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VOL. 123 | NO. 13 | Friday, January 18, 2008

Daily Digest

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Vinings in Germantown Sells for $6 Million

     All 63 lots in the Vinings at Germantown Subdivision have sold for just less than $6 million to a local limited liability company. RAM Holdings LLC, which sale documents list at a Germantown address, bought the property from St. James Place LLC.
     The purchase was financed with a $6 million loan through Merchants and Farmers Bank.
     Vinings at Germantown is on the north side of Winchester Road between Forest Hill-Irene and Crestwyn roads. A site plat filed in March with the Shelby County Register of Deeds shows the 63 lots on 31.02 acres.
     Local developer William "Rusty" Hyneman signed sale documents as the chief manager of the seller, St. James Place.
     Representatives of RAM Holdings could not be reached for comment by press time.

Bush, Bernanke Back Package To Stimulate Economy

     President Bush and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday embraced calls for an economic stimulus package to avert recession. Bernanke said such a plan should be quickly implemented and temporary so that it won't complicate longer-term fiscal challenges.
     The Fed chief, in testimony to the House Budget Committee, said efforts that involve "putting money into the hands of households and firms would be more effective" than other provisions, such as making Bush's tax cut permanent.
     While shying away from endorsing a specific plan, Bernanke made clear his support for the general concept of an economic rescue package. It is likely that any such package would include tax rebates.
     "Fiscal action could be helpful in principle" and may provide "broader support for the economy" than the Fed can furnish alone through reductions in interest rates, Bernanke said. However, "the design and implementation of the fiscal program are critically important," he said.
     Bernanke forecast slower growth in 2008 but not a recession.
     At the White House, spokesman Tony Fratto said, "The president does believe that over the short term, to deal with the softening of the economy, that some boost is necessary."
     That marked the first White House confirmation that Bush, confronting a deepening economic crisis that has shaken much of the nation, supports government intervention. Until now, the White House said the president was just considering some type of short-term boost.
     Fratto would not divulge the details or what the stimulus would look like, other than to say all options are being considered.
     The shaping of a stimulus package was expected to accelerate Thursday during a conference call between Bush and congressional leaders.
     "I would characterize it as a consultation," Fratto said.
     Fratto declined to say when the president could announce a package, or whether it would be before or after the State of the Union address later this month.

Home Builders' Confidence Remains Near Record Low

     A reading of U.S. homebuilders' sentiment remained near a record low in January, as gloom engulfed the housing industry.
     The National Association of Home Builders said Wednesday its housing market index, which gauges builders' perceptions of current conditions, interest from potential buyers and expectations for home sales over the next six months, came in at 19 in January - the second-lowest point on record.
     The group also revised December's reading downward by one point to a new record low of 18, the lowest result since the index began in 1985.
     Nevertheless, shares of major builders rose Thursday, as investors took comfort in components of the index that showed rising expectations for sales and more traffic from potential buyers.
     The index has been below 20 since October, a sign of persistent pessimism from builders.
     Last year, total new home sales in the U.S. are projected to have dropped around 25 percent from 1.05 million in 2006. This year is forecast to be another dismal one.
     The builders trade group predicts new home sales will drop to 741,000 this year, down 6.6 percent from a projected 793,000 in 2007, before climbing back to 838,000 in 2009.
     Index readings higher than 50 indicate positive sentiment. The seasonally adjusted index has been below 50 since May 2006. It plummeted from 35 in January 2007 to 18 in December.
     Confidence remained unchanged in the Northeast, inched up in the Midwest and South and fell sharply in the West.

Workers' Comp Bill Looms Over Restaurant Owners

     Restaurant owners across the state may have to pay thousands each to shore up a workers' compensation fund the state says was mismanaged.
     The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is suing Ronnie Hart, the president and chief executive of the Tennessee Restaurant Association. Among other things, the suit claims Hart received excessive fees for running the group's workers' compensation fund.
     Frank Grisanti, a Memphis restaurant owner and a trustee with the insurance fund, might have to pay $60,000 as his portion of the trust's shortfall.
     Grisanti said he knew Hart was making a profit while running the trust, but he didn't see it as a conflict.
     "I guess it turns out that it was poor judgment, if what everybody says is true," Grisanti said. "Everything we were presented showed us the trust was operating soundly. ... I think we're better restaurateurs than we are insurance people."
     The state liquidated the group's workers' compensation fund two years ago and is asking about 500 restaurant owners to come up with a $4.8 million shortfall to pay injured workers.
     The owners have asked to delay a hearing scheduled for next week to determine whether they will have to pay.
     The state's suit against Hart alleges he relied on the board's trust in him to "induce them to approve otherwise excessive fees" in the nearly 10 years his company, Hospitality Management Plus, ran the fund.
     For example, in 2004 the company received $642,000 - more than double the $315,000 a year in its contract, the suit states.
     Hart, who makes roughly $102,000 a year as the restaurant association's top lobbyist, said he followed all laws and regulations when he ran the fund.
     "Everything that occurred during that period of time was disclosed," Hart said. "We tried to do things the right way."
     Even if the state wins its suit against Hart, it may not recover much money from him. He recently declared bankruptcy and a court filing shows he owes about $500,000 to creditors, including the Internal Revenue Service and banks that lent money to Hospitality Management Plus.

Katrina Photography Exhibit On Display at Tunica Museum

     A new photography exhibit is on display at the Tunica Museum that documents how thousands of people were affected by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
     Photographer Melody Golding spent a year on the Gulf Coast documenting the recovery efforts for her exhibit, "Katrina: Mississippi Women Remember," which is on display through April 15.
     Golding originally went to the affected areas as a Red Cross volunteer but also took along her camera. All of the royalties from the pictures in a companion book to the exhibit are being donated to the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort.

Civil Rights Museum To Receive Spring Cleaning

     More than 100 volunteers will help spruce up the National Civil Rights Museum in late March. The effort is part of Hampton Hotels' "Save A Landmark" program.
     The museum was built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
     The March clean-up effort will come just before the 40th anniversary of King's death in April, which is expected to draw large crowds.
     Critics of the museum's administration have pointed to the lack of maintenance of the exterior and some of the exhibits. But in December, state officials approved a new 15-year lease with the museum's nonprofit foundation. The agreement is expected to remedy the situation.
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