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VOL. 8 | NO. 14 | Saturday, March 28, 2015

Daily Digest

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Vans Store Skating to Wolfchase Galleria

Wolfchase Galleria has landed the city’s first Vans store.

Vans is a legendary “skateboard” brand that began making footwear in 1966 and now manufactures a popular line of men and women’s sneakers, skateboarding shoes, clothing and accessories.

Vans will locate on the lower level center court at Wolfchase and open sometime this spring.

“Wolfchase Galleria continues to offer the most popular selection of stores for local residents and visitors alike,” said Arianne Cousin, the property’s director of marketing and business development, in a statement. “We anticipate that Vans will be very popular with our style-savvy shoppers who already enjoy our impressive retail mix.”

While addressing Vans, Wolfchase officials still aren’t willing to talk about the next big tenant expected to land at Wolfchase, The Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain.

Earlier in March, Wolfchase’s owner, Simon Property Group, applied for a $4.2 million building permit to erect a Cheesecake Factory inside the Cordova Mall at 2760 N. Germantown Parkway. The application said it was for “tenant improvement” and lists the tenant as The Cheesecake Factory.

– Amos Maki

Hopson Urges Caution in Joining Funding Lawsuit

Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson wants to take another 30 to 45 days to examine a lawsuit filed Tuesday, March 24, against the state of Tennessee by seven public school systems in the Chattanooga area over state funding of the Basic Education Program.

The BEP is the formula that determines how state funding is dispersed among public school systems in Tennessee.

SCS leaders are among school system leaders across the state who believe the state should fully fund the formula. A lawsuit would seek to force the state to do so.

The lawsuit was filed the day after Hopson and several other leaders of urban school systems met with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam in Nashville. Haslam requested the meeting to discuss the issue before it moved to legal action.

The Shelby County Schools board delayed a vote on hiring an attorney to consider joining such a lawsuit when Haslam indicated he wanted to talk. Metro Nashville Schools leaders have also indicated they are not at the point where they want to consider legal action.

“He is committed,” Hopson said of Haslam’s desire to increase state funding, particularly when it comes to teacher pay and insurance. But Hopson said Haslam also cited state budget constraints on fully funding the BEP.

Hopson, an attorney, also said the school system should weigh carefully the merits of the lawsuit filed Tuesday before a school board decision on joining the lawsuit.

“You want to make sure that you fully understand the merits of your suit,” he said of SCS potentially signing on as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

– Bill Dries

Chamber Taps Rieger to Lead Membership Efforts

The Greater Memphis Chamber has found a new senior vice president of membership, Tom Rieger.

Rieger was instrumental in the creation of the Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, a group of more than 100 CEOs who collaborate with organizations in the Memphis area on key civic initiatives, and has provided strategic consulting services for the chamber as the president of TNR & Associates, which is based in Denver.

As head of the membership department, Rieger will work to improve member benefits and engage with the business community in more “results-based ways,” the chamber said in a statement. Rieger will oversee major fundraising activities, conduct membership drive campaigns and implement revenue enhancement opportunities.

“My mission is to unite the business community to win the jobs war in Memphis,” said Rieger in a statement.

– Amos Maki

Property Crimes Drop 12 Percent Countywide

Major property crimes in Shelby County dropped 12.1 percent in February, compared to a year ago, according to crime statistics kept by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission.

The property crime rate in Memphis last month was down 10 percent compared to February 2014.

Meanwhile, major violent crimes countywide dropped 4.9 percent in February and citywide dropped 4.8 percent compared to a year ago.

By the four categories that make up the major violent crime category, there were increases in murders and aggravated assaults from a year ago.

Murders countywide were up 10.5 percent and citywide increased by 23.5 percent.

Aggravated assaults countywide were up 3.4 percent and citywide increased by 3.9 percent.

But those increases were offset by a 30.6 percent decrease in reported rapes countywide and an 18.4 percent drop in robberies countywide.

