VOL. 132 | NO. 157 | Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Council Approves 5-Year Pact with University for Liberty Bowl Lease
By Bill Dries
Just in time for an Aug. 31 football season opener, the University of Memphis has a new five year contract with the city of Memphis for the use of the Liberty Bowl and surrounding Fairgrounds area.
The Memphis City Council approved the new contract Tuesday, Aug. 8, after a committee discussion earlier in the day focused on bringing more events to the stadium.
Council members want to meet with Spectra, the Comcast division that manages the stadium for the city, about more events to erase the $500,000 gap in operation costs the city is currently funding. Several council members expressed dissatisfaction at the outset with the job Spectra is doing in that regard.
City Parks and Neighborhoods director Maria Munoz-Blanco said Liberty Bowl contracts with the Southern Heritage Classic and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will probably come to the council for approval later this month.
The contract talks and agreement come against the backdrop of a reopening of the city’s planning process for redevelopment of the Fairgrounds property as a whole less than a week ago by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
The University of Memphis contract approved Tuesday includes new language that allows the city to make changes at the Fairgrounds that could affect parking and other activities outside the stadium and not be financially liable to the university.
Both sides agree in the contract to talk about such changes in good faith and work toward an agreement if there is a plan for new uses of the property used for parking and into and out of the Fairgrounds for traffic.
Strickland has said the goal of the planning process is other uses on the property that would make it more active most if not all of the year.
The Liberty Bowl tenants have expressed concern in the past about the impact of those plans on the parking areas they fill for nine football games each year.
In other action Tuesday, the council approved plans for a five-story 101-room hotel and a five-level 103-space parking deck in the block of Beale between Fourth Street and Danny Thomas Boulevard. Original plans called for a six-story hotel building but that was later changed.
The hotel by KNM Development Group is to be a Vib brand by Best Western aimed at attracting millennial travelers. The hotel with the parking deck behind it would be built on open land at 404 Beale Street, directly across from Church Park.
Attorney Charles Carpenter, whose law office is next to the hotel site in the historic building that was the Solvent Bank building, had some concerns about the impact of construction and pilings specifically on his building. But developers said those differences were quickly resolved.
The council also approved Tuesday the hiring of an independent actuary to review the city’s health care plan as the administration considers a new health care plan and contract for city employees.
The administration projects a $12 million savings as a result of fewer claims by city employees.
Council member Edmund Ford Jr. pushed for the independent actuary, citing the council’s obligation to act should the savings turn out to be a deficit.
The previous council hired independent actuaries to examine administration estimates of the liability in the city’s health care benefits package that prompted the state of Tennessee to require the city to fully fund the liability over a five-year period that continues to this day.
In that case, the actuaries hired by the council came up with different numbers than the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.
The cost of the actuary would come from the city’s health care fund and by a preliminary estimate would be “tens of thousands of dollars,” according to city chief financial officer Brian Collins.
By the terms of Ford’s resolution, the actuary firm is to be hired and working by Aug. 22.
About six weeks into the new fiscal year, the council approved $6.5 million for street paving projects across the city. With the funding resolution, City Hall marks a return to a cycle of paving streets once every 25 years.
Just two years ago, the city was on a 40-year paving cycle.
The council delayed again a vote on a proposed convenience store with gas pumps at South Parkway and Interstate 240 by Spire Enterprises.