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VOL. 133 | NO. 70 | Friday, April 6, 2018


Bill Dries

Last Word: I Am A Man Plaza, Graceland Clears EDGE and Filing Deadline Action

By Bill Dries

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Sometimes the simplest concepts say more than an elaborate explanation can – even when the history it depicts is complex. A plaza dedicated to the 1,300 city sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968 formally opened Thursday on what had been a vacant lot just across Pontotoc from the south side of Clayborn Temple. And the occasion included more of the small moments that have made this week so compelling. Watching civil rights icon Rev. James Lawson walk around the plaza and discover it includes one of his quotes from the 1968 strike.

"I Am A Man" Plaza honoring the city sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968 formally opened Thursday and nearby MLK Reflection Park opens Friday.

The plaza’s centerpiece is the phrase “I Am A Man” in bronze and stainless steel with a wall nearby bearing the names of the strikers as well as the two sanitation workers whose death in February of 1968 triggered the wildcat strike. The walkway in the plaza is also a chronology of the events of the strike.

Our monthly illustration from Martha Kelly captures the National Civil Rights Musem.

A companion park, MLK Reflection Park, at Second Street and Martin Luther King Avenue, will be formally opened by city leaders Friday afternoon. More water features in this park plus a new home for the Mountaintop sculpture that was on the Main Street Mall for several decades. While the park is supposed to have water, the water provided by the rain expected Friday afternoon will move this ceremony inside at the nearby Memphis Light Gas and Water building.

Here’s more on the climactic day of this week of MLK50 events, which will continue into the weekend. And our story includes more of the work of our photographer Houston Cofield at many of these events during a very busy week.

The Root with reaction to MLK50 and Memphis in particular.

It looks like a deal has been struck or at least the framework is taking shape that got two Graceland expansion plans through the EDGE board Thursday. But the EDGE approval is just the first hoop of several for each of them to jump through – county commission, city council, state government and of course, the courts. Graceland’s plan for a convention center complex of not more than 1,700 seats made it through EDGE with a pledge that it will not violate the noncompete agreement the city and county governments have with the part of the Grizz organization that runs FedExForum for the city and county.

The second plan – the original 6,000 to 7,000 seat $50 million arena, also on the Graceland campus -- is the more complex and tentative piece of this fragile deal. Elvis Presley Enterprises is not seeking a PILOT or similar tax incentive, which would and has triggered the noncompete as far as the Grizz front office in concerned. Instead Graceland will rely on a 15 percent increase in the flow or draw on the tax increment financing -- TIF -- district that is the Graceland campus. This is city and county property tax revenue on the Graceland campus that is already flowing at a 50 percent level to finance Guest House at Graceland and the Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex.

With more of the increment going to those two existing projects, Graceland says the private financing – Elvis money if you will – that is going to those two projects is freed up for Graceland to spend on the arena. See what we mean by complex?

Late Thursday evening, city chief operating officer Doug McGowen said by email that the city administration opposes this.


“This is tantamount to directly providing TIF revenue to the arena which, as mentioned ,is prohibited in the use agreement with Hoops Inc if the arena is deemed to compete with FedEx Forum. Conditions have changed considerably since the development by EPE started. What was once an unbankable project is now performing so well that additional phases can be built using the existing public revenue streams, and as EPE asserts, the arena can be constructed with private resources and commercial financing without directly applied public incentive. EPE has asserted that with the increase to 65%, other new development will be catalyzed in the future. While that may be the case, it is appropriate to consider approving a public incentive only after reviewing the project's proforma and economic impact, neither of which were presented or available for consideration. Because the arena puts the City at risk, and because the requested incentive was not clearly tied to developments in the plan that do not risk violating the agreement, the City if Memphis cannot support the project as presented.”

We should know soon enough how the Grizz feel about that. And this was a close vote for the EDGE board, which is usually a unanimous vote, after a detailed discussion and debate.

But at least for now the Whitehaven arena not too far away from Landers Center’s 10,000 seats in Southaven has come back to life. Not sure if this is an either/or deal since both of these facilities are planned for where Heartbreak Hotel currently stands.

Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton at LeMoyne-Owen College Thursday jumped into the 2019 race for mayor.

And he did this at about the same time as Thursday’s noon filing deadline for candidates running in the August state and federal primaries and county nonpartisan elections. Here’s the basic rundown including the two statewide races for Governor and U.S. Senate.

The ballot for the August state and federal primaries and county nonpartisan races is almost set with Thursday's filing deadline here and in Nashville.

The basics are three Democratic state House members were re-elected at the deadline by virtue of no Democratic or Republican opposition. Democrats fielded a candidate in every one of the 17 state legislature races covering Shelby County – all 14 state house seats and three of the five Senate seats for Shelby County. Six state House races and one of the three state Senate races will be decided with the August Democratic primary because there is no Republican opposition.

There weren’t any surprises at the deadline. Those who made it to the ballot now have another week to withdraw if they wish and as this goes up the Election Commission was still checking signatures on the qualifying petitions that made it in by the Thursday deadline.

All of that said, for the politicos and Disciples of Democracy, here is the post-deadline, still being checked out list from the Shelby County Election Commission. And here is the same from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office in Nashville.

Dot Transportation is going to open a terminal in West Memphis and has started the hiring process for the new jobs there. Dot also announced Thursday a pay raise that comes to $3,000 to $4,000 on average.

Memphis Redbirds manager Stubby Clabb meets the press at the outset of his second season at the helm.

Tigers basketball coach Penny Hardaway has hired former Grizz Mike Miller as the latest addition to his staff.

Don Wade’s “Press Box” column is on what Alex Lomax will likely mean for the Tigers on the court following his commitment to the team earlier this week out of East High School.

The Redbirds have now opened their season on the road with the home opener next week.

In the Tennessee Legislature, the state Senate approves overturning the ban on some short term rentals aka Airbnbs. This appears to be aimed at the Nashville market and not the Memphis market. On its way to the governor’s desk, a bill to get data from public school systems across the state on their use of corporal punishment.

Memphis Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Moody prepares for a new MSO season.

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season lineup and more from the MSO’s CEO Peter Abell about the mix of the familiar with the challenging when it comes to music.

“Behind The Headlines” is a reporters roundtable on many topics including but not limited to MLK50, Graceland-Grizz drama and Herenton running for mayor. The show airs at 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on WKNO TV.

The cover story by Andy Meek in our weekly, The Memphis News, is a primer on the state of health care insurance and coverage against the backdrop of the Trump administration. This in advance of our April 12 Daily News Seminar on Health Care at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. We also have a gallery of photos in the weekly from our MLK50 coverage this week. The PDF of the new issue is up now on this very website. The hard copies hit the streets Friday morning and the online version of the cover story goes up Friday afternoon.

PROPERTY SALES 93 424 6,970
MORTGAGES 42 281 4,410
BUILDING PERMITS 196 704 16,619
BANKRUPTCIES 38 174 3,570