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VOL. 132 | NO. 122 | Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Wahlburgers, CA For Sale and Council Day

By Bill Dries

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We really go for hot food brands around here – whether its restaurants or supermarkets. And it makes us suckers to some degree. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Memphis without being open to all possibilities and what others see as impossible is just not Memphis. But when it comes to the business of brands sometimes you start to wonder. We may be guilty of putting too much weight on a brand to solve problems that no brand anywhere can solve.

Remember when a Hard Rock near the top of the Pyramid – or anywhere within the city limits for that matter – was the essential civic ingredient to tell the world Memphis was a …. world-class city? It couldn’t be done as what amounted to a “hanging restaurant” over the arena and the American Music Awards museum was going to be at the very top of the Pyramid with the College Football Hall of Fame in the base of the Pyramid – or was that the other way around?

So Beale Street seems to have solved the Sweetie Pie’s standoff of the last three years on the southwest corner of Fourth and Beale – the eastern boundary proper of the entertainment district.

Wahlburgers, the burger chain owned by actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg, is signed to move into 349 Beale this fall. That’s the very space that Sweetie Pie’s announced it was leasing three years ago, had a large neon sign made and hung on the Beale Street side of the building and then promptly got into an epic legal leasehold improvement argument with the owners of the building who were subleasing to Sweetie Pie’s. Result: no pie for you and not sweet. But we got a nice neon sign for a few years on a corner known for temporary signage. Remember in the gap between Plush and Crave on the other corner at Fourth and Beale when signs went up for the club to be called “Knockers” that its owners swore was not going to be a strip club?

Coincidentally or not, Wahlburgers the business is also the backdrop for a reality television show about the family business just as Sweetie Pie’s has been.

In the other shoe dropping category, The Commercial Appeal is selling its current location at 495 Union. This is big news for several different reasons but not really unexpected once Gannett moved printing of the newspaper out of the building and to Jackson, Tennessee where it also owns The Jackson Sun. The press at the CA is three-stories tall. The current building that opened in 1977 was reportedly built around the press. At a Monday morning meeting, Mike Jung, president of the newspaper, announced the property goes on the market in a couple of weeks and that the CA is looking for another location in the city.

In terms of the real estate, this is a big chunk of property consisting of the building, the frontage on Union where the newspaper formerly had its offices in a repurposed Ford motor plant and back property – mostly parking lots – that go south to Jessamine. This is 6.l5 acres between Downtown and the Medical District.

For all of the talk about how the recent changes at the CA have made this day possible, let's not forget that in 1977, the building was built for two newspapers -- the other paper being the Press Scimitar, which folded in 1983.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell talked more Monday about the request he and Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and Sheriff Bill Oldham have made to the Justice Department that would end the five-year old memorandum of understanding for the overhaul of Juvenile Court. Luttrell says it wouldn’t be an end to reforms at the court. And he acknowledged that the new administration in Washington prompted the move to a review by the new U.S. Attorney General. Some of the heavy lifting on this was already underway. This goes to the County Commission for discussion in Wednesday committees although the commission didn’t sign off on the 2012 memorandum. Nevertheless, there could be some sparks.

On the broader issue of criminal justice, state Senator Lee Harris on Behind The Headlines says some of the talk about criminal justice reform doesn’t match the legislation that gets pushed in Nashville. He and Memphis Democrat Joe Towns from the House also talked about the politically seismic impact crimes like the recent fatal shooting of two-year old Laylah Washington have on passing laws.

This is council day at City Hall and there are some budget loose ends not to mention discussions about the new Beale Street cover charge that just went into effect this past weekend although the council meant for it to go into effect the previous weekend. And the committee room at City Hall is likely to be full as council members consider a proposal that would do away with the remaining $300,000 in funding to the UrbanArts Commission after cutting the other $350,000 two weeks ago.

Republican contender for governor Randy Boyd in Whitehaven last week talking about higher ed, as the architect of “Drive to 55” and “Tennessee Promise” is likely to do. There was a difference though on the Whitehaven campus of Southwest Tennessee Community College. Statewide 80 percent of everyone who earns an associates degree or training certificate does so at a public institution – a community college or one of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. The other 20 percent go to the for-profit trade schools whose advertising on television become more prolific the later the hour. But in Shelby County, according to Boyd, just the opposite is true. 80 percent of the associate degrees and training certificates here are earned at the for profits.

Rental is the rage these days in local real estate. And the rage is single-family residential with multi-family development changing hands from one investment fund to another pretty rapidly. Enter James Maclin who has retired from MAA and is now doing multi-family consulting with an eye toward just the kind of blend of business and community development that we’ve talked a lot about in our reporting, including our recent cover on efforts to tighten up enforcement of standards for apartment complexes that get lost in the shuffle.

The Made By Project begins to move toward assembling the infrastructure to draw more artisans and micro manufacturers to the city. This is a three-year plan to boost the Memphis-area economy on a smaller individual scale.

The first Monday in October gets all of the billing, but the third Monday in June was a busy one for the nation’s highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that you cannot have a law that bans offensive trademarks with the controversy over the Washington Redskins brand at the center of this broader ruling. And the court ruled sex offenders cannot be banned from social media. Doing so prevents a citizen from engaging in First Amendment rights, the court ruled. There was a three-justice dissent.

PROPERTY SALES 89 339 12,708
MORTGAGES 42 227 7,982
BUILDING PERMITS 171 518 29,639
BANKRUPTCIES 32 129 6,029