Behind The Headlines – Jan. 4, 2013

Behind The Headlines – Jan. 4, 2013


>>female announcer: This is a production of WKNO, Memphis. Production funding for “Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by..>>Barnes: A look at the challenges and the opportunities in funding redevelopment in the city. That story and more coming up on “Behind the Headlines.”>>(instrumental music) ♪♪♪>>Barnes: I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined this week by a round table of journalists. Les Smith, Fox 13 News. Thanks for being here. Bill Dries from the Memphis Daily News. And Jackson Baker from the Memphis Flyer. We start tonight, Jackson, with funding of a big project. We’ll talk about a few of them but we’ll start with what’s not called Heritage Trail, a project that stretches, I guess, in the main in some public housing projects in South Memphis just south of FedEx Forum. But it’s grown to encompass a whole lot more challenges, a lot of powerful people-Robert Lipscomb among them. Tell us what’s going on with Heritage Trail.>>Baker: Well it’s Robert Lipscomb’s project. One of the two hats he’s wearing as head of the Memphis Housing Authority and City’s Development Agency. And he’s integrally involved with it. You can even rename the project possibly Robert Lipscomb’s Bridge Too Far because I don’t think it’s going to go. It hasn’t grown in to a large area. It started out as a large area. It started out the tiff area itself, tax increment finance area-encompasses all of downtown south of uptown, that area. And basically what it would do was take the tax increment revenues for a 20 year period. And that’s any growth in a property tax revenues and apply those to redevelopment within that larger area. That’s Foote Homes and Claiborne Homes. And they have to do with the Heritage Trail which involves a lot of famous historical black sites in downtown Memphis. And a lot of people are objecting to this because it seems to be, to them, it has redistributionism written large on steroids because downtown is a growth area. It is not a slum. It would have to be declared officially a slum for this tiff to work. And it would all go in to this one small area.>>Barnes: And that would-Well, there’s a whole lot of parts to this. But, Bill, that would-we had- Lets start with the Clairborne Homes- the Foote Homes part. We had Ken Reardon on at some point in December I think-maybe it was November-who has been working with neighbors, people who live in the community fighting against the destruction of Foote Homes, the last of the big public housing projects around the city. They’ve been destroyed. Robert Lipscomb has been at the forefront of this starting with Willie Herenton. There are a lot of people who say this current deal that Jackson just described-that may not work but Robert Lipscomb, this won’t be his bridge too far. He’s going to tear down that last housing project no matter what. How do you see it?>>Dries: The plan will probably change. The plan is not set in stone at this point. In fact, the city is not yet formally proposed tearing down Foote Homes which is the last of the large pubic housing projects in Memphis. Demolition began, I believe, a year or so ago on Clairborne Homes and the construction work is underway there. This is by far the most ambitious of these transformations of public housing projects in to mixed use-mixed income. And as Jackson said, the reason it is ambitious is because the surrounding area where they hope to lever or leverage that transformation in to commercial development beyond that and retail and residential development is just a much, much bigger area.>>Barnes: And you’ve got people. Maybe Les-get you in here. You’ve got people like Paul Morris who’s head of Downtown- used to be Center City Commission Downtown. Now Downtown Memphis Commission. You know, they use a lot of tax incentive money and pilots to get people to develop old buildings, bigger buildings downtown. You’ve got all of these different finance things. I honestly get confused in where they overlap. But part of what you seem to be hearing is people saying-Wait, the pie is this big and I think we’re trying to cut too many pieces out of it to get too many things done.,>>Smith: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. And I always like to go to the emotional part of this thing. I’ve talked with Robert Lipscomb before all this-both off the record, on the record, whatever. His feeling is this. In terms of those people who have been told by Professor Reardon that, you know, this is historical thing. You know, it’s about generational things and we want to keep the heritage and all that. And it’s almost like he just-To him, that is just an institution that he wants to abolish just like he did Dixie and just like he did all the rest of them. So it’s become a personal thing with him. He thinks that African-Americans in that particular area are being fooled almost in to this idea that we have to keep the historical perspective.>>Dries: He also views the concentration of those large public housing projects which Foote and Claiborne is the heaviest concentration because they’re right across the street from each other. He views that concentration as actually a contributing factor to poverty being the stubborn problem that it is. So it’s a pretty harden belief on his part.