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VOL. 132 | NO. 176 | Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Council to Weigh Statues, Funding Projects

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members have a busy agenda Tuesday, Sept. 5: continued discussion regarding bypassing a Tennessee Historical Commission waiver process to remove Confederate monuments and a recently enacted ban on sewer connections to properties outside the city limits.

The council will also take up a $10 million advance of city funds for pre-construction work on the long-planned renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center and another $11.5 million in surplus Tourism Development Zone revenue for the Bicentennial Gateway project between the Pyramid and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

All four topics come up at the council’s 1:45 p.m. executive session Tuesday. None is on the agenda for the full council meeting at 3:30 p.m., but could be added to that agenda.

The $10 million convention center advance would come from the TDZ surplus as well as possibly city reserve funds. The administration cites “an aggressive construction timeline, pre-construction costs, including A&E (architecture and engineering), program management, environmental studies, traffic studies, and legal fees” in the resolution seeking the funds.

Tami Sawyer speaks to protesters standing in front of the infamous Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park off Union Avenue on Monday, Aug. 28. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“Once permanent funding is secured, the administration will reimburse both the TDZ excess funds and the general fund reserves for the amount of costs that were advanced for pre-construction funding.”

The cost estimate for convention center renovations, which include a new exterior and interior changes, is $60 million.

The Bicentennial Gateway project is centered on the nine-block area between the Pyramid and St. Jude’s campus, an area known as the Pinch District. But it also includes the convention center renovation as well as a new pedestrian bridge from the east side of the Pyramid to Front Street that was demolished when the Pyramid was repurposed as a Bass Pro Shops store.

And the city intends to propose that the state expand the Downtown Tourism Development Zone to include using the sales tax increment it captures on the riverfront and Mud Island River Park as well as “a pedestrian bridge connecting to the southern end of Mud Island to the Riverfront,” according to the resolution.

The TDZ surplus the administration is specifically requesting council approval of would be $750,000 for architecture and engineering, $4.7 million for land acquisition and $6 million for construction.

In regards to removing Confederate monuments in city parks, council attorney Allan Wade offered several options for resolutions in which the council would direct the mayor to take down the statues without waiting for a state waiver or a Chancery Court ruling, which Strickland has said the city will seek if the waiver is denied.

The alternatives include invoking a state civil rights statue that prohibits the state from denying “individuals full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of a place of public accommodation … on the grounds of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin.”

“I’m not sure, but I think an argument could be made that the existence of these statues prevents African Americans from the full and equal enjoyment of those parks,” Wade said at the Aug. 22 executive session. “That would be a cause of action for them to make but nevertheless we would be the target of it.”

The council could also make a case that the statues are public nuisances and site the expense to the city of protecting the statues.

“Before any of these statues would be removed under this option, I would strongly suggest that you alert the Tennessee Attorney General that this is the action we are attempting to take to give him ample opportunity to come to Chancery Court and try to enjoin the action to do so,” Wade advised council members. “I don’t think we can just go out and take them down tomorrow without some due process occurring.”

The administration enacted the ban on new city sewer connections for areas outside the city limits that don’t have a pre-existing agreement with the city as of an August notice by the city Public Works division.

Sewer extensions for development outside the city have been part of a long civic and political discussion about suburban sprawl. The notice from public works has brought complaints from developers with plans to build outside Memphis but no agreement with the city at this point for sewer extensions.

Council members also consider Tuesday the mayor’s nomination of Mike Rodriguez as the city’s new Chief Information Officer.

Rodriguez was most recently information security protection and assurance director for FedEx Corp. in a career with the Memphis corporate giant that began in 1989.

With council approval, Rodriguez would succeed Brent Nair in the city position at a salary of $140,000 a year.

Nair left the city in August to become an adjunct MBA professor at Christian Brothers University teaching project management to MBA students there.

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