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VOL. 127 | NO. 237 | Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Council Debates Golf Courses Fate

By Bill Dries

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Four golf courses owned and run by the city of Memphis are closed for the winter season as the Memphis City Council continues to debate the fate of the Whitehaven golf course, one of the four, which was to be closed permanently starting this month.

City Chief Administrative Officer George Little made the call at the end of a vigorous council debate Tuesday, Dec. 4, that is likely to be repeated in two weeks when the council takes up the question again.

The other three city golf courses affected are Riverside, Davy Crockett and Pine Hill. The council and the administration decided during the budget season last spring that the four golf courses would close Dec. 1 with Whitehaven not reopening in the spring because they generated the least revenue of the eight city golf courses.

The decision would have saved the city $42,099, according to city Parks and Neighborhoods division director Janet Hooks.

This fall, the city administration attempted to change the permanent closing from Whitehaven to Davy Crockett, in Frayser.

Citizens who play Whitehaven have also taken their case for keeping Whitehaven open directly to council members in recent weeks.

So some on the council moved to keep Whitehaven open at least through the winter and to raise golf cart fees and charge non residents of Shelby County an additional fee to play the courses to cover the expense. But decisions on all of those have been delayed since November.

“Every day that goes by that we do not close these courses erodes into that $42,099,” Hooks said of staying open past the Dec. 1 closing date.

That led to the council debate that included questions by council member Joe Brown about why other golf courses weren’t affected.

“It’s either all or none or some,” Brown said at one point as he pushed for the two-week delay in any decision the council eventually went with. “All these golf courses that you are talking about closing in the African American community – that’s just not right.”

Council member Wanda Halbert proposed but then withdrew a motion to keep all eight city golf courses open during the winter. Hooks said that would cost the city an additional $350,000 to $400,000.

The council also dropped a resolution that would have advanced a Vance Avenue renovation plan by the Vance Avenue Collaborative that would have protected the Foote Homes public housing development against future demolition. The rival plan to one being developed by the Wharton administration that could include the demolition of Foote Homes, the last of the city’s large public housing developments, was to be sent to the Land Use Control Board for consideration under the resolution.

But council attorney Allan Wade advised council members they couldn’t take the action at least until the Memphis Housing Authority acts on an urban renewal plan. The plan will be for the much larger area including Foote Homes that the city wants to redevelop under the 20-year Heritage Trails plan.

The larger plan has drawn concern from other redevelopment agencies within the area, but not because of the controversy over the future of Foote Homes. Agencies like the Downtown Memphis Commission have said they want to know more about Wharton administration plans to make the larger area a tax increment financing zone to capture property tax revenue for the redevelopment costs.

Those same revenues are an integral part of tax breaks and incentives including payments in lieu of taxes that some of the redevelopment agencies use to leverage private investment within their smaller areas or zones.

Meanwhile, the council approved an expansion of an assisted living facility at the southwest corner of Baylor and Brunswick Roads near Bartlett.

The planned development for Caring Estates was approved by the Shelby County Commission earlier after much debate among commissioners.

Council members had some questions and heard from a neighbor opposed to the expansion as well as the owner before its vote to approve it.

The council also approved, with no debate, a rezoning on 37.1 acres of land on the northwest corner of New Frayser Boulevard and New Allen Road for the expansion of the Nike Northridge plant in Frayser.

The council approved on the second of three readings a “wage theft” ordinance to cover the city of Memphis that would be a companion to a similar ordinance covering unincorporated Shelby County that is making its way through the County Commission.

Third and final reading of a property registration ordinance designed to combat blight was delayed by the council until its Jan. 8 meeting.

Other items approved by the council Tuesday include accepting $4.5 million in two state grants to the Workforce Investment Network including money for a program to help retrain dislocated workers and a $102,210 appropriation for caulking of the Mud Island River Walk, a scale model of the Mississippi River.

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