Behind the Headlines - June 21, 2019

Behind the Headlines – June 21, 2019



– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production fund, The WKNO Endowmnent fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Philanthropist and
AutoZone founder Pitt Hyde, tonight, on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I'm Eric Barnes
with The Daily Memphian, thanks for joining us. I am joined
tonight by Pitt Hyde, founder of AutoZone,
founder of The Hyde Foundation, thanks for being here. – It's my pleasure. – Along with Bill Dries, reporter with
The Daily Memphian. We'll touch on, we'll try to
touch on all the things that the foundation has been
involved with over the years, and maybe even talk
just a bit about AutoZone, but probably the biggest news,
and the thing that kind of got you here right now
is the Riverfront, and Memphis in May,
and the ongoing tension, between entities
of what's going to happen with Tom Lee Park, and the big
investment of some $70 million. And the future of
Memphis in May specifically, the music festival and
the barbeque festival. And so I guess,
first my question is, The Hyde Foundation's
role in this is what? – Well, we're a supporter
and a funder of the project. Barbara and I, you know, we see
the Riverfront as such a great physical asset, and one that we
have not fully captitalized on, and we think
it's a wonderful opportunity for Memphis to do
something great. You know when we took on the
Shelby Farms Park project, there were a lot of people that
were naysayers and everything else, and when we did that,
we saw that as something that could really be great for
Memphis and differentiate us. You know, the largest
urban park in America. And one thing we learned from
there was that if you're going to do something, really
do it at a very high bar. And so we hired Jim
Corner out of New York, world class
architectural design guy. And I think everyone would
agree today that it's a great asset for our community, and
the usage has gone through the roof and everyone loves it. And we had opposition
initially on that even. But the thing we… in looking at the Riverfront,
we see a great analogy with the Shelby Farms Park. – Which was about
a $50 million– – No, it was a $70 million.
– $70 million, ok. Yeah. – $70 million.
And a lot of people say, well how could the Riverfront be
$70 million if the whole park, well remember, in the park the
big focus of that $70 million was the heart of the park we
call it, which is the lake, the buildings
surrounding the lake, the bike paths, the playground. So it's really not comparing
apples to apples to say 4500 acres and 30 acres,
although we really ultimately, we see the Riverfront as the
six miles worth of riverfront that we have. But we think the Riverfront
has terriffic opportunity. You know, we've got
all the dynamics going downtown right now, but the
connectivity to the Riverfront has never been good. You know our foundation office,
we sit right on the bluff overlooking Tom Lee Park, and
I see all these tourists every day that will walk
down Beale Street, and they'll stop and
that road and all that, just is like a barrier, but
they want to see the river, and they want to
connect with the River, and I think it's a
fabulous opportunity, and if you look, just the small
work they've done so far since we've connected
all the bike paths, the Riverline, that goes
all the way to the Greenway, all the way to the Big
River Crossing Bridge, the traffic's gone way up,
and our River Park there, that's small pocket
park we've got there, the usage there has just
gone through the roof, so I think we've already
demonstrated that there's a huge demand to
reconnect to the river. – Let me also do a quick
disclosure that recently the Hyde Foundation,
slight left turn here, the Hyde Foundation granted
money to The Daily Memphian, which we appreciate immensely,
and expansion of coverage and free access for those
who can't afford it, and so on, so just a
full disclosure on that. But back to the issue at hand. Can… so is the $70 million
that's being talked about being put into the Riverfront… and all kinds of
reconfigurations of Tom Lee, and we'll sort of go
through some of those details, but the fundamental question
that people seem to be asking and fighting about is whether
Memphis in May can co-exist with a re-designed Riverfront,
and then the second part of that question is,
should they co-exist? – The thing that's ironic to
me is that we would have never been a backer or supporter of
this project if we didn't think it was going to be an
enhancement for both. One thing that most people
don't realize is I've been a supporter of Memphis
in May from day one. In fact Cynthia Hamm and I sat
down and figured out that we ought to do a music fest, and
I was running AutoZone at the time, and I agreed to
be the first sponsor, and we were main stage
sponsor for like 20 years. And twice, when they ran out
of money I led the charge to offset the deficit. So I'm a life-long
supporter of Memphis in May. And of course we've had Memphis
in May engaged from day one, contrary to some of
the stuff you hear. And, we have made over 12
revisions to our plan to accommodate issues
that they have raised. – Some of which is actually on
the Memphis River Parks site, there's some overviews
of where tents would go, and where stages would go–
– Yeah, yeah, yeah. – And where stages would go,
just if people want to visualize that.