For the city, reported rapes were down 32.5 percent and aggravated assaults dropped 18.7 percent from a year ago.

Compared to 2006, when the crime commission began tracking the statistics as part of the Operation Safe Community effort, major violent crime countywide is down 27.4 percent and citywide is down 23.1 percent.

Major property crime by that measure is down 41.5 percent countywide, and it is down 38.9 percent citywide.

Operation Safe Community is the coalition of local law enforcement, criminal justice and social services agencies behind the city and county’s focus on crime statistics and focusing law enforcement on crime hot spots with targeted strategies.

– Bill Dries

DeltaARTS’ Levee Event Provides Art, Music, Food

DeltaARTS’ fourth annual “Art on the Levee” art auction will be held Saturday, April 25, at the historic Waverly Plantation in Proctor, Ark., starting at 5 p.m.

This event, which supports the programs of DeltaARTS, will feature live music from The Snearly Ranch Boys, Gus’s Fried Chicken and catfish dinner, complimentary beer and wine, tours of the historic grounds and home, live and silent auctions from 25 regional artists – including Jimpsie Ayres, Betsy Brackin Burch, Karen “Bottle” Capps, Matthew Hasty and Joy Phillips Routt.

DeltaARTS is a West Memphis-based nonprofit that provides arts education and imaginative learning experiences for more than 18,000 students, teachers, families and senior citizens throughout eastern Arkansas, North Mississippi and West Tennessee.

Located less than 30 minutes from Downtown Memphis, Waverly is a cotton plantation privately owned by Jerri and Pat Crase, who also is one of the featured artists for ‘Levee.’ The center-hall house was built in the 1880s, and was moved behind the new levee in 1910 to protect it from flooding. Fully restored, Waverly is situated on 31 acres of landscaped grounds.

– Don Wade

YES Prep Says No to Memphis School

The charter school organization that was to take over Airways Middle School in August as part of the state-run Achievement School District announced suddenly Wednesday, March 25, that it won’t be opening a Memphis school.

And ASD leaders were critical of the sudden decision by YES Prep Public Schools.

The Texas-based charter school company founded by ASD superintendent Chris Barbic made the announcement as school systems, including the ASD, are readying enrollment plans for the coming year.

“The 6th grade families of Airways Middle deserve better,” ASD officials said in a written statement Wednesday morning. “We finalized our matching process in December, and since then, it has been ‘all systems go’ until we learned about this decision yesterday.”

The ASD statement also said the decision “makes clear that YES Prep is not prepared to take on the urgent, more difficult work of turning around neighborhood schools in Memphis.”

“And we wish that they would have come to this conclusion much sooner because this sudden decision puts Airways families in a difficult position for next school year,” the statement added.

The YES Prep ASD school at Airways was going to be phased in one grade at a time over several years.

In anticipation of that, Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson had proposed closing the upper grades of the middle school and transferring those students to another conventional school.

Hopson has said the co-location model doesn’t work for students on the conventional, non-ASD side of such schools.

The YES Prep decision will likely cause Hopson to alter that part of a larger slate of school closings and consolidations that Shelby County Schools board members are scheduled to vote on next week.

– Bill Dries

Orion FCU Buys Medical Center Site for New Branch

Orion Federal Credit Union has acquired a key piece of Memphis Medical Center real estate for a new branch.

Orion, formerly the Memphis Area Teachers’ Credit Union, acquired the old gas station at 821 Poplar Ave. for $1.3 million from Georgia Commercial Stores Inc., according to a March 20 warranty deed. The Shelby County Assessor of Property’s 2014 appraisal is $219,400. The seller acquired the property in 2003 for $240,000.

