Behind the Headlines – December 2, 2016

Behind the Headlines – December 2, 2016


(female announcer)
Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. – Germantown Mayor
Mike Palazzolo tonight on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Mike Palazzolo, Mayor of Germantown. Thanks for coming back. – Glad to be here. (Eric)
Along with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with The Memphis Daily News. So, we’ll talk all things
Germantown tonight and get to everything that’s going on. And there’s a lot
going on in Germantown. I wanted to start with
the Germantown Forward, the strategic plan
that you all wrapped up. And it’s interesting to see. I think you just told me that
it was the third of these plans that have been done
over the last few years. In Memphis, we did a show
just a couple of weeks ago, they’ve begun
rolling out their plan, the first plan in a long time. Why are these plans important? It’s the same question I asked
the Memphis people a couple of weeks ago. How do you have a plan like this
with a lot of lofty goals that doesn’t just end
up on the shelf. Hey, that’s nice. Now let’s do what we want to do. – Sure and I think
that’s why in my community, you know, we’ve done
three in 20 years. So, we had our first one in
’95, a subsequent one in ’05, and now our latest
version in 2015. And we didn’t, like,
tear up each one of them. We kind of
fine-tuned them as you went. And so, that’s I think what
keeps it from collecting dust on the shelf is that you
continually fine tune the plan and engage your community. – For people who
aren’t familiar, talk about the process
and the involvement. Because it’s not just something
where you hire a consultant and they come up with a pretty
brochure and hand it to you. There’s a whole lot of
community engagement. If done right, there’s a
lot of community engagement. – Sure and that’s one
thing we take pride in, in Germantown. We’re a city of
process, a city of procedure, a city of engagement. In ’95 and in ’05, we
hired a consultant. And our city administrator
has been with us 28 years. The third time
around, so to speak, said hey, we can save
75 to 100,000 dollars. My staff, we have
done this before. So, we did it internally. And so, we put together
a steering committee of 30 residents. We had 28 adults
and two teenagers. We had never done that before. We wanted to get kind
of their perspective, as well. We took one from
Houston High and one from Germantown High School. And so, those 30 steering
committee members met for a year. They developed nine task forces. And at the end of the
product so to speak, about a thousand residents
touched this new document, Germantown Forward 2030, which
will take us to the next 15 to 30 years and beyond. – Let’s try to make it tangible
and then I’ll go to Bill. But some of the examples of
the things that were highlighted that are goals for Germantown. Just some of the high points. – Sure. Well, you know, the nine
task forces include education, economic development, quality
of life, natural resources. All those things come
together to make a community. And so, we put some emphasis on
each one of those task forces that then translates
into strategic plans, goals, and objectives. One of them was our
strategic business plan that we put in place. Hopefully we’ll get a chance
to talk about that a little bit during the show. – Bill? – So, in Germantown’s case,
the prominent feature that comes into play and certainly this
latest plan is that there is no more annexation reserve area. So, does that make
it easier in a way. Because I think we’ve talked
about this before and that is there is no reserve area
but that doesn’t prevent, like, a remaking or a renovation
of a Saddle Creek in an area that’s identified as
commercial real estate. – Sure. You know, and
I’ll tell you what. At first we thought
that would be a hindrance. We’re fully annexed. We have no more reserve area. The town of Collierville,
our neighbor to the east, has a significant reserve area. So, at first we
thought, what a drawback. But in essence, we have
kind of our picture drawn. We know how far we can go
because our last annexation area occurred in 2000 when we annexed
about 1,400 acres that makes up our Forest Hill Heights area,
Forest Hill and Winchester. And so, we know what we
have left to develop. You know, the city
of Germantown has about 20 square miles of area. 17 of that, so roughly
85%, is residential. And that’s that
bedroom community feel. That’s never going to change. We’re not rezoning residential. It’s already almost built
out from that standpoint. The remaining
property, three miles or 15%, is already commercially zoned. And that’s made up of
five key business nodes. Central Business District,
the East Poplar and West Poplar Gateways, the Wolf
River Medical District, and the Forest Hill
Heights Winchester area. So, our goal in the Germantown
Forward 2030 and our smart growth plan and our key economic
strategic plan was how do we maximize the land we have
left and meet the goals of our citizens. And so, that’s what we spent
a year doing from an economic development standpoint. And it’s been really great
work because now we’ve seen the market embrace those plans and
they’ve come into Germantown. – And how? You just had big news with MAA
locating its headquarters in the TraVure development, which I
guess for old timers like me is where the Kirby
