Last Word: EW&F, Midtown Rent Rise and A Closer Look At The Pyramid Deal

By Bill Dries

One seemingly ordinary winter’s night in Downtown Memphis, I was going from event to event focused on work – specifically trying to stay on a schedule in which several things I wanted to cover were happening at the same time.
That is usually when you miss the experience that is Memphis on an everyday but definitely not ordinary basis.
So I get in a parking garage elevator and on the next floor David Porter – of Stax Records fame – gets on and he introduces me to his friend, Maurice White – the founder of Earth Wind and Fire. They too are trying to be in several places at the same time.
As they went their way and I went mine, I remember thinking this is quite a special place.
The encounter slowed my stride a bit and took some of the edge off the schedule – noticing for the first time how many people were out on a winter’s night in our city having nothing but a good time made better by all of us going our different ways.
White, who was from Memphis, died Thursday with his band’s music stronger and more relevant than ever.
If you grew up listening to EWF when the songs were new, you know that the bright and funky sound and the positive, affirming, and diverse identity of this music was quite intentional at a time when there was plenty going on that could have pushed it the other way.
If your parents or grandparents grew up listening to EWF, this music is a part of your family’s tradition that calls to mind special occasions and even your own mild surprise the first time you found yourself dancing to it with your children.
And if your folks’ vinyl record collection from back in the day included Earth Wind and Fire, that was one of the ones you listened to when they weren’t around and one of the ones you took with you when you got a place of your own.

Here comes the Midtown apartment boom – should say the apartment building boom since Midtown’s apartment stock has always included most of the city’s original apartment buildings.
The construction to come again raises the question of what is a realistic rent for a development that aims itself at young professionals but also has to pay the bills for being a new apartment development.
And Midtown has historically been a place where many young professionals or those on their way in that direction have been able to get their start because of the low rents and the affordable places that are one-ofs or in the nooks and crannies of a very diverse part of Memphis.
It’s a dilemma with no easy answers at least at the moment.

Some Memphis City Council members were surprised to learn that the Bass Pro Shops deal spanning 10 years that reopened a repurposed Pyramid just last year included provisions for a city-financed parking garage.
And Bass Pro Shops executives haven’t been shy about declaring their vested interest in what happens to their east and west – east being the St. Jude expansion and west being the redevelopment of Mud Island River Park.
So the garage questions have one of the companies interested in the Mud Island project wondering if there are any other terms in the Pyramid deal that should be on the table.
Andy Cates
of RVC Outdoor Destinations was adamant in our discussion with him on this point that he’s talked with Bass Pro Shops and thinks what they are doing at the Pyramid is a good thing and would work well with his proposal for Mud Island.
Since the three projects will affect each other just by their proximity, he wants to know more about the fine print.

Meanwhile, we got a somewhat better read on the how the Mud Island RFP process will move.
Feb. 24 is the deadline for the five interested firms to outline a specific plan including how they will finance their projects. That will probably be some kind of minimum amount of financing each can guarantee with more precise terms to be negotiated if they are selected.
Mayor Jim Strickland told Lambda Alpha earlier this week that once the Riverfront Development Corp. committee reviewing the proposals makes it recommendation, his administration will get involved in this directly.

More reaction to our cover story on minority business growth – or the lack of it
City Council member Berlin Boyd wants a three-month moratorium on PILOTs by EDGE in order to work out a local business participation program to go along with the tax breaks.
And we review the minority business levels in Shelby County government contracts that are the bottom line of the county’s disparity study.

Speaking of EDGE, four inner-city businesses are getting business development loans totaling $79,000 from EDGE. The businesses are in the Lamar corridor, Westwood, Orange Mound and Frayser.

The chairman of the Memphis Zoo board responds to Dan Conaway’s Memphasis column.

Tigers football coach Mike Norvell talks about his first recruiting class. And in his Press Box column, Don Wade maps out Ariel Hearn’s place in Tigers basketball history.

In Nashville at the end of the legislative week, the “atomic bomb” of politics is on its way to the governor’s desk and there is a proposal to privatize some road projects.