>>Barnes: And I remember years ago-maybe it was before Claiborne was reformed. Before one of these projects that went down that Robert Lipscomb said this is gentrification. This is absolutely gentrification. And for some people, that’s a dirty word. That’s an ugly word. That’s about, you know, removing black people from areas and letting white people in. I mean, there’s a history of that and some people-you don’t say gentrification. It was interesting to hear Robert Lipscomb say this is gentrification because we’re going to improve this people for black people, white people, all people. But it is very personal for him.>>Baker: There’s a way in which all these tiff projects-there are a couple of others that have been instituted. Uptown is a tiff project. They incorporated Mud Island. And there’s one on Highland strip that was approved ten years ago. But then no development has occurred after it was approved. So that means that the revenues are being held in reserve. One reason this one is not going to work is the County Commission is dead set against it. They have to approve it if any county tax revenues are going to be applied to it. People in the city will tell you, too-I don’t know about this one. Can I quote you on that? No, I’ve got to work with Robert. But it’s not going to work. And on the commission, there’s resistance to any tiff hence forth because they seem to be a long term gamble that may not pay off.>>Barnes: There’s more talk, too. Let me broaden this a little bit. There’s talk of other kinds of tax increment or TDZ financing. I mean, there are a lot of acronyms here but basically, you know, using public money to redevlopers around the fairgrounds all the way over to Overton Square. Didn’t get built. Correct me if I’m wrong. It to some degree comes in to play with the renovations to the Liberty Bowl. All of that goes on and again, you get some people worried as I said before. The pie is this big and are we trying to cut it in too many different ways. But let’s talk for a second about Liberty Bowl fairgrounds and Overton Square.>>Dries: Well, and this goes to the larger issue, I think, and the more general issue of complexity. Are these arrangements too complex? The city of Memphis is going to go to Nashville and say-These are the boundaries we want around the fairgrounds for what is a tourism development zone. What that zone does is it captures the sales tax revenue within that area and applies it to the public improvements for redeveloping the fairground, including the new $12 million bill to renovate the Liberty Bowl and make it compliant with the Americans with disabilities act. Well part of that TDZ is going to be Overton Square which is on the rebound and still developing and by all accounts, would have the largest concentration of sales tax revenue there. That’s used to bring the fairgrounds back.>>Barnes: Right and that’s again a place where the city’s putting a bunch of money in to the parking structure there. There’s private money coming in.>>Smith: But you know what? If you go down there, you get that feeling of synergy that this is money that was very well invested and is leading towards something. Some of those places down there are really moving.>>Barnes: And one other as we talk about these redevelopment issues, we talk about these incentive issues. That was news. It was over the holidays and it- I don’t know. It should have been a big banner headline. Maybe the holidays kind of buried it. But Bass Pro, the Pyramid which involved a great deal of public financing-many, many tens of millions of dollars-they say they’re going to be open next year for the holiday season. You know for me, there’s a bit of a stunned sort of silence- really? I mean, is that going to really happen? >>Dries: And this is another project in the portfolio of Robert Lipscomb. He’s very proud of this project and the struggle he’s been through. And he will tell you it is the first adaptive reuse of a public arena in the United States that is not a church.>>Smith: But you notice though, Bass Pro did say they’re scaling down a little bit on the grandiose ideas that they had before. But hey, it’s a work in progress.>>Baker: What you said about Foote Homes-Robert will get that down one way or the other. He took that same attitude towards Bass Pro. We’re going to get this settled here one way or another.>>Barnes: Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of what you hear. I mean, he may rub people the wrong way but you hear that he generally kind of steamrolls- maybe a bad word-but his way to what he wants. Let’s move on to the state, Jackson, and gun legislation. The state legislature goes in to session in the next couple weeks. Really gets to work late January, early February. But they’ll start up pretty soon. And gun legislation which took on a much more tragic turn after the shootings in Newtown. Influenced the national debate about gun control and these laws. Tennessee has had a fight over the ability to bring guns in to bars, in to restaurants. And last year a big fight, especially among the Republican Party, of bringing guns on to business properties. Tell us what there’s talk of a compromise. AC Wharton commented. Tell us where that’s going.