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VOL. 122 | NO. 177 | Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Stadium Issue Delayed by Council

By Bill Dries

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The City Council's Parks Committee Tuesday delayed discussion of a consultant's report on a new or renovated Mid-South Fairgrounds stadium until December. The committee action came with little discussion as the Herenton administration made public the draft report.

The report, by Conventions, Sports & Leisure (CSL) International, recommends a new stadium to replace Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium as "the best long-term stadium solution for the Memphis community. However, it will be a challenge to fund the construction ... given the sheer volume of costs involved and other pressing needs within the city."

Cost estimates

A full-scale renovation of the Liberty Bowl, estimated at $265.1 million, is the costliest of the options outlined. By contrast, a new stadium "representing a high-end quality of construction" is estimated to cost $217.5 million.

A new stadium of "mid-range quality" comes in at $187.4 million. And the cost of a "limited renovation" to hold the Liberty Bowl for five to 10 years is pegged at $21.5 million.

However, most council members agreed with the administration that the draft study needs some work.

Robert Lipscomb, Housing and Community Development director and the administration's supervisor of the study, told the council the report's use of new market tax credits in formulating financing plans for a new or renovated stadium still must be verified. Those credits would account for 27 percent of the financing. He also said the financing plans include estimates of revenue from incremental sales and other taxes the administration ruled out as an option at the outset.

The report also makes projections about what it might cost to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the current stadium. It concludes it would cost more than $20.6 million to make the Liberty Bowl ADA compliant and result in the loss of more than 10,000 seats. The city is still negotiating with the Justice Department as part of a court settlement on the exact standards, Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb also was critical of the report's selection of comments from surveys and focus groups on the various options. All of the comments should have been included, Lipscomb said.

On campus?

Some University of Memphis fans have been in support of a new stadium, only it would be one built on campus. But university President Shirley C. Raines, in a statement released Tuesday, said there are other priorities.

"The University of Memphis has no plans to build a football stadium on the university campus," she said. "Our priorities remain focused on academic needs, including an audiology/nursing building, a research building, the replacement of West Hall dormitory and the music center."

She did, however, say a committee has been formed to review all viable proposals for renovation of the Liberty Bowl as well as "all financially feasible proposals for building and maintaining a stadium on the university campus."

Pay raise, round two

In other council action Tuesday, a proposed $11,500 pay raise for the winner of the Oct. 4 Memphis mayor's race was resurrected by the council, two weeks after the group voted it down on its third and final reading. The proposal returns to the council agenda for another final vote Oct. 16 at the first council meeting after the city elections.

While some council members condemned the proposal, there was more debate among opponents of the pay raise. Council member and mayoral contender Carol Chumney questioned the motives of fellow council members. Several of them accused her of making the reconsideration gambit possible.

Council member Edmund Ford moved for reconsideration of the item at the end of Tuesday's meeting. His parliamentary move came as the council approved the minutes of its Sept. 4 meeting, when the pay raise ordinance was defeated on a 6-4 vote. It was one vote short of the seven votes necessary to pass. Ford was present at the time but didn't vote.

Council attorney Allan Wade ruled that under those circumstances Ford was part of the prevailing side and thus could move for reconsideration.

"The motion was not adopted by an 'aye' vote. It failed because it did not achieve a constitutional majority," Wade said. "This is a very unique and esoteric situation."

No one challenged the ruling. It passed on a 9-4 vote and the setting of a vote on Oct. 16 passed on an 8-5 vote.

"This is politics as usual," Chumney said. "It's a slap in the face of all the hard-working citizens of Memphis."

'That's politics'

Council member Brent Taylor, who joined Chumney in opposing both moves, parted company sharply with her on the question of motivation. The minutes of the Sept. 4 council session could have been approved at a special meeting the following day to approve a last-minute redistricting plan. But that failed when Chumney voted no because of a dispute over her resolution to preserve the Zippin Pippin roller coaster and the carousel at the Mid-South Fairgrounds.

"It was your vote that you failed to give us on approval of the minutes ... that would have sealed the pay raise. It would have sealed its defeat. It's just like the Joseph Lee vote," Taylor told Chumney, referring to the former president of Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division. "We needed your vote to get Joseph Lee to resign and you chose not to vote with us because it wasn't your idea."

Chumney was a crucial no vote in March on what amounted to a council no-confidence vote on Lee two months before Mayor Willie Herenton accepted Lee's resignation. The measure failed by one vote. Chumney's vote came after her resolution to "accept" Lee's already proffered but denied resignation failed.

"Not a single member seconded it. Why not?" an angry Chumney responded Tuesday. "Politics as usual."

She also defended her stand for two Memphis landmarks she insisted are now left unprotected.

"That's politics," Chumney said. "That's misuse of the power of this body - manipulating the rules, pretending that something didn't happen merely to gain some advantage in the electoral process."

Taylor is one of seven council members not seeking re-election on the October ballot.

"We needed your vote and we didn't have it. So, if anybody's playing politics, Ms. Chumney, I would have to say that it's you," Taylor said in the prolonged exchange. "Don't let me get under your skin. ... Mayor Herenton - he and I have had a lot of clashes in the past. For the most part, he doesn't let me get under his skin, as hard as I try at times."

Ford said the scheduling of the pay raise item doesn't necessarily mean there will be a vote Oct. 16. But critics say a vote any time after the election makes the pay raise that would take effect in January about the winning candidate in the mayor's race.

Council chairman Tom Marshall proposed the idea. Herenton, who now makes $160,000 a year, has not offered an opinion.

"I wanted the mayor, whoever that might be ... to receive the same level of pay raise as the rank and file have over the four years," Marshall said. "I'd be happy to take the heat."

PROPERTY SALES 61 61 6,453
MORTGAGES 46 46 4,081
BUILDING PERMITS 113 113 15,474
BANKRUPTCIES 19 19 3,289