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VOL. 128 | NO. 236 | Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Council Approves Crosstown Funding, Delays Redbirds Decision

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members approved $15 million in city funding that is a combination of federal grants, bonds and stormwater funding Tuesday, Dec. 3, as the last piece of financing for the Crosstown revitalization project.

And the council delayed a vote on the city’s proposed $25 million purchase of AutoZone Park until they reconvene Tuesday’s council meeting on Monday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.

The two multi-million dollar deals topped a busy day at City Hall in which the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. had also been scheduled to pitch its plan for funding more of the city’s unfunded pension liability. The council put off the presentation but Wharton said he would be telling city employees of the plan Wednesday.

Council members had plenty of questions about the Crosstown financing, which is $15 million out of a $180 million project, as well as the deal to buy the ballpark in which the St. Louis Cardinals organization would also buy the Memphis Redbirds franchise.

And council members had plenty of gripes about getting information on each of the complex deals with little time to examine the details.

The ballpark and the team are owned by the equity firm Fundamental Advisors after the Memphis Redbirds Foundation defaulted on bonds in 2009.

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said without the deal, Fundamental Advisors could foreclose on the ballpark and the franchise and sell them at auction possibly with parts of the ballpark being sold in pieces and the franchise moved to another city.

Council members had more problems with the rushed nature of the presentation and the call for a vote Tuesday than they did at times with the details.

Meanwhile, the Shelby County Commission which owns some of the land the ballpark is built will be asked to sign off on the deal later this month.

In the case of the Crosstown funding, council members repeatedly questioned the administration’s funding estimates and revenue numbers.

Part of the $15 million in the city piece would be $500,000 from Memphis Light Gas and Water Division’s fund in the transition in which it will handle street lighting obligations that until now the city of Memphis had provided.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this $500,000,” said utility president Jerry Collins when asked about the detail by council member Harold Collins.

Council members Harold Collins and Wanda Halbert abstained in the vote on the funding resolution.

With the last piece of the Crosstown financing in place, private investors are expected to make their final commitments to tentative financing that will allow a two-year construction period to begin on the 1.5 million square foot building early next year.

In other action, the council voted down the long-delayed effort by the Wharton administration to reset the city’s solid waste fee at the higher rate it was before the July 1 start of the current fiscal year.

And the council approved a retirement supplement of up to $1,000 a month for city sanitation workers with an amendment that if savings from an overhaul of sanitation services to come don’t materialize, the supplement will not be paid by the city.

City Chief Administrative Officer George Little insisted the two items were separate matters for the council. But when the council approved the supplement after denying the solid waste fee hike, Little said the savings to fund the supplement would probably be more difficult but not impossible for the city to realize.

The savings are supposed to be realized through an agreement with the union representing sanitation workers for them to work on routes that include more stops, increasing efficiency. The revenue from the fee hike would have gone to buy new recycling containers to increase the materials the city recycles as well as update a vehicle fleet that is nearly 20 years old.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159