Behind the Headlines – August 25, 2017

Behind the Headlines – August 25, 2017

– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by
the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund,
and by viewers like you. Thank you. – Removing the
Confederate Statues, Graceland plans for an arena, and much more, tonight,
on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, Publisher
of the Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by a
roundtable of journalists, starting with Micaela
Watts, High Ground News, thanks for being here. – Glad to be here. – Bill Dries, a Senior Reporter with the Memphis Daily
News, thanks for being here, and Bernal Smith, Publisher
of The New-Tri State Defender. Thanks for being here. – Always good to be here. – Absolutely. So we start with the monuments, the statues, maybe we’ll just
start with some of the basics and I’ll turn to you, Bill,
in terms of where we are with the Mayor’s office,
the City Council, some of the, just the
logistics and the politics and who has control
over these statues, and we’ll get into some
of the bigger issues in the protest and so on. – Right, Mayor Jim
Strickland continues to pursue a strategy of
trying to get a waiver from the Tennessee
Historical Commission, and if that doesn’t
work, then for the city to go to Chancery Court to
get the removal of this. This is a process that the
City Council’s attorney, Allan Wade, this week
told the City Council, is more difficult than
carrying out a lethal injection in Tennessee, an execution. And, so the council seems
to have some different ideas about this, and their
first discussion of this as a group this
week centered around making the case that the
statues are a public nuisance and should at least
be covered up, or that they violate a
specific civil rights statute in Tennessee, a law that
guarantees all citizens the right of enjoyment
of public facilities. So, the council
is still talking, it hasn’t acted yet,
they’ll discuss this again after Labor Day. So, that’s kind of
where official-dom is. Meanwhile, the
protest about this, the Take Them Down 901 movement that has called for
the immediate removal or covering up of the statues. We’ve had the first
arrests in those protests. Six people arrested a week
ago as this show airs, in Health Science Park, which is where the Nathan
Bedford Forrest monument is. – And we’ve got
police stationed at all the monuments, I believe. – That one, and the
Jefferson Davis monument. – The Jefferson Davis in
what, the Fourth Bluff Park? I lose track of the names,
but the park downtown. It was interesting,
Bernal, I’ll turn to you, the council seems to want to
be moving more aggressively. I think some people have
criticized Strickland, he’s not moving fast enough,
he said his hands are tied and he’s moving
as fast as he can, in terms of going through
the historical commission and going, the legal process, and again, he had,
particularly for Jim Strickland, kind of an outburst this week
over some of the criticism. He’s said for years that
he wants these monuments to come down. Was it in 2013, am I
right, that the legislature removed the city’s,
is that, give or take, the legislature interceded, and because there was
movement to take them down, back then, and said cities
across the state can’t do that. They got the parks renamed
before the legislature acted, but they weren’t able
to take them down. But again, your thoughts,
the council seems to be looking at all options
and potentially quicker, more aggressive options. – Exactly, and I think,
you know, the point that the mayor has
made is to make sure that there is a legal process
that’s non-challengeable, if you will. You know, I don’t think
there is a path, though, that will not result in
some sort of challenge or lawsuit. There are parties on
both sides of this issue, and I think ultimately,
that however it plays out, cause clearly there is momentum, not only here locally,
but across the country to move these kinds of
emblems and statues, so I think it’ll happen, but there’ll still
be some challenge. So, I think it’s important
the way the council is moving to expedite the process and
get this thing behind me. I think people have looked
at cities like New Orleans, where they’ve recently
removed those kinds of statues in the community, but
understand that behind that was a two year
process that it took to actually get to that point. So, I think there’s
some hard, heavy lifting that has to be done to
make sure that it’s done in a way that’s
not challengeable and that is legally defenseable. – Well, let me get,
Micaela , your thoughts. You were at the protest,
I believe, right? This last weekend. – (Micaela)
Yes, I was. – Your thoughts on the protests and the whole, the argument. – Well, the protest
was, as you can imagine, very, very, very
emotionally charged. And the frustration
amongst this civic group, Take Em Down 901
is really getting to a boiling point, and we’re seeing that
boiling point because, as Bernard noted, yes New
Orleans took a couple years for that plan to go through. But, the City of Memphis has
been involved in this process, really, since 2013, and it’s been one step
forward at a time, you know, it started
with renaming our parks to take away ties
to the Confederacy, and then it went to the
waiver that was turned down by the Tennessee
Historical Commission. And then, Allan Wade noted that the Tennessee
Historical Commission failed to properly
adapt criteria under the Tennessee
Heritage Protection Act. So, that slip up on
their end enabled Memphis to start this
process over again. Now, in my work, and I’ve
done a lot of talking with the leaders of
Take Em Down 901, and their solid point is, look, it’s obviously going to result
in legal action either way, go ahead and pull the trigger,
get these statues down, and if it invites a lawsuit
from the State of Tennessee, then so be it. Go ahead and just get
’em out, get ’em done. So, certainly frustration
on their side. – Right. And let’s just say for a second, if the Mayor said I’m gonna
order them taken down tonight. What is the action that can
be taken against the mayor for breaking the state law. – Well, if it were to be we
just decided to take them down and not citing any
real reason for it, other that than that they are
offensive to a good number of Memphians, he could possibly
be open to an ouster suit. Any citizen
could say, “The Mayor “has failed to follow the laws
of the State of Tennessee, and therefore he should
be ousted from office.” That law’s been in existence
for over 100 years, was actually used on E.H.