– And the thing I think personally it's going to be an
enhancement for Memphis in May. Certain people call
it Memphis in Mud, because it's a
rainy time of the year, and Tom Lee Park was just
pumped up clay from the bottom of the Mississippi River,
and there's no drainage on it whatsoever. So if you get rain the water
is just going to sit there. One of the first
things we'd do, is we'd remove
the surface soil, and we'd put in all the
drainage and everything. So it's going to be
more like a golf course. And of course we've also
designed it where the stages are positioned where you don't
have to have tractor-trailer rigs running all across the–
– It's more permanent infrastructure, so other
festivals could happen. – Permanent electric
hook-up, everything. And so we think
it's an enhancement, and they kept
raising the issue of, well it won't
accommodate Memphis in May. Well we hired one of the
leading event planners in the country to come down
here and lay it out, both for the barbeque,
and for the music festival, and we've gone
over and over that. And we've spent like an extra
$100,000 trying to– – (Eric) Yeah.
– accommodate those guys. – Let me say too, we've
reached out to Memphis in May, and actually Jim Holt
was scheduled to come on, give-or-take a
month, six weeks ago, then the mediation started
between the two entities which, part of that mediation they
were meant to be radio silent, and it's kind of a
muddy situation, but we're reaching out again
because the mediation has been paused, there's a
little confusion over that, we would love to get some
folks from Memphis in May on to continue to talk
through this thing, but let me get
Bill involved here. – So what do you think is the
path between Memphis in May, and the Memphis
River Parks Partnership. Is there a point
at where they meet, or is this, the plan's
already there in your view? – As I mentioned a minute ago,
we have have modified the plan over 12 times and re-drawn
it and everything else to accommodate issues
they've raised. And it's sort of been like a
whack-a-mole situation from our point-of-view,
is they raise, well we've got two remaning issues.
Alright, what are they? We address those
two remaining issues, and then it's two
more and it's two more. So I, and look, I've
sat in on those sessions, I've looked at every
plan that's been drawn, and I'm totally
convinced, and like I say, I don't have an ax to grind,
I'm for something good for Memphis, and I'm certainly a
supporter of Memphis in May, so I'm totally convinced
that it will accommodate both, and really, it be
an enhancement. – Is moving the festival,
moving Memphis in May for a year, is that what's
holding some of this up? – You know, some people
that's really an issue for, and nobody likes
to have to move, but if it's going to be an
enhancement for the next 30 years, a move, and the mayor,
we're convinced that there's several locations downtown that
we can accommodate the event. And as you can recall, the
barbeque fest moved one year when the high water
was there to… – (Bill)
Tiger Lane. – Yeah, and it
seemed to work very well, and it didn't seem
like their attendance or anything fell off, so I
think, yeah, it's always a hassle to have to
relocate for a year, but, I think for the long term
benefit, and particularly for the long term benefit of the
park and all Memphians, I think it's well worth
the extra effort. – Let's move to separate
from the ongoing conversation, mediation between
the two entities, breaking down that $70 million,
at least at a somewhat higher level, you know,
the $70 million, where does that
money come from. I think The Hyde Foundation has
committed some big money to it, but there's some other sources
of money for that $70 million. – Well of course the
state allocated $10 million, the city through the
TDZ is allocating, the number changes somewhat,
but I think it's roughly $20 million, and the County
had under consideration supporting it as well, which I
think they probably will. And of course,
Carol and her organization are raising private money. – Carol Coletta, the head
of the Memphis River Parks, used to be RDC. And if Jim Strickland
were on the show, he would be quick to say that
that TDZ money is not operating money, it's the money
that comes from sales tax, and so I always like
to kind of note that. In terms of them
breaking down the improvements, we've talked a lot
about the structure, again, a lot of it
is on the website. But there's the cobblestones,
some $10 million to re-do the cobblestones and make those
accessible and have almost what I think would of as a
pier along the water, a kind-of walkway
along the water. A whole lot of trees, a
whole lot of landscaping, is any of that money allocated
to Mud Island River Park, or is that a whole
separate challange, problem, and opportunity. – Well you know, the
Mud Island River Park, that, everyone has been
searching for what is the ultimate solution there to make
it where it draws more crowds and all that,
and Carol Coletta and her team have been working
hard to come up with that, but our first focus
is on the Riverfront itself. Now there have been
enhancements in what they do, it's free now, they have
more activities over there, the usage has gone up, so
they're not totally neglecting it, but–
– But everyone sort of thinks eventually, to make it right
a whole lot of money is going to need to go into Mud Island
River Park as well? – Well nobody really knows,
there have been a bunch of plans in the past,
none really came to pass, and I think
we'll figure it out, but one thing that's happening,
just connecting the bike paths has really increased the
traffic on Mud Island, so again, I think we'll come
up with a good solution for it, but I do think the highest and
greatest return for the city is to focus on the
adjacency right now. – And a couple more things
that have been talked about, this $70 million does not
include an aquarium, right? – Oh no.
