Council Weighs Crosstown, AutoZone Park Deals

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council members could complete financing Tuesday, Dec. 3, of the Crosstown project. And there will be a move by some on the council to delay any decision on the proposal for the city to buy AutoZone Park.

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

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The City Council on Tuesday will hear details of a $15 million block of city funding for the $180 million Crosstown revitalization project.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The first confirmed details of the dollar figures in the proposal for the city to buy AutoZone Park as the St. Louis Cardinals buy the Memphis Redbirds franchise show the city would pay $20 million for the ballpark but would also commit to paying another $5 million for improvements. The Cardinals front office would put up $15 million for changes to the ballpark itself in addition to buying the team.

Meanwhile, Council members get details of a $15 million block of city funding for the $180 million Crosstown revitalization at the council’s 1:15 p.m. executive session.

Depending on what the council hears about reports last week of a block of state and federal funding to come up with the infrastructure money, the item could go to the council for a vote at the 3:30 p.m. meeting. It is not on the agenda for a vote currently.

That’s also the case with the city’s proposal to buy AutoZone Park from the nonprofit Memphis Redbirds Foundation as one half of a two-part deal. The St. Louis Cardinals organization would buy the Memphis Redbirds franchise from the foundation and lease the park from the city of Memphis.

Seven votes on the council could add it to the agenda for a vote. But just before the Thanksgiving holiday break, council member Jim Strickland said he would move to postpone any council decision Tuesday on the matter.

“I have requested copies of any applicable contracts and submitted many questions to the mayor and the Redbirds Foundation about the details of the plan,” Strickland wrote in an email to constituents Wednesday, Nov. 27. “To date, I have not received any answers. … The details of this deal are very important and must be reviewed thoroughly before any vote is taken.”

Council members indicated last month they will want to know the term of a lease agreement with a Redbirds team owned by the Cardinals, particularly whether the rent the team pays would cover the city’s cost of buying the ballpark. They also have questions about who would pay for improvements to the ballpark the Cardinals would like to see.

The changes have gotten as far as renderings the Cardinals’ front office executives featured at a Nov. 19 invitation-only presentation at AutoZone Park. The plans would take out some seating in right field and at the end of the first- and third-base lines. The plans also call for fewer seats and the addition of tables in the club level area.

The Nov. 19 presentation featured no dollar figures and Wharton said those details and others were still being negotiated, although the Cardinals organization, in advance of the November presentation, posted a press release announcing the plan was a done deal to which Wharton had agreed.

Wharton and the Cardinals’ front office have said the deal is working against a yearend deadline. Several council members have questioned the deadline.

Tuesday’s council session is the next to last council meeting of 2013.

Council members are likely to question the administration closely on any rearrangement of grant funding the city receives from the state and federal governments if there is a plan to shift some of it to the Crosstown project.

In such a shift, council members usually ask which projects in which council districts would be on the other end of such a movement of dollars.

Last month, the council approved the planned development for the Crosstown project.

Crosstown LLC plans to begin construction early next year.

The city funding would be used for interior demolition within the 1.5 million-square-foot structure, and other infrastructure work.

Tuesday’s council agenda includes the second of three readings of a proposal to cut the monthly permit fee that some Downtown and Medical Center businesses pay for dumpsters in public alleys from $500 to $200.

The council also votes on a resolution by council member Lee Harris that would stop any further city payments for legal fees in the municipal school districts case pending in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

And back on the agenda after being delayed in November is the third and final reading of an ordinance that would create a monthly retirement supplement of up to $1,000 for city sanitation workers.