Crump when he was Mayor in 1915 for refusing
to enforce Prohibition. But I think the council
discussion this week makes it clear that wherever
the action comes from, whether it’s the Mayor’s
office or the council’s office, that the city is
going to put forward some kind of legal
reasoning for why the monument should come down, or should be covered up. If not at the end of
this very lengthy, drawn out process,
under the Heritage Act, then under some other
kind of legal proceeding, and on a much quicker basis. – What is the reaction? I was sort of
fascinated, personally, by the idea of covering them up, and what has the reaction
among the protest groups been? Is it enough? – Well, I think
that’s the first step. I mean, I think it
has gotten to a point where this issue has boiled up and boiled over to the point where there’s immediate
action warranted and demanded by the protestors, and certainly the
arrests that have come have sort of escalated this
now to a whole new level. But, at the base end, there’s a couple of
components of it. One is, let’s be real,
there’s a celebration or acknowledge of people
who essentially tried to overthrow the government. So, what government continues
to uphold treasoners in that way, and
then, of course, if you understand
that, you know, you have the Grand Wizard,
the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan
that has a statue in the middle of a city
that’s 70% African-American. It certainly offensive to the
majority of the population in our community, and
this is not a new fight. I think a lot of people
have tried to couch this in the sense that,
why all of a sudden? If you look back historically,
– (Bill) It’s not. – this has been an
ongoing sort of battle that has had ebbs and flows, that are based in
legal maneuvers. And so, that’s why we’re
still here, in 2017, but there has been an
effort for years and years, for decades now, to try
to remove these emblems. – Well, I remember when
Auction Avenue was renamed, and I had lived in Memphis
I don’t know how long and I honestly had
never thought about, I just, that’s the name of
a street, Auction Avenue. I didn’t realize what it was, what it was commemorating,
until it was changed to A.W. Willis Bridge, and
that street was renamed. So, it’s interesting…
it’s interesting. This whole process. It also, somehow, all
this evokes for me the whole lynching
sites movement of people trying to mark, and I’ve just drawn
a blank on the name, of the person,
the lynching site that was marked along the
New Wolf River Greenway, and there are other
sites that will be marked and commerated is
not the right word, but a horrific period of
Southern American history. – (Bernal)
Right, that’s sort of been swept under the rug in many instances,
and not acknowledged. You know, the point is,
there are some things that have to be corrected. – This, I think, also
is really Exhibit A in the larger point, and
that is that we are at a point of generational
political change in Memphis. This is certainly
not a new issue, but there are new voices that
are speaking out on this, and they are impatient voices, simply because this has
been such a long discussion about actually doing something in which nothing has happened. And you also have people who are new to the
political process, and as a result are
distrustful of it. And, they may actually
agree, in some cases, with the idea of going
through the waiver process, but they feel like they
have to be in the park, and there have to be
protests continuing, simply to keep pressure on
so that what happens here isn’t what has happened over
the last 40 years or so. – I think Bill makes
a very good point about the change in
climate and tone and tenor of Millennial focus protestors is that there’s not
this level of patience, and there’s a high
level of distrust with leadership, because
historically you look back and say well, this
fight has been going on, but it’s resulted in the
same thing happening. – (Bill)
The monuments are still there. – The monuments are still here. – (Micaela)
The monuments are still there. – Well, have we heard from
people who want to keep them up? Have their been
counter protests? Have there been politicians
how have come forward and said hey, I’m opposed
to taking them down? You see that nationally. – Nobody has come out. The Sons of Confederate Veterans did their annual commemoration
of Forrest’s birthday several weeks ago, in the park. That was pretty strictly limited to the birthday commemoration. There were no comments
from the podium about the monument’s
controversy, but they were certainly
present there. – (Micaela)
Sure. And if most events,
because we have seen an enormous amount
of civic response, just in the last week,
since Charlottesville, and so what I’ve noticed, reporting at every
single protest or rally, there’s always, always
people who would prefer that these monuments
stay in place. They can just stay, sort of,
in the back of the crowds. But Eric, to your point about