– That's been talked about, but this is not an aquarium, that's something that's still
kind of in the whisper-winds. – Well remember the
whole aquarium deal, I've had a lot of conversations
with the mayor and others about it, and that was
originally brought up as, Oh, that's going to be totally
financed by private money, well, you know.
Nobody– – Presumably the Hyde
Foundation is in that private– – Nobody has turned
up with the money, so– [all 3 chuckling]
I'd say, that's probably indefinitely off, you know. – Ok, and this
Freshwater Institute, is that part of this plan,
that's something that's been talked about.
– Yeah, that's been talked about–
– In conjunction with U of M. – The University of
Memphis, and– – Ok, but that's not a formal
part of the $70 million plan. – There hasn't been an
actual proposal made. – And then the other one is,
and then I'll go back to Bill, you talked about Shelby Farms,
and disclosure I'm on the board of the Overton
Park Conservancy, I believe the Hyde Foundation
has certainly supported that. What I learned in being on that
board is operational expenses, upkeep, maintenance is just
a huge part of what goes on, from restrooms, to playgrounds,
to just keeping the land– – (Pitt)
No doubt. – Is that contemplated? I mean once all this huge
improvement may be made, and all this work, how will,
it's a free and open park, so how will all
of it be kept up, how will the
operational maintance budget, where will that come from? – Well in the design there's
been a lot of focus on a design that does not require
a lot of maintenance. You know, you see
the trees, and the shade and those kinds of things. Those actually don't
require a lot of maintance. We put in hundreds and hundreds
of trees at Shelby Farms park, and that's the easy
part of the equation. We don't think it's
going to be exorbitant. Some of the things that do
require more maintence I think have been exited
out of the plan, like the splash pools
and those kinds of things. And mainly what we want is to
provide some contour to it, where it's not just a
flat pancake with no shade. I mean in the
summer going down there, you get fried with
no shade whatsoever, so really it's
places people can sit, shade, and those kind of
things that are pretty common, and a lot of people think, well
where's all that money going? Well, when you gotta change all
the drainage and do all that, and of course part of it, I
think close to $10 million was allocated way back when
for the cobblestones, and it's been a long
process of getting the, I forget who, the
historical society, whoever has
jurisdiction over that, to get them to approve it. That part should
kick off any time now. – Ok, ten minutes left,
we'll go back to Bill. – And I think the last word I
saw was that the cobblestones would start in October. That that renovation would, and
that there would be some work on the north end
of Tom Lee Park, probably next to
the cobblestones, is that your understanding. – That's what I
understand, yes. – Is this
controversy surprising to you? – Unfortunately
[Bill and Pitt chuckle] I've found over the
years that everything that we've been involved in
that we think is going to ultimately be great for Memphis
was very controversial. Think of the Grizzlies
and the FedEx Forum. I mean my god, I spent a year
trying to convinvce people that this would be
great for the city. And the whole reason I got
involved in the basketball, the NBA, was 'cause I was
convinced it was something that would bring our city together,
and that it would highlight Memphis in a way to the country
that it hadn't been before, and I think it's
accomplished those goals. Today everybody is
really excited and glad the Grizzlies are here. But you know, you go down the
list it's always something. I mean the AutoZone Ballpark,
we had controvery over that. Civil Rights Museum, when
we were startintg that, there was opposition to that. Today everybody
loves these things so, our approach at the Foundation
is that if we see something that we really think is
going to be great for our city, and that
Memphians will embrace, we take the long view. We just assume there's going
to be bumps along the road. Initially the
Greenline, people said, oh that's going to be
horrible for our neighborhood, and of course today it's, house
values along the Greenline have gone up, everybody
loves the Greenline, they were all worried
about security and all, and now each person
is building their own pathway to the Greenline. So it's just part
of the process, when you're doing
public projects, public/private projects,
there's always going to be controversy, but I think
what we try to do is focus on, now is this really
great for our city? And if we're convinced it
is, we'll just perservere. – When the Hyde Family
Foundation considers getting involved in something, is
the plan that you want to see, that you think is
the best and highest use, is that plan always
there at the outset, or do you contribute
some thoughts on that, and some thoughts
about the direction of it? – It evolves. Number one, we try to, usually
we're supporting a certain existing organization with a
plan they've come up with. We may contribute
ideas or thoughts to it, we want the citizens to
give ideas and thoughts, just like on Shelby Farms Park, we had a long process
involving citizens. We've got a model of the new
design of Tom Lee Park down at Beale Street landing, in fact I
encourage people to go look at that model, because I think, I
looked at every piece of paper they produced on that thing,
but looking at that model it becomes crystal clear. – One of the other things
you're involved with right now is the Brooks Museum relocating
from Overton Park down to a location over the Riverfront,
it's where the firestation is downtown right now, and
the adjacent parking lot. – (Pitt)
Right. – It's a, last number
I heard was a $100-$110 million project.
