VOL. 130 | NO. 234 | Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Council Approves Smart Meter Pact, Compromises on Water Rate Hike, Idlewild Gate
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved Tuesday, Dec. 1, a $240-million five-year contract between Memphis Light Gas and Water Division and Elster Solutions LLC to outfit most of the city with Smart Meters.
The item was part of a busy agenda at the next to last council meeting of 2015 and the next to last meeting of the current council’s four-year term of office. It included compromises on a water rate hike and a gate across Idlewild Street in Midtown.
The council approved a 22 percent water rate hike proposed by MLGW effective next month. In a compromise, MLGW proposed and the council approved a corresponding 2.91 percent electric rate decrease for residential and small general service customers for 2016 as a tradeoff for the water rate increase.
Council members also worked out a compromise over a controversial plan by Belz Investco to close Idlewild Street south of Union and install a metal gate across the roadway.
The street is between the Midtown Kroger being built on the site of the current Kroger store and the site of the mixed-use Midtown Market proposed development by Belz at Union Avenue and McLean Boulevard.
Belz said it would not move forward with development of Midtown Market, which will include a competing supermarket as an anchor tenant, without the gate across the road. Some residents of the area opposed the gate.
Council members, meanwhile, substituted a left turn off Union onto McLean for westbound Union traffic for the gate. That was combined with a change in Idlewild for one-way traffic on one part and two-way traffic on another part to keep traffic from cutting through the residential area.
Council member and mayor-elect Jim Strickland convinced Belz that as mayor he would have the ability to deliver the street changes essential to the compromise.
“In about 30 days, I’m going to have slightly more influence than I have now,” he said. “And I feel very good that I can get a left turn.”
Attorney Nathan Bicks, representing Belz, was concerned that only the city engineer can deliver the change and that Strickland can’t make that promise until he is mayor.
“He appoints the city engineer,” Lowery countered.
Bicks agreed to the compromise which sets the stage for Belz to close on the Union and McLean property and begin development work.
The council also approved the 99-year lease of Central Station by private developers from the Memphis Area Transit Authority to develop the property including the train station as a multi-use development. The development includes a movie theater, expanded market place, apartments and a hotel.
The council voted down a proposed convenience store and gas station at Third Street and A.W. Willis Avenue after several delays and opposition from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Bridges and the Uptown Community Association.
And in other planning and development items, the council approved a retail development on the southwest corner of Broad Avenue and Tillman Street anchored by an animal hospital.
Meanwhile, the council approved a lease agreement with the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority that paves the way for the authority to take control of the entertainment district with the new year in behalf of the city.
The authority votes on the contract at its Dec. 10 meeting. Meanwhile, the authority is moving toward hiring a day-to-day manager of the district with a request for proposal that was issued last month. The deadline for management companies to apply is Dec. 18. The authority hopes to hire a manager by the end of 2015 or at the start of 2016.
The council’s agenda is likely to be just as crowded in two weeks at its final meeting of the year.
The council got its first look Tuesday in committee of a $4.8 million proposal to expand the number of seats with backs in the Liberty Bowl stadium. The proposal to add 4,000 seats with backs but reduce existing capacity by 1,400 is backed by the tenants of the stadium including the University of Memphis and the Southern Heritage Classic.
University of Memphis assistant athletic director Ryan Alpert said the university is willing to reimburse the city for the cost of the seat conversion, an offer council members were quick to write into the resolution they will vote on in two weeks.
Alpert said the university considers the seat conversion part of the school’s desire to move to the Power 5 athletic conference.
The council also heard from City Court Clerk Thomas Long a month from the end of Long’s 20-year tenure as the elected clerk.
Long called for the clerk’s position to become a position appointed by the mayor and the office a division of city government. He also called for city court judges to be appointed by the mayor.
Long urged the council to put a charter amendment to make the change to city voters on the October 2019 Memphis elections ballot.