Farmhouse was at one time. – And let’s say that MAA
is Mid America Apartments. Big national,
regional, apartments. They own apartments
all over the country. But the
headquarters is based here. – And they just merged
with a company out of Atlanta, Post. We are very glad to have
them stay in this region. They were looking at Atlanta,
Dallas, other places. And they’re staying in
the Memphis region in the city of Germantown. They’re only moving about
a half mile to the east to the TraVure project. But it’s been a great economic
boom for us in Germantown. And it’s part of that plan
that we’ve put into place. And we’ve seen that occur. You know, how do you
kind of redevelop areas. That western gateway where
they’re going to build their headquarters, most of
that was developed. It’s already commercial even
though the ten acres that was the Kirby Farmhouse was
much of a rural feel. Everything else in
that area is developed. And it was all
developed from 1968 to 1973. So, it’s kind of made it to
its highest and best use. And it’s kind of time to
repurpose that land whether that’s Care Four at Kirby or the
area at Poplar and Kirby where Bank of Bartlett and
other businesses are located. So, we’ve enabled that
legislation and that zoning. And so, the market is
slowly bringing it to us. – And it’s a mixed use market in
Germantown as it is everywhere in Shelby County. That’s really taken a hold. And that seems to be something
that’s changed from when our cities made plans 15 years ago. Mixed use is the
name of the game now. – Well, no doubt. And I know Eric and I have
gotten the chance to get to know each other through
our membership in Urban Land Institute. You know, you can’t have
suburban without urban. It’s in the word itself. When you look at mixed use,
that’s not a new concept. That’s something that cities
have embraced from the 1920s on. It’s just changed
formatting over time. You know, in the ’70s when
Germantown grew residentially, we were pretty much a collection
in our commercial zoning of just shopping centers. The city fathers and mothers did
a good job of making sure they all connected via
easements and cross access. But again, just a collection
of shopping centers a couple of small regional malls. All that’s kind of
been redeveloped. You know, the regional mall
is no longer a regional mall. Most of our two malls
have been turned inside out. They still have a shell of
an interior but everything is on the exterior. Now with the mixed use plan, the
plan that we’re very proud of, it’s called Thornwood. It’s about $170 million plan. Just a little bit
to the north of GPAC or Germantown
Performing Arts Center. And it is truly 43
residentially zoned lots, high end
apartments, a hotel, retail, commercial, and restaurant
all on about 30 acres, which will
make that part of the Central Business
District very walkable. We dream and vision one day that
people will walk from Thornwood. We have a 70-foot town
clock there and ice fountain that’s very iconic. They’ll walk to one
of our, you know, 100 plus shows a
year that are at GPAC. They’ll walk over. They’ll go to a
restaurant, that type thing. And we’re starting to see
more walkability in Germantown. We see a lot of
people that are.. They’ve already walked in
their neighborhoods for years. And we’ve got bike paths and
greenways and that type thing. But we’re starting to see it in
our Central Business District and it’s a good sign of
being a healthy community. – And it’s something that we
associate and maybe unfairly with, you know, big
cities and with urban core. So, you know, Downtown Memphis
or it’s Downtown Detroit or it’s Downtown, you know, New York
that these kind of returning to the Central Business District
or returning to urban core, having that walkability. And we think of, maybe unfairly,
maybe the media or whatever, the suburbs don’t do that. Suburbs aren’t
about walkability. They’re about gated communities. They’re about big lots
with houses on them removed. All that sense of removal. Some people really,
when they say suburb, that’s what you think. You’ve made a real conscious
effort to get away from that. Did that come out
of the planning? Was that something that you and
others impose on the citizens of Germantown? Or were the
Germantown residents saying, no, no, no, we want to
transform our community? – Well, sometimes people in
office get too much credit and sometimes they
get too much blame. You know, in our community,
it’s really been market driven, free markets. At one point in time, I’ve lived
in the community now almost 40 years and I’m 53 years old. So, we moved to
Germantown when I was a teen. Most people move to the suburbs
for that one-acre lot with the nice fenced
backyard, big deck, pool, that type thing. Well, over time, the
market has changed. We are starting to see our
housing stock in Germantown more resemble the Garden District
in New Orleans where you’ve got pretty substantial house on
a small lot with very well landscaped amenities but kind
of a courtyard in the back. And so, that leads to more
density, more walkability. In the suburbs, you know, we run
into each other Downtown before. And in the suburbs, we’re not
going to abandon our vehicles and our cars. But I think what we’re trying to
do is kind of the hub and spoke. We want our neighborhoods
that are close to our business district, Downtown so to speak,
to be able to walk to events, to our parks. We have 28 parks in Germantown. In our Central