>>Baker: Before I get to that, let me tell you there’s a new legislation that will be introduced on the legislature that is almost exactly what Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, has proposed-an armed officer in every school. Some of them will introduce that kind of legislation. It may not go because the governors not crazy about that. And it would be terribly expensive even to contemplate. But the one thing that will probably be passed in some form is what failed last year-the guns in parking lot bill that you were alluding to. And that involved a clash between-its Republican versus Republican. Republicans who are very responsive to FedEx and Eastman Kodak and larger industries who didn’t want any part of guns on their parking lots and the Tea Party types and NRA advocates who insisted on extending the franchise of gun permits and gun ownership. And basically the business enterprises won that round. The leadership decided they would keep the legislation off the floor. And the caucus chair-The republican caucus chair-who had the duty of maintaining that premise, keeping the legislation off the floor last year, she was defeated in her primary. The NRA put tons of money in to her opponents campaign. And that’s an object list. And that’s one reason why a compromise bill will pass in this current session. And the way this compromise is going to work is you can keep a weapon in your locked car if you have a gun permit and if your employer signs off on that permit or if he has that permit rather at his disposal which is a backwards form of gun registration really. So I’m not even sure that the gun organizations are going to go for it. But that’s what the governor will accept. That’s what Ron Ramsey, the lieutenant governor, is proposing.>>Barnes: And, Bill, we’ve talked about that. Jackson mentioned Debra Maggart. She in an op-ed piece that she wrote for the New York Times talks about having an A plus rating from the National Rifle Association, having worked her family business to involve firearms. She held skeet shooting events as fundraisers. I mean, she was a very pro-gun person who said that this was an issue about property rights versus gun rights-two very, you know, important conservative issues. And as she said-“I was a lifetime NRA member, co-sponsor of ten gun rights bills but when I push compromise on one issue, they attacked and they won.” From their point of view, they got her out of office. We see that conflict. You see the kind of pro-business conservatives. Bill Haslam being that is his claim to fame really. Before he was Mayor, he was a millionaire who ran business all over the state and all over the region. Fred Smith, a big Republican, who said -“Look, we don’t want guns in the parking lots of our facilities.” How does this play out do you think?>>Dries: I think how it plays out here is really ahead of where the rest of the country is because I think this conflict has been here for the Republican party basically since they came to power. And a lot of other Republican organizations in other states are going to be watching this to see how Tennessee handles this difference of opinion. I think Haslam’s view to date has been as much as possible that let those guys do what they want to do as long as I get the pro-business legislation that I think is going to be my hallmark and what I really want to move past. Then the other stuff might not even come in to play in terms of enforcement. It’s just there on the books. I think we’re kind of at a moment of truth this year.>>Smith: You’ve got a situation here. You’ve got the legislature. Guns, guns, guns. You’ve got this city and Mayor AC Wharton who wants to get these guns off the streets. 157 homicides last year. A dozen of them were probably kids or so. And it was gun violence. So you’ve got his fervor but yet no real plan as to how to get these guns off the street. He wants them off but who does he turn to? Does he turn to the rottin’ tootin’ Nashville legislature for help on this? I don’t think he’s going to get any.>>Barnes: And AC spoke this week. Myron Lowery, long-time city councilmen, did a breakfast. AC spoke about a lot of things but I think you were there, Jackson. I mean, he spoke. To AC Wharton, this is guns in the hands of people they shouldn’t be in the hands of. It’s a public health issue. It’s beyond a rights or a constitutional issue.>>Baker: Not only did he speak to that point at Myron Lowery’s breakfast this year, so did Mark Luttrell, the county mayor. They took radically different points of view. Luttrell said-“Look, let’s not focus entirely on guns, “Let’s think about mental health. “Let’s think about videogames, incentives to violence.”-which is what Wayne LaPierre had to say. But AC who followed him right afterward said he agreed with some of that but we’re going to have to get the guns out of our streets. And I’m going to work with the legislature. Good luck on that. Got to work with the legislature and District Attorney Weirich to do that. So he wants to take direct action. Luttrell is taking that leave it alone. And again, that dichotomy that you put forth-property rights versus gun rights. That’s what’s going on-pure and simple., By the way, Debra Haggart’s remarks that you quoted were on the New York Times. She wrote an op-ed for them which is interesting.>>Barnes: And we talk about when we kind of segue from that story-property rights, guns rights, those issues, Les. A club north of Beale Street on Beale Street this past-when? The couple of weeks here was shut down by the city. The police-Club Crave had an undercover investigation going on there for some 12 plus months. There have been shootings there. Under 21 shootings under different names over the past few years. Tell us about that club. It’s been shut down and it really does bring the force on some of the issues we were just talking about with gun control and violence.