Again, a lot of private money. I think maybe some of the TDZ
money goes into that if I'm not mistaken.
– (Pitt) Yep. – Some public
infrastructure and so on. Why, I mean this is one
that was met with both cheers, like oh my gosh we're going
to have this world-class, incredible, internationally
renowned design team put a museum on the Riverfront,
and then other people, again, back to the no one
is ever completely happy, why leave the park, why
leave that historic location? – That's a great question, and
that's one we really chewed on. Recognize that we've
been a long-term supporter of the Brooks. We've been a long-term
supporter of the Shell. We were a long-term
suppoter of the College of Art, and the Zoo, and
the new Overton Park, we support all of them. They asked us, they've been
considering for the last 30 years, they desperately
needed to add onto the Brooks. And that's how I
originally got involved in it, they asked me
to look at all their plans and see what I thought. Well the problem was the '73
addition wasn't built properly, so they had to take that down,
and the plan was always take it down and add on. Well, the deeper I got into it,
the problem they have today in their current
location, is no parking, the Shell, which we love–
– (Eric) They can just park on the Greensward.
They can just put all the cars out there.
– [Pitt laughs] Yeah. – We got it, we worked out.
– Don't raise that issue again. [laughs] – Sorry.
– No but, there's no parking, we love the Shell,
and we support it, but since it's been
such a success, it used to be a good source
of revenue for the Brooks, special events,
weddings, and all that, well during the whole
time the Shell is operating, nobody is going to book an
event because they've got to compete with the sound and
the parking and all that, and then at the end of
the day, you do an add-on, you're still
locked in right there. And of course there's a huge
amount of work that had to go just to bring the
existing buildings up to snuff. – Parking in downtown, people
are worried about that because a certain amount of existing
parking garage is going to be used, will there be
enough parking for the Brooks? Are we just exchanging the
problem of parking and access from Midtown to Downtown? – No, it's ironic that
every project that we've been involved in, and they're saying
parking is going to be a huge problem, just like
the FedEx Forum, we did an
extensive parking survey, and there was way more
parking than was required. The problem is Memphians
historical mindset is they don't want to walk 2-3 blocks. They want to drive right there. And actually, the location
for the Brooks downtown, there's going to be a parking
garage built under the site. The actual number of slots
hadn't been determined yet, but that's part of a
whole survey we're doing. But really, I think the same
result is going to be there. You look at the
availability and it's there. – Before I go to Bill, and
just a few minutes left, will you be involved with what
happens next to the Brooks, and you mentioned
the College of Art, obviously the College of Art
is closing in the next year. Hyde Foundation is somewhat to
very involved in the future of those two facilities, right? – We funded a consultant to
come in and conduct a process to try to help solicit and see
what the highest and best use of both of those buildings are. And they're real gems, and
we're very concerned that we get a high and good use for it. – Yeah. Let me, just with
a couple minutes, I'm going to
actually stick with this, one more question
that I'm curious about, you, we've talked about
a number of projects, but you've also, the Hyde
Foundation has been involved with funding education, you're
very much associated with these public spaces,
and public parks. Things like New
Memphis Institute that you, you have this wide range
of things that you've done. You've given away, much of
this came from your personal fortune, correct?
– (Pitt) Mm-hmm. – Why? Why do you give so
much money away, and why has this been part
of your mission as a person? – I've believed from day one,
and you know my grandfather and my father believed in giving
back to the city where they'd been fortunate
enough to prosper. And the way I've
always looked at is, you know I've had the good
fortune of being successful in business, and I think one of
the great privelages that comes out of that is to be able to
support your hometown and try to improve the city
for all the citizens. And I just, since I
retired from running AutoZone, I've spent over half my
time focusing on Memphis. And we're a
mid-sized foundation, and we chose a long time ago to
focus 90% of our resources on Memphis because Memphis
is a large enough city to have all the same problems
and opportunities of any urban center. Yet it was something where we
could get our arms around and think we could help
really make a difference. Because remember, and
particularly when you're trying to deal with
public, private stuff, it's really more the sweat
equity than it is the capital. The capital is important, but
it's working with everybody in the system to try and get a
good outcome for our city. And you know we have a lot of
needs in our city because we have a large
low-income population. I mean, education
which Barbara and I, and the foundation have been
involved in for over 25 years, to me that's the most important
work of all because I believe, particularly for
low-income people, and those kids, their
best route to escape their circumstance is a
quality education. Unfortunately for decades our
public system was failing the children in Memphis, and that's
been true all over the country, and so the best empowerment
of the individual to become a productive citizen is
a quality education. – We will leave it there,
thank you for being here, thank you Bill. And thank you for joining us,
join us next week for a show on the World Golf Championship. Have a good night. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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