covering up the statues, I think it’s important to note that Saturday’s
kind of pandemonium that broke out was in
response to two protestors attempting to cover
up the statue. That’s when everything started to get really, really chaotic. So, what I’ve observed, is at this point they’re
covering up the statue would relieve some of
this pressure, I believe. Because we’re seeing
this dynamic play out, we’re seeing tension rise
between Mayor Strickland and betweewn Take Em Down 901. We’re not seeing them
at the same table, and while I don’t think
covering up is a satisfactory means to an end for them,
I do think a gesture would go a long
way at this point. – Yeah, and I’ve heard,
and we’ll move on here to some other things, but I’ve heard the covering
up thing as a first step is fascinating to me,
cause there’s been so much, and again, bear with
me, there’s been so much interesting urban art
that’s been put up. That has celebrated the history, that has marked some
of the bad history of slavery and so on. I’m thinking of some
of the murals downtown, and there’s a real opportunity,
as an interim step, and this is me
speaking personally, to do something
as an interim step that’s really interesting
and that keeps the issue in the forefront that isn’t
just putting chain link and plywood up, but is
kind of marking the shift that people by and large
seem to want to hear. And I think it’s telling,
I mean, you said rightly, I mean 70% of the
African-American population, I can’t imagine there’s
anyone in the African-American population that wants to
keep those statues up. I’ve heard from no one
that wants to keep them up, white or black, I
mean it’s interesting, it’s been very different
than what you see in some of the cities where
there’s a lot of conflict. There hasn’t seemed
to be that here. I think it’s also interesting, somebody brought
up to me the timing and the legalities of this. You know, once the
legislature goes in session, in January, they’re the ones
who eliminated the ability of cities to remove these. The legislature has a
tremendous amount of power over cities in this country,
and cities in this state, and so, if you wait for
that waiver process, somebody pointed out to
me, you also run the risk of getting in to the
new legislative session, and who knows what restrictions
they might put on the city. So, last thoughts, any
other thoughts on that, that we didn’t cover? We’ll move on. – Well, Governor Haslam
was in town this week, and was asked specifically
about two things. Would he use his office
to try to move up a meeting of the Tennessee
Historical Commission, which is now
scheduled for October, and that wouldn’t even
result in a final decision, that probably wouldn’t
be until February. And he said, no, that
he would not do that. He was also asked if
there could be some kind of special session
of the legislature to take up a possible
repeal of the entire law, and he said no on that as well, but that he feels like there
should be some pressure put on the legislature, as well as the Historical
Commission, in other ways. – With the time
that’s left here, we’ll move on to some
of the other things that have been going on. Probably the biggest
news, in some ways, in terms of beyond the
monuments and the statues, is Elvis Presley Enterprises
has proposed building a 6 to 7,000 seat
arena in White Haven, right around the area of, where they’re doing
all the work around, where Heartbreak Hotel was, but on top of the
millions and millions of dollars they’ve obviously
been spending there, and a lot of public
incentive money, it was kind of startling
to me, out of nowhere. Maybe other people knew
this was in the works, and Bernal, just to
frame it a little bit, this would, what people
say is fill the gap. Fill the gap
between the Orpheum, which is about
2 to 3,000 seats, the FedEx Forum, which is
what, 16 to 20,000 seats, and right now, that
middle business, that middle concert business
goes down to the Landers Center, DeSoto County, Memphis has
been losing out on that. There’s been talk about the
Coliseum being renovated and it filling that gap, but it was a pretty
powerful proposal. – Yeah, absolutely,
and I think anybody that frequents
concerts in this area understands the concert,
particularly the concert entertainment scene
understands that, that sweet spot, we’ve
got the Cannon Center, we’ve got the Orpheum,
and then you’ve got the FedEx Forum, and
so there’s really no in-between for that
5, 6, 7 thousand kind of deal, and
we’ve literally been hemorrhaging resources
down to South Haven, when you’re not only
talking about the concerts and events that go
there, but the residual, which is the people that
go to bars and restaurants and so forth, before
and after those events. So, for Elvis Presley
Enterprises as a private entity, to be able to do this
on private property and develop it makes sense,
because then you can get around the whole, the Grizzlies
clause, if you will, the sort of non-compete
kind of thing, or first right of refusal,
which I think is ingenious, and it really will be, you
