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VOL. 132 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 20, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Data Night at the Forum, Passing Gas and Graceland's Las Vegas Exit

By Bill Dries

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It’s a $30,000 fine, about $5k more than expected by most. And Grizz players say they will chip in to pay the fine the NBA levied on coach David Fizdale for his epic rant on the officiating in Game 2 of the playoff series between the Grizz and the Spurs.

The controversy and the Grizz resurgence on the court in San Antonio Monday could be the spark the team needs Thursday at the Forum for Game 3. Or what happens in the crowd could be much more interesting than the game.

After five hours of debate and 70 amendments, the climax of the 2017 session of the Tennessee Legislature came Wednesday when the state House voted to approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s gas tax bill that includes more in reductions in other taxes, in terms of revenue, than the increase in the gas tax. Most of the Shelby delegation voted for it but there were exceptions with our Nashville correspondent Sam Stockard reporting Memphis Democrat G.A. Hardaway was a no vote because of his concerns about the impact on the poor. And Bartlett Republican Ron Lollar was a no vote because of the opposition in his district to a gas tax hike.

Senate passage of the bill was rapid once all of the votes were counted in the House and the gavel fell, sending the bill to Haslam for his signature.

For state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who carried the legislation for the governor and rewrote it from revenue neutral to a net tax cut package, this is certain to be a prominent part of his coming campaign for governor in 2018. It will also probably launch House speaker Beth Harwell’s bid for the same Republican nomination.

Stockard’s “View From The Hill” column is about the defeat of another key piece of legislation that the Shelby delegation was heavily involved in, pro and con – the bill that would have set in-state college tuition rates for undocumented immigrant Tennessee high school graduates.

A follow-up to our stories last week about the EDGE meeting Wednesday. The EDGE board approved absorbing the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce as one of the entities it manages. And the EDGE board approved a 7-year PILOT for Ebrofrost, the rice giant that plans to set up shop to process and distribute rice from a Memphis facility it will lease from Riviana Foods. They also gave the green light to a 5-year PILOT for an expansion of Nucor Steel.

The barge line that proposed two 145-foot tall silos for its riverfront terminal below the Mississippi River bluff at French Fort has withdrawn its bid for a zoning variance that was to be heard next week at City Hall.

By the end of this year, an estimated 700,000 square feet of new office space in the Memphis market should be ready for move-in, according to a first quarter report by Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors. That compares to 772,000 square feet of new office space for the market in the last decade. Most of the first quarter leasing activity was in East Memphis, along the 385 Corridor, the Airport and Downtown.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is willing to talk about the call for him to fund local schools to the tune of $10 million. But he says the budget proposal he takes to the Memphis City Council next week was already set by the time he got the letter from the group. He also says the 2010 referendum question approved by Memphis voters that did away with Memphis City Schools and any requirement that city taxpayers fund the school system is a factor that has to be considered.

A look at the STEM curriculum being used at the Memphis Business Academy in Frayser which leaders of the school and its students took to Chattanooga earlier this month to show educators there.

Meanwhile, this is the month that some of our high school students went to Colombia and students from Colombia came here. It is the annual Memphis in May International Festival Student Exchange program – a Memphis in May tradition since 1989 that is far from Tom Lee Park but close to the festival’s original intent of promoting international ties.

Graceland is in arbitration with a Vegas casino over an ill-fated Elvis exhibit that the Westgate resort and casino was to be built around. It was an off-strip casino deal that surfaced after CKx, the New York entertainment company headed by Robert Sillerman, bought an 85 percent share of Elvis Presley Enterprises. The national recession followed closely and the Las Vegas venture didn’t work. Graceland left. But Westgate has kept some of the items Graceland turned over for the exhibit including a Vegas contract whose terms were written out on a tablecloth and signed by Presley, also on the table cloth. It’s one of hundreds of artifacts Graceland sued last year to get back. Look for a judge’s ruling in the next month. And since Graceland opened the world's largest Elvis museum just last month across the street from the mansion, I am sure they can find a table somewhere on the premises for a slightly used tablecloth from 1970s era Las Vegas.

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