Business District, we have a half dozen parks. So, we want people to
push strollers there, ride bikes, and
walk to those areas. So, people are doing that. You know, in the suburbs, it
always kind of gets me at times that we’ll have a
shopping center. Someone will park their car in
front of one business and then they’re going to go about 150
feet to the north and they move their car in front of
the other business. Just walk down the sidewalk. But that’s slowly changing. The denser you get, you
create more walkability. And walkability is something
that’s not a negative word. It’s something that’s
good for all rural, suburban, urban. – We were at an Urban
Land Institute event. It was very esoteric but
it was very interesting. It was an English guy, a
British guy talking about how, you know, everyone wants to
remake cities and yet everyone holds a city like
Paris, was his example, as the model. And everyone loves Paris. And they figured it out hundreds
of years ago that you would walk down the street and you
would have a residence, and you’d have maybe
a little workshop, and you’ve have a little store. And it was all walkable
and it was all real close. And it did move on here. But it was an eye-opening
comment to me because he talked about how American cities and
European cities got to where they would do big
residential area, big commercial area, and that
created the need for cars and it reduced walkability because
everything was so far apart. So, it was an
interesting point that, you know, we figured this out. Humans figured this out a long
time ago when they did things like Paris and New York. Let’s move a little bit more. You talked about.. We talked about
the strategic plan. One of those was, and I’m sure
there are people listening who want to hear your perspective
on the strategic plan. City services and
financial responsibility. There was some real
controversy about, you know, how the city
administrator was paid and some back fees on car allowances. And there were some
Freedom of Information Act. All this stuff if written
about and people can look it up. Your take on is the city of
Germantown being financially responsible with its
employees right now. – Sure, without a doubt. I mean, without a doubt. I can unequivocally say
that’s an accurate statement. We make sure that we’re good
stewards of our residents’ tax dollars, that we have fiduciary
responsibility for that. You know, our city has been.. We’re very proud that the
state of Tennessee just acquired triple A bond rating status
in both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s just this past spring. Our community has had
that designation since 1988. And so, that means that we’re
able to really make sure that financially planned
and driven, we are that. And so, we’re constantly audited
by the comptroller and we’re audited once a year. So, and all
communities, you know, sometimes have a blemish
or two, a mistake is made. And when those mistakes
are taken care of properly, I think that’s where citizens
need to get some reassurance. – Is there enough transparency? Because I think that was one of
the complaints that people had. Some residents of Germantown
filed for the Freedom of Information Act and
they got some e-mails. But I think it seemed like they
felt they had to fight to get the information about how
their tax dollars are spent. I mean, does that need to
be addressed differently, how transparency
for the tax payers? – When you’re sitting at the
desk so to speak as mayor, or you’re city administrator,
or a department head, I think you have
to always feel like you’re open and transparent. We can always do better. I mean, always do better. Some people are
motivated different ways. We have residents that e-mail me
and others or aldermen all the time and they get
quick response, quick action. And others don’t want to accept
that and they want to go the route of FOIA,
which is fine as well. The media does that with a great
amount of regularity to make sure that they’re getting
the proper information. And so, you know,
I’m a firm believer in the Freedom of Information. Years ago when I
was an alderman, the state legislator was
considering repealing the Sunshine Law for locals. You know, in the legislature,
they don’t have to acknowledge the Sunshine Law. They can meet in small groups
without the media there or the citizenry. We are held at a
different standard. And so, on record, our city
passed a resolution saying we want to maintain the
Sunshine Law in Germantown. We sent that. It’s part of our
legislative agenda. And that law never.. Bill may remember that. It was probably in ’07 or ’08. And that never made its
way through Nashville. So, our community actually
went on record and said let’s preserve Sunshine. Because it’s important and
valuable to our residents and our community. – Mike, to what extent do you
think the elections that we just saw this past November reflected
some of the give and take, some of the debate about
Germantown’s direction. It was a pretty vigorous
election cycle for Germantown. – They all are. Our citizens are very active. They’re very engaged. We have 98% of your populous has
a high school diploma or higher, 65% has a college
degree or higher, they read. They are knowledgeable
and they’re active. And in this last election,
we had three aldermen that ran for re-election. One incumbent
drew no opposition. So, you can make any kind of
