Last Word: Plans and More Plans, Badu and Byrne and Gun Bills In Nashville

By Bill Dries

Plans, plans, plans. I’ve seen so many overhead views and schematics in the last 24-hours that I had to go for a walk in the rain Wednesday to avoid vertigo. I saw a lot of green Save the Greensward t-shirts Wednesday evening at the Pink Palace that looked like they hadn’t been out of the bottom drawer in a while and even a couple of banners.

The Powers Hill Design rendering of the new Memphis Zoo parking plan.

The Pink Palace session on the Memphis Zoo parking plan for Overton Park featured renderings on the giant 3-D screen. Not to imply the renderings were in three dimensions – they weren’t. But the size of the screen made finding the tiny red dot of the laser pointer a bit of a challenge.

So let’s start there, with the recommendation of the design firm Powers-Hill to the city around three goals – add 415 new parking spaces for the zoo, keep the expanded zoo parking lot west of the ridge that separates the park greensward from the lot and preserve as many of the trees in the parking lot area as possible. The plan takes 2.3 acres of land not now in the parking lot. And it is behind schedule. So the January 2019 end of overflow parking on the greensward will be pushed back. The greensward parking usually doesn’t start until March when the spring peak for the zoo and the park begins.

Here is the plan via City Hall's new website.

City chief operating officer Doug McGowen fielded some of the questions and comments, which were permitted only in written form. More on that when next we meet. But McGowen used the opportunity to advance the administration’s coming public transportation plan and got some applause for it from a tough audience. He also made it clear the administration views the ridge as a line the zoo shall not cross once the parking lot is done. Expect a decision on moving ahead with this in some form, possibly with some adjustments, from Mayor Jim Strickland in March.

The new Graceland plan submitted Wednesday to EDGE.

As that was underway in Chickasaw Gardens, Graceland was back with another plan to use the space on its Whitehaven campus where the shuttered Heartbreak Hotel is currently. This comes a week after Graceland’s Chancery Court lawsuit against the Grizz over the Grizz noncompete clause in its contract to run FedExForum was thrown out of court. The lawsuit was over Graceland’s plan to build a $50-million, 6,000 seat venue, announced in August and almost immediately changed as it encountered initial resistance and later outright opposition from the Grizz. Graceland pulled back the proposal and then filed suit.

Elvis Presley Enterprises was back Wednesday with an application to EDGE for tax breaks for a $20-million flexible venue whose seat total is well under the 5,000 threshold at which the Grizz bare their teeth –3,400 split into two areas of 1,700 seats each billed as exhibit space on either side of an event area.

The city, which was in the Grizz corner in the previous dispute, sent an attorney to the Wednesday EDGE meeting to request a delay. Marty Regan says the city isn’t opposed to the plan but wants to know more about it. The delay was granted.

EPE president Jack Soden brought up a concept for the new plan that many Memphians regard fondly – the Wonders series of cultural exhibits from the late 1980s into the 1990s. Soden says the space being planned is built around those kind of exhibits. And Soden says Wonders in the years when it was a well-oiled machine with the Imperial China and Titanic exhibits was a factor in the biggest box office years Graceland has had.


The verdict could be in Thursday definitively on the Tigers basketball season with the game at the Forum against Houston. The Cougars are on a five game winning streak. The Tigers are 7-7 in their conference which includes Houston. The Tigers’ Jeremiah Martin is the conference’s leading scorer.

The Beale Street Music Festival bill is out including the day-by-day breakdown. Here is the overview of 63 acts in three days in Tom Lee Park on multiple stages.


The line-up is meeting with general approval once you filter out some of the hipster-isms in the reaction that surfaces just about every year. This is about more than who the festival wants to book. There are other factors that have to align including price and whether someone is even going to tour this spring and summer and if so for how long and at what ticket price. BSMF sometimes takes criticism when its line up leans too heavily into nostalgia territory. Although to my ear that’s been muted somewhat since 90s grunge began to fall within the nostalgia frame.


The trick is to find an artist who may have a long track record but who also retains some currency. That is the case with two performers in particular on the bill – David Byrne and Erykah Badu. A lot of folks are interested in what they’ve been up to lately. And each doesn’t worry too much about loading the set with the hits. They aren’t hit machines. Their appeal is what is on their mind and how they are expressing it.

In Badu’s case this is a decade since her “New Amerykah Part One” album which reintroduced the term “woke” as a political status. Here’s Vulture on then and now for Badu.

Byrne, like Badu, is innovative and that is the attraction. On his site, above the tour itinerary there is a quote from him: “We’ll be doing some new songs … and many others that will, I assume be familiar.” He then says this will be the most ambitious set of shows he’s done since the “Stop Making Sense” tour, which says a lot.

Many other performers could say the same thing about their new tour and you would probably envision the momentum-killing parts of the set when the artist doggedly goes into a set of three new songs from a new album that is harder to find that Amelia Earhart and then reluctantly goes back to playing the hits and then back to the new stuff. Then there are the guys who are all nostalgia and would probably be willing to let you come on stage and sing a few because the crowd singing along out front is going to drown you out too. Byrne and Badu couldn’t do that if they wanted to.

Latino Memphis calculates that the city’s immigrant population is growing faster than the overall population of the city and the report it released Tuesday shows immigrant households contributed more than $4.2 billion to the city’s GDP in 2015. Those households, which make up 5.2 percent of the city’s population, earned $1.6 billion in 2015 – paying $372.1 million in federal taxes -- $109.7 million in state and local taxes.


A few gun bills have died in the Tennessee Legislature starting with one measure that went down in committee the same day as the Parkland, Florida school massacre. And a measure called the “carry-like-a-cop” bill was defeated as well in committee. But in his “View From The Hill” column, our Nashville correspondent Sam Stockard says the times are not changing on capitol hill on guns and the partisan divide between the Republican supermajorities and the Democratic minorities is still as wide as ever on the issue.

Also in Nashville, two complaints filed about House Speaker Beth Harwell’s most recent campaign finance report in her bid for the Republican nomination for Governor.

If you have been by the Mississippi River recently, you’ve probably noticed it is on the rise. That will pick up in the next two weeks with a March 4 crest at Memphis forecast by the National Weather Service.