know, people like Fred Jones, a long time promoter here,
is very much in favor of it. I think it’s really a
huge step that will help in the continued development
of the White Haven area. – Yeah, because it’s not
just about the arena itself, at least Elvis
Presley Enterprises is billing it as
something that, you know, this will be good
for White Haven, and they’re even
proposing that a dollar of every ticket will
go back to EDGE, the Economic Development
and Incentive Agency, for specific programs
within the White Haven area. You’re thoughts, again, on
Elvis Presley Enterprises launching an arena in Memphis. – This was a, Graceland
probably has a lot more plans in the wings, but the nature
of dealing with Graceland, even at this stage, is that it keeps these
under wraps pretty well. So, the idea of a
6,000 seat arena, by the arena which
could be adaptable for basketball games as well. – Which could be, and
we’re speculating here, but the D League team that
the Grizzlies now have, and they’ve been playing
at the Landers Center, the Memphis Hustle, now
could be actually in Memphis. – The idea of doing this, I don’t think anyone
beyond those involved in the planning had really
thought broadly about what if we did an
arena in White Haven? It was always well, if
the Coliseum’s renovated, but ah, there’s a block on this. So, this is indeed a pretty
bold solution to this problem, and it also takes Graceland out of the kind of Graceland
bubble that it’s in. And Graceland’s been
dipping its toe in this because they did Joe Walsh
at the much smaller theater at the guest house at
Graceland, their resort hotel, earlier this year,
right after they opened, so clearly they’ve been
thinking about this. – In this part, we were
talking, and I don’t know if you want to pipe in a
little bit on this Micaela, but we were talking a
little bit before the show that I’ve been to the
Graceland area more, you and I were
saying, in the last, since they opened
Heartbreak Hotel, then in the previous
how many years? I mean, just because
Memphians don’t necessarily go to Graceland. It’s not that they
don’t like it, it’s just it’s a
tourist attraction. Heartbreak Hotel,
there’s lots of events, there’s luncheons. – (Bernal and Bill)
The Guest house. – Guest House, excuse
me, the Guest House. Now you’ve got an arena there,
that might have everything from shows to
conventions and so on, and it does have this
appeal to Memphians, and you’ve got the
whole White Haven area that had seen some
investment and so on, but your thoughts
Micaela, and also what does this now do, and
we’re just speculating, to proposals to
save the Coliseum? Because, if it gets
approved, it’s gonna take, there’s not gonna be
another 5,000 seat arena that the city’s
gonna want to support in the middle of
Memphis, I can’t imagine. – Sure, yeah, those
are going to be two very interesting
things to watch develop. Yes, how is this going
to effect the Coliseum, that’s certainly gonna take
some wind out of its sails I would imagine, I
would just guess ahead. So we certainly want to
keep our eyes on that. I don’t know in the
absence of the Colisuem being able to fill
that specific demand. I don’t know how
they’re gonna rebuild that push necessarily. And also, with this arena, it’s going to be, like you said, Memphians don’t typically
wander off to Graceland, I haven’t been since I was five, so I’m very curious
to see this area. Are we going to see a lot
of dollars being generated from Memphians going back
in to the neighborhood? Is it going to be that
type of economic cycling. – And then, you’d think, and then we’ll move
on a little bit, but just anecdotally people
that go down to Landers, I know lots and lots of
people who go down there, but it’s out of the range
of Memphis restaurants, it’s out of the range
of any kind of taxi, any reasonable type of taxi
or Uber or Lyft type service. It really does change
people’s calculations in terms of, and you also
start to think of people, hey, I’ll take a weekend
trip, or a overnight trip, or a couple day trip, cause
I’m gonna be in a destination, I’m not just gonna be in
the middle of Mississippi. There’s nothing wrong with
the middle of Mississippi, it’s just a little different. It was also interesting,
just real quickly, that tourism numbers
from the state came out this week,
and they talked about a $3.3 billion impact of tourism on Memphis. 22, almost 23,000 jobs,
and $260 million in state and local
taxes were generated, which I think was
a record, in 2016, and I think Bill Haslam
highlighted that, when he was in town
this past week. I’ll move on to, with just
four or five minutes left, another big proposal
that came out, which was the Wonder
Bread re-development, right off the, it’s the
old Wonder Bread building, right off the Memphis
Medical District, where there’s a whole lot
of development being planned and talked about, but this,
I don’t know who wants to talk about, you
want to start here. It’s a big and impressive,
one more big and impressive re-development of an area
that has been abandoned as long as I can remember. Even when the Wonder
Bread factory was there, it was kind of abandoned. – (Micaela)
I miss the smell of bread. – Yeah, this is
a $73 million project that is centered on the
old bakery property, but also involves other
properties as well. It’s mixed use, we live in
the age of mixed use now. And it would better
define this area between the Medical District
and Downtown Memphis that’s been called the
edge for quite a while now. But, you talk about a catalyst,
this is also a catalyst. You consider that the facility that Graceland’s
talking about building is a $40 million facility, that would also have a
retail and some other uses, but mainly be an arena. Well, this is $73 million, and the impact on that,
when you combine it with the Commercial
Appeal’s footprint, just maybe a block away, being
on the block now, for sale, as well, this is an area
that is going to see a lot of transformation
pretty quickly. – It brings up, and
I should have said with the White Haven, or the Elvis Presley
arena proposal, it gets into the whole
tax incentive thing, we had the tax incentive
folks on a week or two ago. Your thoughts? Start with you Bernal, the
appropriate use of public money and the tax incentive and back
loans for a parking garage and all the different
things that go in to this. – Right. I think the approach that Graceland is
taking is fairly smart. Of course, they were already
approved for a TIF District, Tax Incremental Financing,
and that was at a 50% rate, they want to
increase that to 65%, but they also are
cognizant of allocating, as you mentioned, a
portion of resources to go back in to re-development
to help smaller businesses in the area. Now, I think those kinds of
approaches are super smart. I think a lot of people
are leery of continuing to put big tax incentives
into these huge projects and using public dollars to
finance private projects, but I think some of ’em
are being done smartly and I think their
approach is a good one. – Your thoughts
on this, Micaela, I just mean in terms of High
Ground does really interesting reporting on all
kinds of neighborhoods and areas, and
re-developed areas. Do these, and I don’t know
how to frame the question but do these sort of
big ticket investments, Crosstown is obviously one
that went on line officially, it’s been open for a while,
but officially celebrated its opening this past week. Does the Wonder Bread facility, does it reach out
to all of Memphis, or is it the stereotype of just
a bunch of bearded hipsters who drink beer in a new area. I mean, does it
hit all of Memphis? Do these projects have
the kind of impact that the backers
claim they will have. – You know, time will tell, I think that one thing
to keep close watch on as these products come to life, are they gonna move the needle on contracts with
minority and women owned businesses? That’s certainly one area
we can look at to see is this touching all of Memphis, because as we know, those
contract numbers are dismal, they’re really, really bad. So, kind of taking out the
question of beards and beer, and is this gonna
reach to everyone? That’s certainly one
metric to look at, I think, and otherwise, we’ll
see, of course, really, what kind of demographic is that gonna
bring to this area? There’s no way to tell just yet. – It’s interensting,
I was at the opening, the grand opening kind of
celebration for Crosstown, which was a blighted,
really kind of partly abandoned area,
and it is interesting, I mean, how they
claimed and they tried and the Trattel Center and
all the other people involved, the wanted to be diverse, they wanted to be
economically diverse, they wanted to be
racially diverse. To walk around is to see a place that is incredibly diverse,
and they pulled that off and, but then you wonder,
does that have, I mean people talking
about their property values around there going up, does
that then price people out, white or black, that
just can’t afford to live in an up and coming
neighborhood. I mean, it’s you know,
it always reminds me when people talk about
we need more growth, we need more development, which I think we do, because
that’s jobs and so on. But sometimes there’s
ramifications on that that not everyone has
necessarily thought through. Really quickly, some
political news, Bill. Just briefly. – Joy Touliatos, the
Juvenile Court Clerk has declared that she is
going to be running for County Mayor in the
Republican Primary next May. You’ll see some other
moves coming up on that as we get around Labor Day. – All right, well thank you, and thank you for joining us, thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Good night.


One thought on “Behind the Headlines – August 25, 2017”

  • this is a stupid argument. there are so many important things which affect some many people, and they take forever or never are initiated, but this silly crap about monuments is pushed as a dire necessity. stupid!

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