inference on whether he was doing a great job or not. But he drew no opposition. A second one did. And then a third alderman who
was appointed to fill my vacated seat when I became mayor, that
person did not win election. So, they weren’t an
incumbent so to speak. They were an appointee. So, two incumbents won. Those incumbents, the
legislative branch, does a good job of holding
the checks and balances for the executive branch. So, that’d be the mayor
and the city administrator. We all work very well as a
team because we do follow the blueprint, the
Germantown Forward 30 plan. Again, as a I mentioned earlier,
we’re very much process driven. And we’ve learned over time
and my 12 years in office if you deviate from the process, you
tend to not have a good outcome or a good product created. So, we stick to
that in Germantown. And, you know, I think to
ask about open governing and transparency, we can always
do better and we strive to do better. – Let’s go back to planning
and development because at some point there was talk
about some changes, some pretty massive changes
along the Germantown Road section where most folks know
as the area where the Commissary is, that
particular stretch of road. And that’s no longer the plan. What’s happening with that
because there were also traffic issues that were involved. – I’ll give you a
short history of that. So, about ten years ago the
Germantown Road realignment program or project surfaced. And that came
through the MPO, Metropolitan
Planning Organization. You know, Germantown has really
developed as kind of the nexus or the center of this region. If you’ve been here
any amount of time, you would say that Poplar and
the Parkways was the middle of this area. And Poplar and
Highland, Poplar and 240. Now it’s really
Poplar and Germantown. And I’m talking about from
South or North Mississippi to Arlington and to
Fayette County, to the river. So, we’ve got major traffic
that goes through our city. So, this road realignment was
the way to relieve traffic and take it through our
community quicker. If you’re moving from
Olive Branch to Arlington, let’s get you through our
community with ease and safety opposed to being bogged down
in our community so that our residents can use
our roads as well. So, that road
realignment faced opposition. It was a platform issue
when I ran for mayor. I succeeded in
winning that position. And so then as it came
forward to be funded, there was
opposition in the community. And our board decided that it
wasn’t in the best interest of Germantown and listened to
our residents that organized. So, currently that plan, that
money has been I guess sent back to the MPO and it’s not on our
five year CIP and quite honestly it’s not in my administration’s
long term planning. – You talked earlier about the
strategic business planning. What is that? – Sure. Well, in 2012, we.. And again, this is all
part of the kind of process. You know, I told you we
had a comp plan in ’95, and in ’05, and then in 2015. Well, in 2012, we decided
Germantown can’t wait for the phone to ring anymore when it
comes to economic development. We’d always been a community
that when the market comes, we’ll react. So, we developed an economic
strategic plan in 2012 and put that in place. Since that implementation,
we have put on over a half a billion dollars in
economic development in our commercial nodes. Pretty
substantial from Thornwood, to the complete
makeover of Saddle Creek, to the expansion
of Saddle Creek, to TraVure and other
projects in between. So, we’ve added about 375,000
square feet of retail space, about 200,000 of
commercial office space. And all that is very
much occupied right now. – And how does that.. I mean, what does the role of
Germantown government in that? Because that’s all private. I mean, that’s primarily
private investment, right? But the government, the city
has a role in making that happen which is what? – Well, we enable zoning. And so, when you enable
zoning and you rezone areas.. So, our five districts, three
have been rezoned Smart Code. And so, that
allows for mixed use. So, as you rezone
your properties… – That’s there’s
going to be residential, there’s going to be
commercial, office. All that’s going to be close
together versus spread out. – Live, work, play is kind of
one way of thinking about it. They’re hybrids
of that, as well. – Going to that Smart Code and
that mixed use was in no small part triggering that
private investment? – Oh, without a
doubt, without a doubt. I think the market saw that
Germantown really wanted to not necessarily reinvent itself but
kind of make a transformation. And so, in the
Central Business District, you’ve got more
opportunity to grow. But it’s not going to interfere
with the serenity of the neighborhood feel, which
is outside of those nodes. – Am I right that
TraVure or the MAA building, Mid America Apartment
building, involved a PILOT, right? That’s done
through EDGE and so on. But your take? I’ve got to ask everybody who
comes and sits at the table. Because PILOTS are so
controversial and inevitably you get comments in the paper or
people on the show who say, you know, if that private
business can’t build that building or open that factory or
do whatever they’re going to do without a PILOT, it
shouldn’t happen. There shouldn’t be that
sort of government support. What’s your take? – Well, we have an IDB,