Orion intends to build a new branch at the property, which sits at the southwest corner of Poplar and North Dunlap Street, just across from Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

Source: The Daily News online & Chandler Reports

– Amos Maki

Memphis-Area Homes Part of $553 Million Loan

A total of 66 residential single-family rental properties in the Memphis area, including the cities of Memphis, Lakeland and Arlington, are part of a massive loan arranged by Goldman Sachs for a leading residential real estate investment trust.

An affiliate of American Homes 4 Rent, the country’s second largest single-family landlord, filed a $552.8 million loan with Goldman Sachs Mortgage Co., according to a March 6 deed of trust. The deed of trust said the deal included $38.6 million in 66 properties in Shelby County.

The value of the collateral of Tennessee properties is $55.6 million, of a total collateral of $789.8 million.

A January report from Bloomberg News said American Homes 4 Rent planned to sell around $550 million of debt in a deal arranged by Goldman Sachs. The report noted American Homes 4 Rent has spent $3.5 billion to acquire more than 21,000 rental houses across the U.S., making it the biggest landlord after Blackstone Group LP. The report said the loan is backed by rental home payments.

Source: The Daily News Online & Chandler Reports

– Amos Maki

Magna Promotes Crocker to Chief Information Officer

Magna Bank has announced several hires and promotions.

The personnel moves include promoting Steve Crocker to chief information officer. As CIO, Crocker will continue to lead technology and information security projects for the bank, which in 2015 will include financial management tools, significant website updates and the transition to EMV-chipped debit cards, among other things.

The bank also has made one new hire in the commercial banking group, as well as two additional promotions.

Jeff Hall has joined Magna as vice president of commercial banking. Victoria Barnes-Ragland has been promoted to retail corporate trainer, and Christie McCormack has been promoted to branch sales manager.

Hall will focus on the development, growth and retention of commercial client relationships. As retail corporate trainer, a new position at Magna, Barnes-Ragland will use the 15 years she’s spent working in retail banking to help train and develop employees. And as branch sales manager at Magna’s Cordova location, McCormack is responsible for overseeing the overall operations of the branch.

– Andy Meek

Memphis Fire Department to Test New Strategies

The Memphis Fire Department plans to test software this summer that it hopes will reduce non-emergency ambulance calls it responds to.

The pilot program is one part of a long-term strategy for the department recently rolled out by the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

The software would route non-emergency ambulance calls to registered nurses provided by local hospitals who would evaluate what is needed and direct those callers to clinics or other solutions short of an ambulance ride to an emergency department.

Memphis Fire Director Michael Putt also has plans to change fire department recruiting to hire more firefighters who already have certifications they have to earn on the job.

Meanwhile, those seeking to become emergency medical technicians – or EMTs – would train for that designation off duty with the department reducing the amount of time in on duty training by six months.

The change would also reduce the city’s training cost per firefighter – currently $40,167 – by more than half.

The fire department currently has about 500 firefighter/paramedics and 1,100 firefighter/EMTs, according to the department’s web site.

Putt told Memphis City Council members the fire department would begin recruiting firefighters in the ninth and 10th grades including offering scholarships in EMT and paramedic training as well as some part-time jobs to high school graduates.

City rules set the minimum age for Memphis firefighters at 21.

The strategies for the fire division – and one for the police department to be unveiled next month – are both areas chief administrative officer George Little has been coordinating in the still pending shuffle of Wharton’s administration.

As chief operating officer, Little would focus on the pursuit of both strategies. In the case of what some describe as “frequent flyers” – those who call ambulances for non-emergency situations – Little said the city is considering a pilot program that would instead take them to clinics. The city could provide a card or voucher to pay about $25 toward the transportation cost.

That would compare to the $900 Little said it costs the city for a fire department ambulance to make a single hospital run.

– Bill Dries

Former County Commissioner Thomas Joins Redwing

Former Shelby County Commissioner and former Lakeland city manager Chris Thomas has joined the Redwing Group, the strategic marketing and communications firm that includes government relations and lobbying work.