>>Smith: It exactly does. 37 years ago when it was built and open, it was Muhammad Ali Theatre. It was a pride to the African- American community. It’s one of the first owned and operated black theatres in the country. And now 37 years later, they have to close it. It’s a public nuisance because of the number of shootings and murders. There’s some 20 shootings within a year or so. 175 times the Memphis Police Department was called to that area in a year. And then the latest and the last straw in this particular case- two people were gunned down outside that club. And then within five days, there was a big dog and pony show and everybody from Amy Weirich to Mayor Wharton to Toney Armstrong said we’ve got to close it as a public nuisance. So that’s where it stands right now. However, this situation is a little bit different from when they’ve used this public nuisance law that shut down places down before. Mostly it was used back in the days of Larry Godwin and Bill Gibbons to close down exotic dancing places and stuff like that. And usually they just rolled over and played dead and eventually the business would shut down. But this is an area of town and the property owner, George Miller, a very colorful and controversial African-American business man who’s involvement on Beale dates back to it’s early revitalization efforts. It is his property and he is bound and determined not to give it up despite what Mayor AC Wharton said during that news conference. A very strong “we have to tear this place down” statement. >>Barnes: Which is beyond somewhere I think, Bill, of some of these other cases where strip clubs have been shut down. And they’ve kept them shut down but the building still stood so they could be used for other purposes but not for a night club. AC Wharton had a strong statement. He wanted to get a bull dozer and mow this place down. Is that really possible?>>Dries: it’s much easier said than done. It would be extremely difficult to demolish this building even if George Miller agreed to demolish it. There are just so many procedures that it has to go through. And the land issue on Beale Street is pretty complex because the building is owned by Beale Street Development Cooperation. It’s on the other side of the Fourth Street boundary from the actual Beale Street district proper. All kinds of barriers like that. But the main point is George Miller is not going to go away. That building, the piece of real estate, has been his base of power ever since he was basically cast out of the redevelopment of the Beale Street District in the early ’80s. So he’s not going away peacefully.>>Smith: Well you know, it’s like AC said at that news conference that was like-this building, you have to tear it down because it serves no purpose or anything like that. I mean, it’s almost like saying- okay, let’s demolish the capital because the legislature nationally is of no use to anybody. (laughter)>>Dries: I mean, if you’re going to demolish buildings that have a history of violence, the police sub station-the new substation-which is directly across fourth street by a little bit from Club Crave was known in the early turn of 20th century Memphis as the castle of missing men because so many people died there violently. It was actually next to an undertaker’s place on Beale Street. So there’s definitely been some backlash beyond the whole George Miller management drama of people saying-Why is this a solution to the problem?>>Smith: A deal’s going to have to be struck with Miller. As simple as that. And that deal is going to have to include-if you own this place, it’s not going to be a night club anymore. That makes everybody happy, I think. And they’ll have to figure out what they want to do with it. >>Baker: One of the problems it seems to me is that eastern most block of Beale Street is the least traveled, the least developed. And that building of George Miller’s could be an anchor, you know, assisting in the redevelopment.>>Barnes: But as Bill has said, it’s outside the zone of what is managed by the city. And even that is still up in the air. If we had maybe 20 minutes, I could have Bill go through the history of where we stand with the bankruptcy of Performa and the transfer of control of that. But that is still moving forward. And in 10 seconds or less, this potentially could fall in to that that the city could take control of. They could control everything from Performa.>>Dries: The expansion of the district either north, east, south or west is one of the things that the city would get to once this whole brouhaha goes over and Beale Street Development Cooperation is to hold out their position was substantially weakened late last year when the bankruptcy core judge said Performa does not owe you $6 million.>>Barnes: Right, so that clears the path for Performa to get out of the way and the city to step in more clearly?>>Dries: Yes.>>Barnes: Okay, aright. Well we move on from there to the schools. We can’t do a show without mentioning the schools in some fashion. And there isn’t a whole lot to mention necessarily because they’ve gone in to private meetings, Bill. All we hear-We hear some reports that they are being productive meetings. They took a break for the holidays. But what do we know about what’s being discussed among the suburban mayors and the other parties in the lawsuit. >>Dries: We know that they had their latest meeting this past Thursday after the holiday break-the first session after that holiday break. The meetings still do not involve the county-wide school board which is not a party in the lawsuit. These are essentially meetings between the suburban leaders and the Shelby County Commission and the attorneys for both sides with the state involved as well.