Industrial Development Board, for about 20 years. And that enables PILOTS or
TIFs, Tax Increment Financing. MAA did acquire a PILOT. We’ve got three active
PILOTs now in Germantown. And so, we’ve been very wise. They’re bringing
jobs to our community, about 225, that pay 163% of
our median income in Germantown. So, these are jobs that are
paying 90,000 plus a year. Those are people who will be
moving in to East Memphis, Germantown,
Collierville, into this region. You know, they’ll be
coming to our schools. They’ll be buying products
in our shopping centers. – So, the net math
growth when you do the PILOT, for you, you’re
saying it’s a gain. – We’re not
putting on retail jobs. We’re putting on high level,
professional jobs that will end up paying the community
back in multiple fold. – We’ve got just four
or five minutes left. Bill? – Alright. Let’s talk about the market for
this because my impression is that some of these companies
who are looking around, some of these companies that are
looking at retail expansions, too, in many cases, these are
long held plans that weathered the recession and they
continually change them during that time. So, it’s not
exactly the same plan. But is that what the market is
out there that’s looking around at this point and
making these plans? – Well, I think so. I think, you know,
markets look at things like disposable income. They look at public safety. They look at how
educated your work force and your community are. They look at healthcare. All those things, we
have that in Germantown. And so, I think
that’s drawn the market. From a retail
standpoint, you know, at one point in time, our
citizen surveys would come back each year. We survey our
community every year. About 25% get a survey. And every five years, the
entire community gets one. We have about a 30% return
rate, which is phenomenal. And our community
has told us, you know, they want more
diversity in shopping, dining, and retail. And so, the market
has brought that. The new and improved
Saddle Creek is phenomenal. You know, that was the first
lifestyle center in the country and now it’s about to
have its 30th anniversary. So, I think, you know, Apple,
when Apple did their redesign of their store, there were only two
other prototypes in the world of that redesign,
Hong Kong and Dubai. Hong Kong, Dubai, and Germantown
is generally not synonymous. You don’t hear those three
cities mentioned in the same breath very often. Maybe this show is
the first place. And so, when Apple came in
and doubled their store size, they could have
gone somewhere else. You know, they were the first
Apple store in the Mid-South. There’s now one in Nashville. And so, that’s kind of an
investment in our community. And it’s also they see our
community has great value. – Just a couple of minutes left. We’ve got to talk
about the schools. What is the status? I mean, again for
people unfamiliar, the three Germantown schools
that stayed with Shelby County Schools in the
whole consolidation, deconsolidation
and all that ruckus. What’s the status of those? – Two minutes isn’t long
enough but I’ll do my best. So, we’ve got about 530 more
students than anticipated. So, people are
coming to our community. They are moving to Germantown
for many reasons and we don’t have enough time
to go into them. But we have 530 more
children than seats. So, we are… We have that pleasant problem of
having to build or buy existing from Shelby County Schools. We’ve continued that dialogue
with the superintendent, with Dorsey Hopson,
with the school board. And we continue
to talk with them. We’ve got great relations. They’re going through their
own facilities study right now. And we hope that will
lead to more dialogue. But when push comes to shove,
our community is not going to live with modular portables
to put these 500 children. We’re going to have to
have brick and mortar. And so, we’re looking for
school sites right now. – I was going to say,
I mean, the dialogue. But Shelby County Schools, a
huge system that got a lot of issues and remaking. I mean, how much
patience can you have? – Well, I’ve mentioned
this in my own community. We’ve gone on a duel track. We’re going to build or continue
to negotiate but we cannot put our fate in other
people’s hands. Now whether it’s SCS,
SCC, the county commission, we have to control our own
fate and destiny and that’s what we’ll do in Germantown. – But you have looked across the
border though and you’ve seen areas since Shelby County
Schools is talking about building some new schools,
three as seven others close. You think there might be room
for some school growth near your border on the
Memphis side of that. – Well, we know southeast
Shelby County is still growing. And there’s a need
for schools there. If you look at Southwind and
Lowrance and those different areas, there’s
still growth there. I know that when we talk to
Superintendent a while back in the spring, they have capacity. They could put children in
seats close to schools in those neighborhoods. But they come to Germantown. We’re glad they’re investing in
our community but we would hope that maybe they would invest in
some of their own neighborhoods. – Alright. Well, that’s all
the time we have. We didn’t get to everything. But we go to enough. Thank you for being here. – My pleasure. – Thank you, Bill. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. [theme music]

Author:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *