Wharton Scraps Handy Park Lease

By Bill Dries

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. scrapped a proposed lease of Handy Park in the Beale Street entertainment district Tuesday, Sept. 17, that would have settled the federal bankruptcy case involving control of the district.

Instead City Attorney Herman Morris told Memphis City Council members the administration will seek to settle the bankruptcy case of Performa Entertainment another way.

The other way is paying a $600,000 loan Performa founder John Elkington took out for improvement to the park with revenue the city now gets from its role as owners of the district.

Beyond that, the city will move to day-to-day management of the district with Elkington and Performa’s exit for a brief period and then hire a firm to temporarily run the district including Handy Park as the city puts out a request for qualifications to hire a permanent management firm.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Jennie Latta would have to approve the alternative to the original lease deal which was with a company formed by a group of Beale Street tenants.

If the court doesn’t approve, settlement talks resume and Performa remains in place on Beale.

The lease proposal drew criticism from several council members who complained that the city didn’t open the process to bidders or take various proposals before settling on one.

The group in the original lease deal would have paid off the $600,000 loan for park improvements specifically to settle the case.

Meanwhile, the council approved the reappointment of Al Bright Jr. as chairman of the Economic Development Growth Engine. The Shelby County Commission had previously approved Bright’s reappointment by Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

In committee sessions Tuesday, council member Harold Collins said his proposal to decrease the percentage of city property tax abatements awarded by the EDGE board in payments in lieu of taxes – or PILOTS – from 90 percent to 75 percent would be back before the council in December.

Collins said he is working on details of a final draft as he hears from business leaders and others on the impact. The 75 percent figure is the percentage used in the abatement of Shelby County property taxes.

There was no discussion Tuesday of the still pending proposal to set the city’s monthly solid waste fee at $25.05 and kick off a phased in plan over several years to fundamentally change city sanitation services and provide up to a $1,000 monthly retirement supplement for sanitation workers.

The ordinance to raise the solid waste fee was approved on the second of three readings Tuesday with no discussion and third and final reading set for the council’s Oct. 1 session.

In other action, the council approved three radio transmission towers at Omar Robinson Road and Holmes Street for Flinn Broadcasting Inc. Council member Shea Flinn, who works for the broadcasting company, recused himself from the vote.

The council also approved a $60,000 appropriation for repair work at the Gaston Community Center in South Memphis.