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VOL. 127 | NO. 35 | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Council to Weigh Pink Palace Funding

By Bill Dries

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A $20 million upgrade of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum tops the Tuesday, Feb. 21, Memphis City Council agenda that also includes two items key to Overton Square redevelopment and $510,000 in capital appropriations for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

In addition to Pink Palace and MATA funding, the city council on Tuesday will address two items related to the redevelopment of Overton Square in Midtown.

(Memphis Daily News File Photo)

The city council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

The council is being asked to approve $10 million for the Pink Palace in city capital improvements project, or CIP, funding that will accumulate over several years. The second item is a contract with Memphis Museums Inc., a private nonprofit supporting the museum in Chickasaw Gardens that obligates MMI to raise another $10 million in private funding.

With the funding, MMI will hire planners to plot out an ambitious reconfiguration of the landmark with the council to approve future plans and construction that would tentatively start in 2015.

The plans will likely include a new museum entrance closer to Central Avenue and updated science exhibits, as well as a better use of the old mansion – which was intended to be the home of Memphis supermarket entrepreneur Clarence Saunders.

Saunders never lived in the mansion, which is made of pink Georgia marble and now known as the Pink Palace. Before construction was completed, it was donated to the city of Memphis.

The MATA spending is spread over four items.

MATA has awarded the $50,000 contract for the repaving work at the transit authority’s headquarters at 1370 Levee Road to Barnes & Brower. The repaving in contingent on the council’s approval.

The council will also vote on a $200,000 “alternatives analysis” to look at new ways of providing transit service in Midtown. The allocation comes from a previous budget line item that was to go to new MATA transfer centers.

Another $60,000 appropriation on Tuesday’s agenda is for a new transit signal system on Poplar Avenue and on Elvis Presley Boulevard. MATA started a new Poplar Avenue express bus route late last year that it expects to replicate in other parts of the city on major thoroughfares.

And the council will vote on another $200,000 appropriation that is the city’s share of the cost of the first of 15 new fixed-route buses. The 40-foot-long hybrid buses will replace an equal number of buses that are now ready to be retired.

The cost of all 15 buses from Gillig Corp. totals $8.4 million, and the city’s share is 8.5 percent or $716,868. Included in the cost is a bus line inspection required for the use of federal funding to buy the buses.

Two items key to the redevelopment of the Overton Square entertainment district are on Tuesday’s agenda.

A request for a hotel waiver for the corner of Madison Avenue and Cooper Street that is the site of the old French Quarter Suites Hotel has been delayed. Developers of what is to be a new hotel on the site seek to meet with the community again.

Hotel waivers are required even with a change in brand at an existing hotel because the council placed a moratorium on all new hotel permits years ago in an effort to battle the proliferation of hourly rate motels. The council grants waivers after questioning new owners closely about their intentions and room rates.

The other item still on the agenda at the beginning of the week is a resolution approving a planned development on the northwest corner of Cooper and Monroe Avenue that is the reconfiguration of the Overton Square’s cornerstone property by Loeb Properties Inc. The item was held at the council’s Dec. 6 meeting.

In other action, the council votes Tuesday on a plan by Red Mountain Development to build 328 apartment units on the south side of Winchester Road west of Forest Hill-Irene Road. The plan is an amendment to the Forest Hill Heights Planned Development.

The council also votes on a special use permit for the expansion of the Memphis Union Mission on three acres of land behind the existing mission on Poplar Avenue at High Street.

At a 12:45 p.m. budget committee session, City Finance Director Roland McElrath will tell council members local property tax collections for the first half of the current fiscal year are running about $9.9 million behind year-to-date projections. The reason is lower assessed property values and a slower collection pace for the year.

Local option sales tax collections have been about $1.1 million higher than projected for the first six months ending Dec. 31, 2011, of fiscal year 2012, which ends June 30.

City expenditures for the same six months was $327.7 million – lower than what was budgeted for by $19.7 million and lower than the same six-month period in 2010 by $2.2 million.

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