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VOL. 132 | NO. 61 | Monday, March 27, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: Basketball Capitol, Gang Fight in Southwest Memphis and Moving Polk

By Bill Dries

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There is something to be said for hosting a round of the NCAA’s March Madness without having a team in the playoffs. Much to be said against it. But after a weekend of what I think most of us here will call the most compelling of the regionals featured prominently on national television, you really can find very little to complain about. It might even have rekindled the intensity of our civic love of basketball.

Not that the flame is out – it is just on flicker and not casting a lot of light these days. This helped with that even if Vice President Mike Pence had to cancel his trip to the city Friday. The south semifinals here also better illuminated the idea that Memphis is and should be a capitol of sorts for basketball – pro and college – in this region. Not just a basketball franchise, but the sport.

And yes, you are allowed to feel like the games you might have seen Friday and Saturday were better matchups than what the finals will ultimately look like in a few more rounds which will end all of this in April – which kind of violates the March Madness label. We’ve talked about this before when the World Series ventures out of October and into November.

The only complaint would be the Kentucky fans who feel like Memphis ought to get over the Calipari thing because after all he got us closer to a college championship than we’ve been in a long time. Two winning seasons at two schools wiped from the record books is an indication of someone who has a deeply flawed and probably irreversible definition of right and wrong -- a love of the line that separates the two and an ignorance of the reason the line exists. And he takes a lot of people along for the ride along the line. It's like a thrill ride without any brakes that in our case he managed to get off before it all came to a crashing halt. At same point, however, this all becomes a lesson for us to learn about the cost of a seat on the ride. Let that carnival move to the next town. He came here a loser and he left a loser.

In the Tennessee Legislature, this is the week the Senate is expected to take a floor vote -- Monday evening -- on the pot bill that cleared the House by a wide margin last week. The bill effectively blocks the Memphis and Nashville pot ordinances already on hold. The ordinances allow police in each city to write a $50 ticket if they choose to for someone possessing half an ounce or less of marijuana. A Tennessee Attorney General’s legal opinion said the two cities were illegally stepping on the Legislature’s turf.

Our Nashville correspondent, Sam Stockard, reports much of the debate is about whether local law enforcement already has the discretion to enforce state laws differently from county to county or city to city.

Elsewhere this week in the city: OPERA, Mojo and Margo Price.

There were a few reactions earlier this year when Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland called us all to Tom Lee Park to announce there would be yet another study of the city’s riverfront. None of them were what you would consider to be positive – another study, seriously? – will it get the restaurant at Beale Street Landing right? – are you going to block off the southbound lanes of Riverside Drive again?

And there was speculation that this was a shifting away from the Riverfront Development Corp. The RDC’s role has changed but when RDC president Benny Lendermon went to the Downtown Memphis Commission Friday to update that group on his work, it was the latest demonstration that the RDC isn’t a lone voice in the wilderness anymore on the riverfront. The agency isn’t twisting slowly in the wind as it has been for several years.

So things are moving again, but the result is the city has a lot on its plate because of several years in which very little moved and what moved – Beale Street Landing most notably – wasn’t fully understood in terms of its purpose.

Jim Bullard, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in town as the weekend began to speak at the Economic Club of Memphis. He doesn’t see the economy growing at more than a 2 percent rate. As a result the Fed’s adjustments to its key interest rate should remain “relatively low” with an eye on inflation and unemployment in making those adjustments. He says look for one more Fed rate hike this year.

The head of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Douglas Lowy, at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Lowy confirmed the need for research into improving the quality of life of children who survive cancer by reducing the toxicity of treatments that as their evolution began decades ago were arguably worse than the diseases they were treating in terms of their side effects.

The institute funds St. Jude to the tune of $6 million a year around a better understanding of childhood cancer and the hospital is the only institution in the NCI network that is devoted exclusively to childhood cancer.

In southwest Memphis, action on two fronts against the gang problem in the area – a long standing problem. A drug house in an area I went through a number of years ago as local law enforcement did a warrant round up east of Third Street was the target of a nuisance order. The court documents backing up the order show more than 3,000 police calls for service in a quarter mile radius of the house over a two-year period. On the other side of Third Street, a federal indictment targets Young Mob – a different kind of drug organization that is also selling guns as well as drugs, according to the indictment. And the indictment includes some excerpts from recorded phone calls among the reputed mob members.

Real estate auctions come with a stigma says Jeff Morris, the owner of Morris Auction Group. But Morris is quick to add that shouldn’t be the case. Until recently, the real estate auction – on the courthouse steps or at the property itself – was synonymous with foreclosure or some other kind of financial reversal of fortunes.

Morris said the mainstream U.S. real estate market is catching up with other places and sectors.

Meanwhile Landis Foy of Crye-Leike walks us through the different kinds of bidders at the auctions.

Meanwhile, the most expensive home sale of the year so far was on Tennessee Street near the Tennessee Brewery, whose renovation is underway. It was a 4,647 square foot residence that sold for $1.7 million through a broker.

This weekend at Crosstown Concourse, the formal opening of Church Health and the Mama Gaia restaurant, the two latest tenants to complete their build outs and turn on more lights in the 1.5 million square foot real estate giant that does its big opening altogether in mid-August.

If you go to the annual Farm and Gin Show Downtown every year as a tourist – a non farmer -- your image of farming is probably big tractors, yard sticks and lots of farm families. But the show at the Memphis Cook Convention Center is the most visible representation to the outside world of an ag industry that continues to be a bellwether for innovation. In the cabs of those big tractors that are a couple of stories tall is some really sophisticated technology linked to some other hi-tech approaches to farming.

And that innovation is what Patrick Lantrip examines in the cover story of our weekly, The Memphis News.

Three Tennesseans have served as president of the United States and none of them had an easy time of it.

Andrew Jackson, whose 250th birthday was observed earlier this month, lost what he considered to be a crooked election in his first bid for the White House. And that belief, arguably along with many other factors including a penchant for dueling, influenced his second bid and the presidency that followed his victory. There was an assassination attempt on him during his presidency.

Andrew Johnson was reportedly so intoxicated when he took the oath of office as vice president that his speech had to be cut short. He became president by virtue of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. He was one of the targets of the assassination conspiracy although the person who was to kill him apparently lost his nerve. And once he became president, Johnson was impeached by the Senate and missed conviction on the impeachment charges by one vote. Johnson was the first president to face impeachment and one of only two to have survived the process.

That brings us to James K. Polk, whom you might think had a comparatively better time of it. Polk failed to carry his home state in the process of winning the White House. And Polk’s after-life has been turbulent as well. His remains have been interred in three places since he died in 1849 – the last and current resting place is on the grounds of the state Capitol. The Associated Press reports this may not be his final resting place either. There is an effort to move the graves of him and his wife to the Polk house in Columbia, Tn. This all began because Polk died of cholera and health regulations of the day required victims of cholera to be buried outside of towns and cities – on the outskirts.

Polk was a former Tennessee Governor which explains the burial on the capitol grounds. It also turns out the family home – also known as burial place #2 -- in Nashville was near the capitol anyway.

But Columbia also has its ties to the governor’s race. After all, taking part in Columbia’s annual mule day parade is a tradition among those running for governor to this day.

The Memphis News Almanac: Guilty verdicts close out the Craig Petties case, the Amro super store and Fox’s Den.

PROPERTY SALES 57 94 2,713
MORTGAGES 16 37 1,820
BUILDING PERMITS 303 621 6,322
BANKRUPTCIES 138 138 1,115