VOL. 130 | NO. 225 | Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Council Delays Central Station and Graceland West Votes
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members delayed approval Tuesday, Nov. 17, of the lease agreement and financing of the Central Station redevelopment project for two weeks. And it also delayed a vote on the Graceland West renovation and expansion.
The Central Station delay was called for by the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton hours after council members asked a lot of questions about contingencies and the flow of money to the Memphis Area Transit Authority.
The resolution also includes $600,000 in city funds for the $55 million project. The city funding would be a match for $2.4 million in federal grant funds that go toward public improvements.
Alex Turley, who arranged the financing of the project, said construction on a five-screen Malco movie theater as well as apartments is ready to begin and developers are anxious to begin the work before the onset of winter. Otherwise, he said the major part of construction would have to wait until the spring.
Council member Harold Collins asked for the administration’s position which wasn’t forthcoming, leading some council members to say that the administration had not reviewed the agreement.
Demar Roberts, an aide to city chief administrative officer Jack Sammons, said the delay is to “allow us the opportunity to make sure all council members have been briefed appropriately and totally understand the project we are proposing.”
The council delayed until Dec. 15, its last meeting of the calendar year, a vote on the Graceland West development – the third phase of the $250 million renovation, expansion and update of the Graceland campus by Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Graceland West refers to the plaza area on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, across the street from the mansion.
The council delayed its vote on the planned development Tuesday after some homeowners near the site said they didn’t get notice of the project or its move to the council for approval.
Most said they approved of the project but wanted to know more about its impact on their homes.
Kemp Conrad is the new council chairman for 2016, elected without opposition Tuesday by council members.
Council member Edmund Ford replaces Conrad as council vice chairman. Ford was elected in a contest with council member Janis Fullilove.
Fullilove said she was “disappointed” with the results, accused male council members of “disrespecting” her and vowed that she would be elected chairwoman in 2017.
“I knew the first four years that I was here that I had gotten myself in all kinds of trouble. I did it,” she said. “But I vowed to myself that I was going to straighten my act up and do what I was elected to do.”
To those council members leaving at the end of the year, Fullilove said, “I’m so glad some of you are leaving I don’t know what do.”
“For those of you that remain, you watch out for me,” she added. “I’m going to embrace every one of these new council members and I’m going to be council chair in 2017. You can take that to the bank.”
The other woman on the council, Wanda Halbert, agreed.
“I would hope in the upcoming year … that the members of the council can show a little more respect for diversity and inclusion,” she said. “It’s an insult. I hope the women of Memphis don’t stand for that in the future. I don’t know what the issue is.”
The council also voted down a move to discuss in committee a recent call by the Shelby County Democratic Party for partisan primaries in city elections.
The council would have to approve an ordinance to put a city charter change to city voters in a referendum in order to permit such primary elections.
But the referral to committee for discussion by Fullilove lost in a 6-6 tie vote.
“We have partisan elections on the federal level. If you want Memphis to be more like Washington D.C. or Nashville, vote for partisan elections,” said council member Jim Strickland, who is a former chairman of the local Democratic Party. “It has not worked in the county. We have enough issues to deal with here.”
Council chairman Myron Lowery said with only two meetings left in the current council’s term of office it’s not an ordinance the current council could approve in the required three readings.
“And if you are a new council member coming in, you are not going to take kindly to changing the process,” he added.
The council approved for the second time in a year and a half, the plan to turn the Raleigh Springs Mall into a “town center” with a city library branch, a new police precinct and the Memphis Police Department’s traffic precinct.
The second approval followed a public hearing that was also a repeat of an earlier process voided when Circuit Court Judge James Russell rejected the city’s attempt to take several parcels of the mall property by eminent domain. Russell ruled the city’s move was premature.
The city has refiled its motion to take the parcels that constitute the mall itself as well as the anchor stores by eminent domain. The city has already bought other properties in the mall footprint.
Strickland, who is mayor-elect, has said he will determine whether his administration will pursue the mall conversion after he takes office January 1.
In other planning and development matters, the council brought back to life plans for retail on the northeast corner of Summer Avenue and Graham Street that it rejected earlier this year.
The August rejection was brought back up for reconsideration Tuesday after developers dropped a laundromat from the plans that had prompted opposition from neighbors during the summer.
The council is scheduled to vote on the amended item at the Dec. 1 council session.
The council also approved the Massey Green 14-lot single family development at West Massey Road and Massey Estates Cove as well as a rental car service facility on the west side of Airways Boulevard in the airport buyout area.
And the council approved a Cambria Hotel and Suites at 267-285 Union Avenue on the south side of Union on what is now open land. The hotel will be a four-story structure with 161 rooms.