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VOL. 129 | NO. 34 | Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Council Tours Pyramid, Weighs City Offices In Two Malls

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members heard Tuesday, Feb. 18, that the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. wants to move some city government offices into the Soulsville Town Center in South Memphis and is weighing whether to renovate or tear down and build anew on the site of the Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven.

Those two projects as well as the city’s plans for the Raleigh Springs Mall property all hinge on moving government offices or facilities into the properties as a catalyst for private development.

The council is scheduled to vote in March on a resolution that would appropriate $7.6 million in funds the city has had in its budget for three years to begin construction of a police traffic precinct on the Raleigh Springs Mall property.

City Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said the Southbrook and Soulsville plans are “concepts” at this point with the administration waiting to see how the council wants to proceed.

Repairing the Whitehaven mall for the city offices would cost $7.6 million, according to administration estimates compared to $13.7 million to demolish it and replace it.

Without a public use, the mall cannot be renovated using city funds. A prior proposal by council member Janis Fullilove was to give the mall owners $1.5 million to make roof and heating and air conditioning repairs. It ran afoul of the ban on using such capital funds for what city attorneys considered a “private use.”

The three projects were part of a council day at City Hall that included a tour of The Pyramid for a look at renovations Bass Pro Shops is making. The administration said the outdoors retailer is slated to open its second largest store in the country in the Pyramid along with other attractions in late December. Famed fisherman Bill Dance, filling in for Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, who was opening a store in New York, said the date was Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, the council approved hiring its own actuary firm to review the other part of the city’s financial state – the unfunded pension liability. The council voted to hire Segal Consulting of Atlanta to advise it as the council prepared for a March 4 committee session in which it will meet with the administration’s actuary.

The council won’t employ Segal to come up with an alternate plan as the company originally pitched. The cost is expected to be $45,000 to $65,000. Wharton agreed that his administration would find the money to fund the cost.

Meanwhile, council chairman Jim Strickland announced that Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson and Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard will also attend the March 4 committee session which Strickland and other council members have nicknamed “actuary day.”

Council members are also rethinking the streetlight fee Memphis Light Gas and Water division has been charging.

The monthly fee has several different rates for homeowners, renters, small commercial property owners and large commercial property owners.

The council voted Tuesday, Feb. 18, to recommend the utility board consider a new set of rates that would be the same for homeowners and renters.

The key to the formula is that the set of rates have to bring in a total of $12.9 million in revenue to pay the cost of the streetlights.

With that assumption, council member Lee Harris proposed a monthly fee of $3.17 for homeowners and rental dwellers, a rate of $6.67 for owners of “small commercial” properties and $19.54 for owners of “large commercial” properties.

The current rate for homeowners is $4.32. For apartment renters it is $1.08. For small commercial, the monthly rate is $6.48 and for large commercial, the rate is $19.07.

The proposal includes no exceptions for areas of the city that don’t have street lights or planned unit developments where homeowners have already paid for streetlights and their maintenance.

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