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VOL. 131 | NO. 255 | Friday, December 23, 2016

Strickland Surprised by Record Homicide Rate, Defends ‘Brilliant at the Basics’

By Bill Dries

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In his first year in office, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he had frustrations about the record homicide rate and intends to continue pushing for a larger police force and a “brilliant at the basics” strategy. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

At the last Memphis City Council meeting of 2016, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland dropped by to give high marks for cooperation between his office and the council.

“Even when we disagree, I think we’ve done it in a respectful manner,” he said. “I think 2017 will be an even better year.”

His comments came after the council’s executive sessions, when council member Janis Fullilove had a rather harsh review of Strickland’s Memphis 3.0 effort to come up with an overall development plan for the city by the end of 2018.

“This is a bunch of bull,” she said after a briefing on the 3.0 process. “It doesn’t take three years. It sounds like a political thing.”

Fullilove said it’s not the first time she’s been critical of the effort and has used stronger language in private talks with the administration.

Memphis 3.0 is a two-year planning process, with the plan rolling out in 2019 to mark the city’s bicentennial, which also happens to be an election year at City Hall.

Janis Fullilove

In council chambers, Fullilove wished Strickland well.

“I know all of us want the same thing,” she said. “Some of us think we may have to go different routes to get it. I don’t bite my tongue. But I’m willing to work so we can get things done in this city.”

Meanwhile, Strickland told The Daily News the biggest surprise of his first year as mayor has been the record homicide rate, passing the previous record toll of more than 200 in 1993.

“I knew Memphis had too violent a culture like many American cities do, and even before this year our homicide rate was too high. ... Overall our crime rate is about where it was last year except for homicide,” he said. “It’s just hard to accept in my heart that there’s not a whole lot we can do on the immediate front to reduce homicides.”

Strickland says Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings is focusing more efforts on gang violence and domestic violence, which he and Strickland see as “the real drivers in homicides.”

But he continues to push for more police officers, calling growth of the police force from 2,000 to around 2,400 as “the No. 1 thing.”

There is some impatience on the council with the pace on other issues.

Martavius Jones

“We’ve served a quarter of our term,” council member Martavius Jones said during the Tuesday council executive session. “And I’m disappointed with the pace I am seeing on some items.”

Strickland admits to some dissatisfaction, but defends his call for the city to be “brilliant at the basics” as essential to growing the city’s population and thereby growing the tax base.

“We’ve got to get more customers in here to grow our tax base,” he said. “Until that happens, we will work really hard to make Memphis more attractive. … We will never give up trying to be brilliant at the basics and delivering those core services and measuring the results and publishing it to the media and the public.”

Strickland judges the 14 community sessions so far toward the formation of the Memphis 3.0 plan a success. The effort will include more meetings in February in various areas of the city.

“My takeaway was people were excited,” he said. “They love their city, but they may even love their neighborhoods more.”

The idea for 3.0 is to knit together different neighborhood plans. No two neighborhood plans should be alike, he and the planners have said of their expectations. The final version of the plan will be leavened with “being realistic too,” Strickland said.

“We’ve got to get the private sector interested in driving development in more areas because government alone – we don’t have enough money to build something everywhere,” he said. “I think Whitehaven is going to be the next area to pop, but driven mostly by Elvis Presley Enterprises. … Just like Crosstown Concourse is going to help Cleveland (Avenue).”

Both Whitehaven and Crosstown took a long time to get rolling. The city and state-funded makeover of the Elvis Presley Boulevard streetscape is about six months behind schedule and is to get underway early in 2017.

As right-of-way acquisition was delayed, Graceland opened its $92 million Guest House at Graceland resort-hotel in October and work is underway on the $45 million entertainment complex across Elvis Presley Boulevard that has a spring opening date.

Strickland has called off a proposal by former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to merge the city-county Community Redevelopment Agency into the Economic Development Growth Engine – or EDGE – organization.

Instead, Strickland plans to appoint a director for CRA and see if it can use tax increment finance – or TIF – zones more to leverage private investment.

The tax increment used in those zones is property tax revenue.

“That’s an economic development tool that’s been used successfully in a lot of cities. And we only have two or three in Memphis,” he said. “Many cities have dozens of them.”

The city’s $25 million for infrastructure in the nine-block Pinch District area between the Pyramid and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will come from the TIF zone covering Uptown as well as Tourism Development Zone sales tax revenue generated in the area.

The TDZ funding committed by the city to the St. Jude campus expansion comes from existing revenue flows – the city is expected to seek from the state an expansion in how TDZ funds are used.

With a broader use of that revenue, funding could be available to leverage a makeover of Mud Island River Park as well as the city’s riverfront.

And Strickland said the plan for a new public library and police station on the site of Raleigh Springs Mall will hopefully include private development in what planners have originally laid out as a park-like setting including a lake, an orchard and walking trails.

“I think the Raleigh Civic Center will be a good starting point. We’re not starting a mall,” he said. “We’re building a police station and a library. But that land around it could be developed privately. That’s when it will be a big success, when we see some private funding.”

PROPERTY SALES 97 418 8,253
MORTGAGES 112 508 9,293
BUILDING PERMITS 194 1,059 18,126
BANKRUPTCIES 46 208 5,367