Thomas formally joins the firm headed by Ron Redwing and Jerry Hall with a reception Wednesday, March 25, at the Crescent Club in East Memphis.

Thomas, who also served on the Memphis City Schools Board and as Probate Court Clerk, was dismissed as Lakeland city manager earlier this year in a vote by the mayor and board of aldermen.

He joined Lakeland city government at the end of 2014 as he ended two terms on the county commission because of term limits.

– Bill Dries

AutoZone Authorizes $750 Million Stock Repurchase

AutoZone Inc. announced this week it was boosting its share repurchase program yet again with the authorization of $750 million to repurchase shares of the company’s common stock.

Since AutoZone started the program in 1998, its board of directors has authorized $15.7 billion in share repurchases.

The company’s strong financial performance allows it continue repurchasing stock while maintaining investment grade credit, according to executive vice president Bill Giles.

“We remain committed to utilizing share repurchases within the bounds of a disciplined capital structure to enhance stockholder returns while maintaining adequate liquidity to execute our plans,” Giles said in a statement.

AutoZone operates a total of 5,476 stores companywide.

– The Daily News staff

Brown Contempt Citation Upheld by Appeals Court

A year to the day that former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown was jailed for contempt by a Juvenile Court magistrate, the Tennessee Court of Appeals rejected his claim that Magistrate Harold Horne denied him due process and punished him for “zealous advocacy” on behalf of his client.

“Despite Mr. Brown’s insistence to the contrary, this case clearly involved direct criminal contempt,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Brandon O. Gibson in the court opinion, published Tuesday, March 24.

Brown was cited for contempt multiple times by Horne a year earlier: Brown questioned whether Horne was legally a judge and then claimed Horne could only fine him $10 for each instance of contempt and could not jail him. Brown was protesting a delay in a case before Horne.

Brown, who at the time was running for District Attorney General, was jailed for a day before he was released pending an appeal. Horne had sentenced him to five days for five separate contempt citations.

The challenge to Horne’s authority as an appointed magistrate echoed claims about Juvenile Court’s authority that Brown has made repeatedly over the years.

The appeals court ruling upholds the contempt citations and sends the matter back to Juvenile Court.

“The imposition of summary punishment was justified given Mr. Brown’s boisterous conduct in the courtroom and his failure to obey the trial court’s directive,” Gibson wrote. “Here summary punishment was in order, and the magistrate did not err or otherwise violate Mr. Brown’s due process rights by the procedure employed.”

Brown didn’t raise his challenge of Horne’s authority in the appeal which the court noted in a footnote of its 18-page opinion.

But Gibson in the footnote cites state law on the authority of Juvenile Court’s to punish a person for contempt of court as well as juvenile court magistrate’s having “the powers of a trial judge” in their proceedings.

– Bill Dries

Early Voting Underway in Lakeland On Bond Issue

The first election of 2015 began Friday, March 27, as the early voting period opens in the Lakeland referendum on a $50 million school bond issue.

Early voting at Lakeland Elementary School, 10050 Oakseed Lane, is from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday through April 11.

Election day on the bond issue referendum is April 16. There are approximately 8,700 voters in the town of 12,430, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

The ballot question is a yes or no vote on the bonds that would finance the construction of a new Lakeland Prep school for grades 6-12 on 94 acres of land north of U.S. 70, east of Canada Road.

The Lakeland board of commissioners endorsed a 55-cent property tax hike last year to pay the debt on the bonds and approved the bonds.

But a group of citizens in Lakeland reacted by circulating a petition to put the bond issue to voters in a referendum and got the signatures necessary to force it.

If the bond issue is approved Lakeland Prep would open in 2018 with all of the grades coming on line over several school years. Lakeland leaders originally anticipated the phased-in opening could be in 2017.

Lakeland is one of the six Memphis suburbs that each formed their own municipal school districts in August 2014.

The Lakeland Schools system consists of one elementary school with middle and high school aged children attending schools in the Arlington and Bartlett school districts through an agreement among the school systems.

