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VOL. 132 | NO. 143 | Thursday, July 20, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Closing the Door, Midtown Rents and Red West's Many Roles

By Bill Dries

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It didn’t take the Shelby County Commission very long Wednesday to close the door on its budget season – about 20 minutes in the day’s special meeting to approve a county property tax rate of $4.11 on third and final reading. That’s not a quick up or down vote. And it took just a bit longer because there is still some discussion about whether this was a reduction in the tax rate or a tax cut in the sense that a homeowner in Shelby County would understand the term.

The consensus among commissioners is that it depends on the homeowner and what happened to the value of his or her house in the 2017 property reappraisal process for tax purposes. More on this when next we meet in this space. And probably more on this in about a year’s time when we will be in the heart of county government’s election season as well.

EDGE – Economic Development Growth Engine – granted its first tax breaks Wednesday for a residential development – the MRG apartments at Madison and McLean in Midtown. The rents at the five-story 104-unit apartment building come in at around $1.51 per square foot per MRG compared to a Midtown average of $1.37. That means rent of $1,200 a month for 800 square feet, about $200 more than the average. The company says the rent is comparable to Highland Row and Crosstown Concourse, which are also newly built apartment units.

Also at EDGE Wednesday, a 15-year PILOT for the move of Thomas & Betts from Southwind to Ridge Lake Boulevard as ServiceMaster moves from Ridge Lake Boulevard to Peabody Place and Sedgwick moves to Southwind.

The Crane Co. building next to the Hickman Building, which is now being renovated as yet another headquarters move – this one Downtown – sold this week. No terms disclosed yet. But the buyer is Cutler Property Group of Montreal, a real estate development and investment firm that has now entered the Memphis commercial market and estimates it plans to invest about $10 million here.

The old city firehouse at B.B. King and Martin Luther King – King at King – is back in the music game it would seem.

Memphis-based AutoZone in a slump that seems to be a symptom of the auto parts retail industry, which usually means one of these guys starts buying the others at some point.

Here come the changes at Fred’s Memphis front office after the discount retailer trying to turn a corner and become a health-pharma retailer got cut out of the Walgreens-Rite Aid deal not too long ago. Fred’s has a new chief financial officer. Jason Jenne was already senior vice president of finance at Fred’s as of last September. He came to Fred’s from being president and CEO of True Temper Sports.

Nine years after Memphis voters approved it in a city charter referendum, Instant Runoff Voting or Ranked Choice Voting, is being taken seriously by the Shelby County Election Commission – seriously enough that Elections Administrator Linda Phillips walked the Election Commission through how all of this would work Tuesday and what it would involve. And it’s not as simple as indicating a second or third choice and then tallying up all of the second and third place votes to get a winner. It’s a different way to conduct an election that would only apply to one set of races – those for the seven single member City Council districts. Phillips made it clear this wasn’t a debate. There could be a mock election in 2019 but the earliest we will have new voting machines is 2021 and currently the state doesn’t certify any election system that supports IRV or RCV.

Now that you’ve had a chance to take in the concept plan for tying together all of the elements in a six-mile run of the riverfront from Mud Island’s north end to MLK Riverside Park, let’s lay that on top of the talks and plans and possibilities already out there for some of the same parts of the concept plan. Enter complexity as the perfect companion to the currents, undercurrents and eddies in the river that is at the center of all of these undertakings. Riverfront Task Force chairman Alan Crone has said there won’t be a time when the city rolls out a master plan of specific ideas on this. There will instead be parts of this that the city goes after possibly starting as early as this fall depending on how feasible that particular element is.

In his “View From The Hill” column, our Nashville correspondent, Sam Stockard, previews what will be another attempt at a “constitutional carry” gun law in Nashville next year. And he talks with Jeremy Faison, the House sponsor of this year’s attempt at the bill, which fell short in the Senate. Faison, you may remember, was a prominent voice for a medical marijuana bill now in study committee who was with some Memphis Democrats who wanted to allow the Memphis Police Department the option of an officer writing a civil summons or ticket for pot possession instead of charging someone with a misdemeanor.

Via Instagram earlier this week and confirmed by the team Wednesday, Mario Chalmers is returning to the Grizz in what is reportedly a one-year deal. The team not disclosing any terms.

Red West died Tuesday evening here in Memphis at the age of 81. To many he is known as an associate and bodyguard to Elvis Presley. To others, he was a stuntman turned actor with a long career in movies and television – mostly minor but memorable roles including Presley’s pictures – 18 in all from Flaming Star to Live A Little, Love A Little.

In one way he was the prototype for the rock and roll bodyguard – another first among many in the culture of popular music created by Presley. In another way, he played characters in the same general world – more conventional authority figures or maybe just tough guys doing what they had to do in a bad situation. He was utterly convincing in both and also utterly Memphis -- if you grew up in blue collar Memphis, you knew guys like Red West. West invented the job with Presley and he was a dedicated artist at the other.

His first film appearance was playing two uncredited roles in the 1959 film “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” according to the Internet Movie DataBase. In fact his first screen credit wasn’t until 1967 in an episode of the television show “Get Smart.” And his next credited role didn’t come until 1973 in “Walking Tall.” All of this time, including appearances on some of the most iconic television programs of the 1960s and 1970s, West was working for Presley as a bodyguard and confidant until Presley abruptly fired him and his cousin Sonny West and Dave Hibler.

About a year later, the three wrote a tell-all book before the age of the tell-all book that revealed Presley’s drug problem and decline in what they said was an attempt to get Presley to deal with the problem. They also claimed that they were fired for roughing up some of the “doctors” who were Presley’s supply network of drugs. The book went public just weeks before Presley’s death in August 1977 at the dawn of the tabloid news era when Betty Ford was a former First Lady and not the name of a center where a lot of celebrities went for help in overcoming such addictions.

The book also revealed a split within Presley’s inner circle with the Wests and Hibler saying some members of the Memphis Mafia, as the inner circle was known, were only interested in what they could get from Presley toward the end.

West built a Hollywood career including a lot of work with the actor Robert Conrad starting with The Wild, Wild West and into a regular character on the mid 1970s TV series “Black Sheep Squadron” – the show he was working on when Presley died and the book hit. He even turns up in a 1986 Twilight Zone revival – an episode about a time traveler meeting Presley in 1950s Memphis, accidentally killing him and then replacing Presley beyond that.

It was at about this time that West really got the chance to show what a fine actor he had become. He was neither bouncer nor tough guy in the 1989 movie “Roadhouse” but the film’s cult status just wouldn’t be the same without him as the auto parts store owner.

His role in the made-in-Memphis film adaptation of the John Grishman novel “The Rainmaker” in 1997 is a memorable part of a star-packed film with Matt Damon, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Dean Stockwell, Mickey Rourke and Danny DeVito. And West never says a word.

West was also a mentor, teacher and supporter of numerous actors just getting a start in the industry.

PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
BANKRUPTCIES 31 153 3,270