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VOL. 128 | NO. 216 | Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Council to Talk Over Convention Center Study

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members talk Tuesday, Nov. 5, about setting up a study committee with county leaders on expanding the Memphis Cook Convention Center. And the council will vote on $7.5 million in capital funding to kick off city plans to redevelop the Raleigh Springs Mall property.

The Memphis Cook Convention Center is the hub of Memphis’ convention business. The City Council is looking into the center’s expansion or even replacement. 

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

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

Follow the meeting on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tdnpols.

The convention center resolution will be discussed at a 1 p.m. committee session. The administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has been talking up the idea of expansion or construction of a new convention center elsewhere since a new convention center in Nashville neared completion and opened recently.

The funding resolution on the council agenda for Raleigh Springs Mall involves building the new Memphis Police Department traffic division office on the site of the mall.

Meanwhile, the council could have a legal opinion Tuesday from the city attorney’s office on another $1.5 million in funding the council approved conditionally earlier for the renovation of Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven.

The council’s approval was contingent on a legal opinion about whether the use of the funding is for a private use that could endanger not only the $1.5 million but all of the remaining federal funding granted for streetscape improvements along Elvis Presley Boulevard.

The council pulled the item from the minutes of the Oct. 1 meeting it approved at its Oct. 15 meeting. That delayed final approval of the funding under council rules.

Council members also get their first look Tuesday in an 11 a.m. committee meeting at a proposal by Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to increase water rates by 2.5 percent effective with when utility meters are read in January.

Other items on the council’s agenda later in the afternoon include the second of three readings on an ordinance to create a retirement supplement for the city’s sanitation workers of up to $1,000 a month. It is part of a larger plan to overhaul city sanitation services that the council delayed until December. Savings from the plan are supposed to pay for the supplement.

Council members voted in October to delay approving those measures. Some on the council argued that the plan had become linked to the city’s unfunded pension liability even though the administration denies the retirement supplement is a form of pension benefit.

At some point, Wharton plans to take a fix for the pension liability to the council for approval – possibly in December or January when the council traditionally makes budget adjustments at the halfway point in the fiscal year. The budget change is expected to be more than an adjustment, with estimates of $60 million to $80 million the city will have to divert from other areas and priorities to deal with the unfunded liability or risk having state officials mandate it.

The council also votes Tuesday on a land swap between the city park services division and First Unitarian Church, also known as Church on the River. The city would give the church a part of Martyr’s Park on the river bluff by the church in exchange for what is now church property off Channel 3 Drive running up to the Harahan Rail Bridge. The land swap is to build an entry point onto the pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk to be built on the north side of the bridge across the Mississippi River. Construction is scheduled to begin later this month.

Also on the council agenda Tuesday is the Overton Square North planned development by Loeb Properties, a 0.36-acre site on the northwest corner of Cooper Street at Court Avenue that has a single-family home on it with an asphalt parking lot.

While local planning bodies and the council have approved some office or residential work uses on the stretch of Cooper north of the Madison Avenue intersection, the Loeb proposal is for commercial use.

Plans for the site request to use it for “an expanded inventory of commercial uses in addition to residential and office,” according to a staff report by the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development. The staff recommended the council set restrictions on what kind of commercial development would be possible on the site.

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