council approved on the first of three readings a restoration of the city’s solid waste fee to $25.05 a month. But there were conflicting explanations about which part of an overhaul of sanitation services the restoration of the fee is supposed to be aimed at.
The latest chapters in two long-running City Hall discussions about the future of the Beale Street entertainment district and changes in sanitation services each reflected some degree of trust issues between the council and the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Council members questioned why Handy Park LLC, a group of merchants in the entertainment district, got the lease without a request for proposal by the city of Memphis or some kind of process soliciting bids.
City Attorney Herman Morris said the LLC is substituting its lease for the long term lease the city had with Performa Entertainment, the Beale Street development company headed by John Elkington. Elkington guided the running and development of businesses in the district since before the reopening of the renovated district in late 1983. The lease with Handy Park LLC includes the partners in the group paying $500,000 to $600,000 that Elkington borrowed to make renovations to the park.
The new lease is part of the settlement of a federal bankruptcy case by Performa Entertainment that is intertwined with Elkington and Performa’s exit from development and management of the district.
Morris warned the council that the court gave the city and Handy Park LLC until the end of this year to make the lease a done deal. If the council tinkers with the terms, Morris said it could undo the settlement of the larger case, in particular who controls day to day operation and long term control of the larger entertainment district.
Council members, nevertheless, voted to send the item back for a discussion at their Sept. 17 executive session.
In Tuesday’s executive session, Wharton and his administration repeatedly emphasized that the $25.05 solid waste fee it was seeking was not tied directly to a retirement supplement of up to $1,000 a month the administration is seeking for sanitation workers.
But council members argued it is the effect even if indirectly.
The confusion was heightened as council member Janis Fullilove moved the ordinance on first reading, describing it as making the retirement supplement possible.
The administration has said the money from bringing the rate back up to $25.05 after it dropped to $22.80 in July will be used to buy newer vehicles for the sanitation department. Those trucks set in motion other reforms including 100 more stops per route per day for city workers and a broader use of recycling that allows more material to be discarded as recyclables.
The solid waste fee automatically dropped to $22.80 when the council did not renew the old rate by the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1.
The savings from the efficiencies that are a later part of the plan, Wharton said, are what will directly fund the retirement supplement.
But some on the council said it wasn’t much of a distinction and cited criticism from other groups of city workers who want the same supplement the sanitation workers would get.
The city negotiated the supplement and the plan to overhaul services with leaders of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents sanitation workers.
Wharton said later the administration will amend the ordinance by third reading to reflect the specific timing of different parts of the larger plan to change sanitation services.
Meanwhile, the council approved a resolution to spend $500,000 more from the police department budget for the processing of a backlog of thousands of rape kits, some dating back to rapes in the 1980s. Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said he would find the extra money somewhere in his budget for the current fiscal year.
And the council approved $1 million in capital funding for the start of construction on a police DNA evidence storage room to handle those rape kits and the processing of future rape kits. The capital funding will come from a $1.7 million line item the city had in the current fiscal year budget for infrastructure improvements connected to the expansion of International Paper headquarters in East Memphis. The Wharton administration said $1 million of the funding for the International Paper project would not be used in the current fiscal year.
The council also approved the allocation and appropriation of $12 million to the Pyramid Redevelopment Project. That is the city’s portion of changes to The Pyramid in preparation for work by Bass Pro Shops to develop its retail store and other attractions in the shell of The Pyramid. The $12 million is to “off-set and complete the project’s contract obligations” by the city, according to the resolution.
The council also approved a resolution that sets the stage for the moving of the Christopher Columbus statue in Downtown’s Columbus Park to Marquette Park in East Memphis. The resolution spells out that the Italian-American organization UNICO will pay all costs for moving the statue it donated to and located in the Downtown Park in 1987.
In other action Tuesday, the council approved a gas station at Knight Arnold and Ridgeway Roads, a funeral home at 460 E. McLemore Ave. and Wellington Street and funeral home parking at Hollywood and Gentry.
The council also approved a special use permit that permits the historic Lee House, at 690 Adams Ave., to be converted into a five guest room bed and breakfast inn.
Other zoning and planning matters before the council included the approval of a set of 13 amendment to the Unified Development Code of 2010. The package of amendments are the latest in a series of ongoing changes over the years expected to be made to the code.
The specific changes included requiring city council approval of all car lots regardless of their commercial zoning, requiring special use review and council approval for gas stations not at major road intersections, permitting zoning uses for home businesses to include garages as well as the house itself and an updated flood map of the county.