VOL. 129 | NO. 152 | Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Council Approves Graceland Plan, Moves on Sales Tax Hike Referendum
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved Tuesday, Aug. 5, a tourism development zone application for the 120-acre Graceland campus and the master plan the zone would finance that includes a 450-room resort hotel and an archive exhibition space.
Meanwhile, the council approved the first of three readings of an ordinance that would put a half-cent sales tax hike on the November ballot for city voters. And it approved a one-year trial program for residential parking permits in the Overton Square area.
The referendum, proposed by council member Janis Fullilove, would ask voters to raise the local option sales tax rate by half a cent with 80 percent of the revenue from the increase going to police and fire services to reverse health insurance cuts the council approved in June. The remaining 20 percent of the revenue would go to the city’s bond debt service fund.
Fullilove began moving on the referendum ordinance although it is unclear whether there is enough time to put the question on the November ballot. She said she had been told the council must approve the ordinance on third and final reading by Labor Day in order to meet deadlines in election law for such matters. Approval on first reading Tuesday would put third reading past the Labor Day holiday.
The Tourism Development Zone application goes to state officials for approval next. Sales tax revenue made within the zone, which is the campus itself, goes to finance bonds issued by the city Economic Development Growth Engine – or EDGE. The portion of the sales tax revenue made in the zone that would otherwise go to local education would still go to local education.
The Graceland items approved Tuesday are the first in a series of actions by the city connected to an expansion of the landmark’s presence in Whitehaven.
The financing plan includes future council votes on a five percent tourism surcharge in addition to the sales tax charged on items bought in the tourism development zone. And there would also be a tax increment financing district for Graceland that goes to the council at some point in the future.
Officials with Elvis Presley Enterprises will formally break ground on the hotel, which will be the third largest hotel in the city, on Aug. 14, during Elvis Week.
The council approved the residential parking permit zone on a one-year trial basis as a way of resolving parking problems that have come with the revitalization of the Overton Square area. Some homeowners have complained that they can’t park near their homes because of the side street traffic specifically around Restaurant Iris and Second Line on Monroe Avenue.
The ordinance approved by the council Tuesday allows 75 percent of the homeowners on a street to petition the council for permits that would permit only them to park on their street. If the council approves, the designation comes with signs marking the area for permit parking only and permits, at a fee of $50 per permit, although the council could waive the fee.
Kelly English, owner of the two restaurants on Monroe Avenue, opposes the permits saying it could hurt his business.
But the council heard from numerous homeowners on Monroe by the restaurants who favored the proposal. They argued that it is necessary since restaurant patrons are unwilling to use the nearby Overton Square Parking Garage.
In other action, the council approved a special use permit for the Exchange Building on Court Square that would convert the apartment building to a gradual blend of apartments and hotel rooms.
The council also appropriated $750,000 for renovations to the Pink Palace Planetarium and $104,000 for improvements to Denver Park in Frayser.
The council delayed for two weeks an $8.8 million electric construction and maintenance contract Memphis Light Gas and Water Division approved with Davis H. Elliot Construction Co. of Lexington, Ky.
Council members wanted to know why the contract didn’t go to a Memphis company.
MLGW president Jerry Collins said the highest bid was from a Memphis company whose price was $2 million higher than the Elliot bid.