– Bill Dries

Enrollment Open for Job Training Program

The Memphis Clean and Green Job Training Program has opened enrollment for free job training and placement assistance to unemployed, under-employed and dislocated residents of Shelby County.

An Environmental Protection Agency grant partly funds the program. Weekly information sessions for interested participants take place on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. The meetings are held at Memphis Bioworks’ office, 20 Dudley St., on the first floor.

The program is administered by Bioworks in partnership with other area organizations. Its goal is to train 75 local workers in jobs such as environmental technician, emergency response technician, energy auditor and abatement specialist as well as various positions in the construction industry.

Training is provided at no cost to participants, and job placement assistance is provided upon successful completion of the program.

To qualify for the program, applicants must be Memphis residents and at least 18. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED, and they must be unemployed or earning less than $15 an hour. Additional qualifications can be found on the Memphis Bioworks website at memphisbioworks.org.

– Andy Meek

Raleigh Sleep Inn Hotel Sells for $1.5 Million

AIS Hospitality Inc. has acquired a Sleep Inn hotel for $1.5 million.

AIS Hospitality acquired the 70-room hotel at 2855 Old Austin Peay Highway in Memphis from Anavil LLC, according to a March 16 warranty deed. The purchase price breaks down to $21,428 per room.

Built in 1999, the hotel totals 31,295 square feet. The Shelby County Assessor of Property’s 2014 appraisal is $1 million.

Source: The Daily News Online & Chandler Reports

– Amos Maki

Embassy Suites Memphis Begins $7 Million Renovation

The 220-suite Embassy Suites hotel in Memphis has begun a $7 million renovation, expected to be complete in the second quarter of 2015 with a new lobby, atrium, guest rooms and boardroom. Frank Grisanti’s Restaurant, located on the property, also will undergo a major upgrade.

The original lobby atrium is being transformed into more of a social lobby where guests can spend time outside their rooms. The atrium refresh will reflect Embassy Suites’ vision of modern, interactive living spaces. Guest rooms also will be updated, but the hotel will remain open to guests.

Located in East Memphis, the hotel is owned by a partnership led by Chicago-based Lodging Capital Partners LLC and managed by Hilton Worldwide.

Located at 1022 South Shady Grove Road, the hotel currently features 3,000 square feet of meeting space, but will be adding an additional boardroom with the renovation.

– Don Wade

State Unemployment Falls To 6.6 Percent in February

Tennessee’s unemployment rate ticked down slightly in February, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The preliminary unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent in February, down from January's revised rate of 6.7 percent.

The national unemployment rate fell from 5.7 percent to 5.5 percent.

Tennessee's unemployment rate was 6.5 percent in February 2014 while the national rate was 6.7 percent.

– Amos Maki

Tennis Memphis Nets $20,000 Grant

Tennis Memphis Inc., the nonprofit that manages and programs City Of Memphis municipal tennis courts, has received a $20,000 grant from the United States Tennis Association Foundation as part of its National Junior Tennis & Learning capacity building program.

NJTL was founded in 1969 by tennis icon Arthur Ashe as a way to make tennis and its positive effects available to underserved children. The USTA capacity building program is a three-year commitment from USTA Foundation to 26 select NJTL chapters, chosen from more than 500 affiliates around the country. The program is designed to assist NJTL chapters to realize their full potential in the communities in which they serve, through grants and technical assistance.

Tennis Memphis, founded in 2002, is one of the nation’s largest NJTL chapters, impacting thousands of Memphis area youths each year.

– Don Wade

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 91 158 16,219
MORTGAGES 98 179 18,735
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 23 2,484
BUILDING PERMITS 136 349 33,738
BANKRUPTCIES 63 115 10,429
BUSINESS LICENSES 30 47 5,350
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 29 6,302
MARRIAGE LICENSES 19 52 3,563