>>Barnes: And, Jackson, they are talking about some options. They’re talking about-I mean, after the loss on the first of a series of rulings that Hardy Mays, the federal judge, is going to make that said the law as passed by the state is not going to pass muster. The county commission is feeling more, And we’ve had some of the members on here. Since that ruling, they’re feeling more empowered that they’re going to win the next few steps. There seems to be-I hate to say this but I’ll do it anyway. There seems to be a tone among the suburban mayors that-Hey, we may not win this. We may lose these cases. So now we really need to negotiate. And one of the things we’re talking about is charter schools-charter schools within the big county wide unified school district.>>Baker: The only remaining area, I think, that they can go to have anything really developed and system wide and that’s going to require new legislation in Nashville to authorize something. An expansion even of what’s already an expanded charter school fabric. By the way, I’m reminded of the way the Armistice in World War one was signed. The Germans showed up and expected to hear proposals from the allies and allies said-we have no proposals to make. This is the attitude of the County Commission. They know they’ve won. And that’s what they’ve told me is that-we don’t have any proposals. We’re listening to them.>>Barnes: You talk about the charter school option and that would involve going to the state. And the state has reason to-the state, Governor Haslam, the legislature-They have pushed charter schools, pushed charter schools over the last few years, taken the caps off the number. And they got real upset with Nashville. I know you’ve touched on it, Bill. But Nashville fought a charter school that was coming in to a wealthier area. It was not a charter school coming in to fix a bad school. It was a charter school to come in and be a school of choice which is a different model sometimes than some of the charter schools we’ve seen. The city of Nashville fought that charter school. The state fined them $3.5 million. The city of Nashville said-“We don’t care. “Don’t give us the $3.5 million. “We’re still not going to let that charter school in.” And I think there’s a good chance we’ll see legislation that gets the state more involved in to the approval, Jackson, of these charter schools. And that could be where the suburbs-It could be a companion piece. And the suburbs go and say-“Look, it’s not going to be up to the city or the unified school board. “It’s going to be up in part to the state to approve charter schools.”>>Baker: That’s what I was going to say. Not only do the legislation expand the compass of charter schools but it will diminish the power of the school boards to say yes or no to.>>Barnes: Yeah.>>Smith: Yeah and that was if you look at this within the last few days Collierville. You know they had been appropriating money at $100,000 rate for their legal litigation and their legal bill. They cut it down to $50,000 yesterday. So it’s-I think they see the hand writing on the wall that it comes in terms of a settlement rather than further litigation. It’s only going to be more costly.>>Barnes: Bill, last word on this.>>Dries: Tommy Thompson who’s a lobbyist in Nashville who’s firm works for the county-wide school board told the county-wide school board members to expect that there will be a comprehensive piece of charter school legislation that covers all of the possible areas that can come up regarding charter schools in the coming session. And it is largely a response to the controversy in Nashville.>>Barnes: Yeah, okay. We have just a couple of minutes left. We’ll do real quickly a couple of things. The city budget season-kind of early indications, Bill, of where we’re going. Mayor Wharton framed that around the issue of him and his term now having been elected. You know, he started. The first two years he was replacing Herenton doing triage, he said, about, you know, picking up the pieces of kind of-for lack of a word-broken city government. He now wants to look forward. Part of that is the city budget and some early indications about how he’d like to spend money.>>Dries: Right, he wants to work toward in some measure restoring in particular the 4.6 percent pay cut that city employees took during the most recent budget deliberations. The budget season will start in the spring and there will be some give and take on that. There will be some council members who believe the size of city government has to shrink as a result of it. There will be some council members who will say we need to restore the 4.6 percent and we need to make up for city employees not having a pay raise for several years.>>Barnes: And they’ve got-The city now has-what? Sixty-something million dollars as they look at it but they’re not funding the city schools because of all these changes in the schools. There could be property tax decreases. We’ve had council members on here talking about that. You could get Memphis city taxes, property taxes, down to the $3 range which would start to make it competitive with the suburbs which would be kind of a sea change in this area. That’s all the time we have. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. >>(instrumental music) ♪♪♪

Author:

Leave a Reply

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