VOL. 133 | NO. 171 | Wednesday, August 29, 2018
Council Approves TDZ Financing for Second Convention Center Hotel
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved the use of Tourism Development Zone revenues Tuesday, Aug. 28, to finance the construction of a second convention center hotel as they delayed any decisions on long-term crowd control and safety measures in the Beale Street entertainment district.
The council approved the use of sales tax revenues captured within the Downtown TDZ for the hotel project by Loews and Townhouse Management Co. of New York. The partnership plans to renovate the 100 North Main building, the city’s tallest building, and construct two 30-story towers on the same block with it.
Loews, THM and the city are looking at sites for the hotel itself that could include city property on the Main Street Mall one block to the north of the 100 North Main Building and closer to the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The existing skyscraper and the new towers would be other uses than a hotel.
Council members, for a second consecutive council day at City Hall, debated crowd control and security measures in the Beale Street entertainment district – this time following a brawl in the district before dawn Sunday morning, Aug. 26, in which one person was stabbed and another arrested in the stabbing.
Action on a set of recommendations from a Beale Street Task Force and the consultant it hired. Event Risk Management Solutions, was delayed in what is a debate about whether a cover charge eliminated by council vote a year and a half ago should be re-imposed.
Council member Kemp Conrad wanted to add a resolution accepting the recommendations and calling for a cover charge to be used any time crowds in the district, between Second and Fourth Streets, number more than 10,000 people.
But two council members objected to suspending council rules to allow for consideration of the measure. With those two objections, the item could not be debated or considered. But it automatically goes on the council’s agenda for the first council meeting in September.
Conrad says data on stampedes in the district clearly shows the need for a cover charge for crowd control purposes. But council members Martavius Jones and Jamita Swearengen question whether the cover charge serves as a deterrent or whether it sends the wrong message to visitors – especially African-American visitors to Beale.
The cover charge of $10, later reduced by the council to $5 before the council voted to abolish it entirely, was for Saturday nights starting at 10 p.m. in the spring and summer peak season for the district.
Swearengen said historically that is the night African-American crowds on the street are the largest. And the ERMS report makes the same observation.
There are still security checkpoints at 10 p.m. and after on Saturday nights even though there is no cover charge. Swearengen and Jones questioned how the man charged in the weekend brawl got a knife through the checkpoints.
In other action Tuesday, the council delayed a vote on a construction landfill on Shelby Oaks Drive at Summer Avenue and voted down a proposed day care center at 2538 James Road in Frayser.
The council approved an eight-unit apartment development at 1368 Monroe Ave., site of the burnt-out Buccaneer Lounge.
It also approved a surface parking lot on the northeast corner of Main and Beale where Tri-State Bank stood until recently. Belz Enterprises had wanted to build a hotel there but cites market conditions for delaying that. During the delay, Belz wants to operated a 29-space parking lot next to an existing 59-space parking lot further east on Beale.
Council member Frank Colvett amended the approval to allow the parking lot for 10 years with council approval required to extend that five more years. Initially the item drew opposition from the Downtown Memphis Commission, which did not express any opposition at Tuesday’s council meeting or in an earlier committee session.
The council approved a resolution by Swearengen calling for a 120-day moratorium on approving any new car lots, car repair businesses or convenience stores on Lamar Avenue from Winchester to Bellevue while a traffic study is conducted.
Swearengen called for the moratorium saying the businesses are making the area more dangerous and said she’s had complaints from constituents who live in the area. Swearengen blocked plans for a convenience store on the site of the city fire house at the intersection of Lamar, Pendleton and Kimball citing similar concerns. The council again delayed approval of the sale Tuesday of the city-owned property to the first council meeting in September.
Nine resolutions in a set of 10 funding purchases and capital projects by the Memphis Area Transit Authority were approved by the council. But the council delayed action on $300,000 in city funding for a bus rapid transit line between the University of Memphis and Downtown.
The city funding would be the match for $10 million in federal transportation funds for what is a first phase of a $62 million project to make streetscape changes along the transit corridor.
Conrad questioned why the city should put up its match ahead of federal funding the local match secures.
The council approved $6.5 million in road paving funding as the city ramps up to pave 200 miles of street surface in the month of September.
“I need some asphalt,” council chairman Berlin Boyd said of his district, pointing to complaints about potholes and deteriorating roads in North Memphis and Nutbush.
Coming to the council next month, council member Edmund Ford Jr. plans to propose a transportation utility fee for monthly Memphis Light Gas and Water bills that would be a dedicated revenue stream for MATA and road paving projects.
Ford is still drafting the resolution that he described as similar to stormwater fee funding dedicated to stormwater projects the city undertakes. There would be residential and nonresidential rates that gauge the amount of traffic a property generates with exceptions for those who don’t own cars and those who are elderly.
Ford has several versions of a fee structure that range from producing $30 million in revenue a year to $70 million.
He said any extra revenue could go to reduce the city property tax rate.
And the council approve changes to tax incentives awarded for affordable housing by the Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board.
With the changes, the board can award 20-year PILOT – or payment in lieu of taxes – abatements on property taxes instead of the 10-year PILOTs the board was limited to.
Conditions of the housing built and renovated with the incentives will also be monitored by Safeways – the local agency that awards a certification for housing that meets its standards for safety.