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VOL. 131 | NO. 96 | Friday, May 13, 2016


Bill Dries

Last Word: Mud Island Money, Elvis Mystery and Beyond Barbecue

By Bill Dries

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It looks like the dry rub will be in order for Memphis in May's barbecue weekend with a shower or two keeping the dust down in Tom Lee Park Wednesday.

If you can see it through the smoke, Mud Island might strike a first-tme observer as a marked contrast to all of the activity in Tom Lee Park that goes right up to the bluff's edge.

The city operating budget proposal now pending before the Memphis City Council has $1.5 million in it for Mud Island River Park.

And the coming fiscal year is likely to be a crucial time for the river park given the Riverfront Development Corporation’s search for a private entity to run all or parts of the park and redevelop it in the process.

So when Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said last week on our Behind The Headlines show that he is not in favor of city funding of the redevelopment, it got the attention of Andy Cates of RVC Outdoor Destinations.

Cates and RVC have made one of the two proposals that are the finalists for the redevelopment recommendation.

Cates telling us he’s not looking for new city funding beyond the $1.5 million the city already spends there. But he is interested in seeing a city committment.

Dollar figures are everywhere these days since it is budget season.

On this week’s Behind The Headlines we have three Shelby County Schools board members, president Teresa Jones and board members Chris Caldwell and Miska Clay Bibbs on to talk about the schools budget and its $27 million in red ink as it goes to the board for a vote Monday.

We very quickly found the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is coming together – several fiscal moves that amount to a balanced budget.

A key piece of that puzzle is $16 million in revenue from the county wheel tax. It amounts to half of the revenue each year that currently goes to pay county debt service. The county is doing so well at paying its debt that Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is recommending that half of the revenue from the wheel tax go instead to schools in the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

How to fund the schools budget and at what amount is ultimately up to the Shelby County Commission.

The school board members we talked with favor the wheel tax revenue going instead to the schools operating budget.

When you divide the $16 million by the average daily attendance of the seven public school systems in Shelby County, the SCS share comes to about $12 million.

The show airs Friday at 7 p.m. on Channel 10 and we also talked about the Whitehaven schools empowerment zone and the always uneasy coexistence of conventional schools with charter schools, ASD schools and I-Zone schools.

Some intrigue involving the Sam Phillips Recording Studio.

Some of the musicians who were in Elvis Presley’s 1970s era TCB – taking care of business – band have been in the studio this month working on some kind of project that, according to this Elvis fan site out of Australia might be adding to some sessions the man himself cut in the jungle room at Graceland in 1976.

Talk of what might have been with Elvis in the 1970s is by no means a new topic. When Sony released the Elvis at Stax box set in 2013, Norbert Putnam – one of the 70s band members in town this month at Sam Phillips – talked about the promise of the era for Presley that got lost in RCA’s marketing approach.

No word from Elvis Presley Enterprises on the new project.

But it gives me an opening I’ve been waiting for to talk about the excellent “Gates of Graceland” video series on the Graceland website that is all about Graceland and its artifacts.

The latest episode is from last month and looks at Elvis’s record collection – his vinyl across the decades.

Turns out Elvis had Beatles records and a single of Hey Jude had some interesting notations on it. There are also some acetates including a Johnny Cash demo of Folsom Prison Blues. Some of his own singles are in the collection. And he never returned George Klein’s copy of The Happy Organ. Interesting to note some of the older stuff in the collection, which he most likely bought at Poplar Tunes just a few blocks from where he lived in Lauderdale Courts pre-Sun. He probably had to pick pretty carefully in those days when he went record shopping.

A crowd of around 600 for the annual Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards this week by the Rotary Club of Memphis East. And the setting was interesting considering our keynote speaker -- Spence Wilson of Kemmons Wilson Inc. at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis.

Wilson is one of Kemmons Wilson’s five children who were all, of course, in the now historic photo of the Wilson children opening the very first Holiday Inn in the 1950s on Summer Avenue.

Wilson talked about the impact families rich and not so rich can have on meeting the needs of the city. He talked about his own family’s foundations that have involved several generations of the family in numerous civic endeavors.

He also talked about his father’s donation of the Holiday Inn to the university as a hospitality school. It turns out the university leaders at the time were expecting a donation for the state to then build the hotel and school.

That’s not what Kemmons Wilson had in mind – saying he would build the school and hotel and then turn over the keys to the University. The founder of Holiday Inns had very specific and fervent thoughts about the standard size of rooms and features in those rooms. After all that was how the Holiday Inns concept started – a man, his wife and their children on vacation with a tape measure in an America where there wasn’t a standard.

He also didn’t use the state’s contractor or architect to build the structure on Central Avenue. He used his own.

While the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is in its final day Saturday, a different kind of food excursion will be underway. Cristina McCarter is starting City Tasting Tours, visits to different parts of the Memphis food experience.

The fact that she has put together tours that last two-and-a-half hours shows how much there is to see and taste in a city known for its barbecue by those from the outside but for much more by those who live and eat here.

The tours are yet another indicator that this city – yours and mine – is at last breaking away from its clichés to a world that is willing to dive into our complexity.

More proof is the Americana Music Triangle tourism effort we featured in Last Word earlier this week.

The Big Cypress Lodge hotel at the Pyramid is offering tourism packages that include Stax and Sun and Graceland in one as well as others that get the hotel’s guests beyond the Pyramid and more importantly seek out travelers who want to get beyond the Pyramid.

Ikea’s Memphis store is going solar – not a farm but a rooftop that will be the largest rooftop array in Tennessee. That would be a 250,675 square foot array with 4,424 solar panels.

The day after Bill Gibbons announced his departure at the end of August as the Tennessee Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security, the University of Memphis announces Gibbons will lead the newly created Public Safety Institute at the university and will also serve as president of the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission.
The Public Safety Institute is a joint venture of the university and the crime commission.

An update to our story about the television series “Underground” and a spoiler alert. Read no further if you have not yet seen Wednesday’s episode.

Warning having been given, Cato is not dead.

Mark Lane was a familiar presence around Memphis in the mid-1970s as a Congressional committee investigated the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy. Prior to his involvement in the King case, Lane was best known for his books on the Kennedy assassination. He was one of the first public voices that questioned whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Lane was one of many attorneys James Earl Ray, the man who pleaded guilty to King’s murder and then almost immediately tried to take back, would have over the 40 years or so after the assassination.
During his time in Memphis, Lane was the attorney for cult leader Jim Jones and narrowly escaped the violence that began the mass suicide of Jones and his followers at their Guyana compound in 1978.
Lane died Tuesday at the age of 89. Here is the New York Times obit

Don Wade’s Press Box column is on Memphis, FedEx and the Big 12 conference.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396