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VOL. 128 | NO. 202 | Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Council Approves Beale Deal, Delays Highland McDonald's

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members sent a plan Tuesday, Oct. 15, to settle the last barrier to direct day to day city control of the Beale Street entertainment district to a federal bankruptcy judge.

The council approved a resolution that would use $400,000 from a dormant city fund related to the abandoned Midtown interstate corridor and $100,000 in revenues it has collected from the Beale Street district to pay off a loan Beale Street developer John Elkington took out for improvements he made to Handy Park.

The Handy Park loan goes to federal bankruptcy court judge Jennie Latta for her approval. Latta had already scheduled a hearing Nov. 6 of all parties in the bankruptcy case involving Elkington’s company, Performa Entertainment.

Performa’s bankruptcy filing was part of a series of actions settling the legal dispute between the city and Performa. Still unresolved in Chancery Court is a lawsuit among both parties and Beale Street Development Corp., the nonprofit middle man between the city, which owns the district, and Performa, which subleased from the BSDC.

If Latta accepts the arrangement on the Handy Park debt, it could lead to direct city control of the district for an interim period as the city seeks to hire first an interim management firm as it solicits requests for proposals from management firms to run the district long term.

The council also delayed action Tuesday on a proposed new McDonald’s restaurant at the southeast corner of Highland Street and Southern Avenue. Neighbors oppose the loop drive-through that Century Management, the developers, say is essential. But the setback from the street involved with such a drive-through violates terms of the University District overlay.

Cindy Reaves, representing Century Management, told the council the developers are willing to compromise and put the building at an angle on the lot but still insist on keeping the drive-through. The alternate plan is being reviewed by McDonald’s corporate office.

Council members also held up Tuesday on approving the portion of the minutes from their Oct. 1 meeting that would set in motion $1.5 million in city funding for a renovation of Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven.

The council approved the measure contingent on the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. researching the legality. The funding for the improvements would come from federal funding for streetscape improvements along Elvis Presley Boulevard between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive.

But the mall may be considered a private use for which such government funding cannot be used. If it is a private use and the federal funding is used, it would jeopardize not only the renovation project. It could lead to a withdrawal of funding for the larger streetscape project.

The administration didn’t have a legal opinion Tuesday on the matter and wanted another two weeks before the council made the funding final with the approval of the meeting minutes.

The council approved a $225 million general improvement refunding bond issue Tuesday as well as a companion $150 million issuance of commercial paper in general obligation bonds that is part of a process of moving short-term city debt over one to three years to longer term debt of approximately 20 years.

And the council approved a residential tax abatement program contingent on approval from the Tennessee Attorney General. The measure, sponsored by council member Lee Harris, targets “tax dead” or “tax limbo” properties in which property owners owe much more back taxes on the property than the property is worth. The Attorney General’s office in Nashville is being asked to issue a legal opinion on the program.

The council also approved a combined $255,000 in funding by Memphis Light Gas and Water Division for the Greater Memphis Chamber. The resolutions had been delayed two weeks ago in the committee headed by council member Janis Fullilove.

Both resolutions cleared the committee Tuesday although the committee session featured a blistering rebuke by Fullilove of MLGW president Jerry Collins over Smart Meters.

After the committee session, council chairman Edmund Ford announced he was forming an ad hoc council committee to examine the council’s rules of procedure. Ford said actions by council members prompted the reexamination of the rules including possible interference by an unnamed council member in a member of the administration performing his or her duties.

Collins is appointed by the mayor in his position as head of the utility.

The committee consists of council members Wanda Halbert, Bill Boyd and Myron Lowery. It is to make its report in November.

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