Behind the Headlines – November 17, 2017

Behind the Headlines – November 17, 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. – The Brooks, the River, and
what’s next for Overton Park, 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 Tina Sullivan, Executive Director of the
Overton Park Conservancy. Thanks for being here again. – Thank you. Emily Ballew Neff, is Executive Director of
the Brooks Museum of Art. Thank you for being here. – Thank you Eric. – (Eric)
Alan Crone is a Special Policy Advisor to Memphis
Mayor Jim Strickland. Thanks for being here. – Great to be here. Along with Bill Dries. Senior reporter with
the Memphis daily News. So I will start with you Emily, with a question
you’ve probably gotten probably 100
to 2,000 times in the last month or two. Why in the world, I’m
sure some people say, would the Brooks want to move? – I can understand that
a number of people were really shocked by the news. After all we have been
in beautiful and historic Overton Park for over 100 years. And what I would say
to your listeners is that the Brooks board and
staff has been trying to address one of the challenges
that we have operationally. To one of the three
parts of the building that we are now housed in. And the board’s been trying
to address that since 1993, everything was
T’d up around 2008 to finally address those
operational problems, and of course the great
recession happened and everything was mothballed. So for the past 18 months, the board created a new long
range planning committee which spent 18
months going through a 90 page document
with a fine tooth comb to assess our physical
constraints within the park, to come up with some options. And basically what
long range planning after an 18 month
period concluded is that we needed to put all
options on the table. It’s not just a matter of
a cost benefit analysis, that it was not gonna
be that much more to start over anew, but that
was certainly a part of it. And so by the time the
board made it clear we really need to
look at all options and consider a number
of different… This is a long answer
to your question. The fantastic, in our view, studio gang riverfront
concept plan, which in my understanding
and I recognize I’m a new Memphian, is
the first of many plans that takes into
account and treats holistically the
Memphis Riverfront. The whole six miles. And one part of that
is the Fourth Bluff. And one thing that our board
recognized was in that plan, or concept I should say, that the Fourth Bluff where
now the parking facility and the fire station are, which is really the
front door of Memphis, a kind of gateway to Memphis, that a cultural anchor
or a cultural amenity should be on that site. And that’s something that we all really picked up on and
saw that opportunity. – We’ll dig in whole bunch
more of everything you said, but I wanna get Alan, you in, and you’ve been on
the show recently. Your boss, the mayor,
was on recently talking about the Brooks
and the excitement of this. You were on the Riverfront
Task Force I believe, that the mayor appointed. – (Alan)
Correct. From your point of view, and I think it’s now
official that the mayor has invited and this was
something they were studying, this is now an intent
to move down there. From the mayor’s point of view, why the Brooks? Why downtown? – Well I think every great city
has an art museum downtown. And I think the
opportunity to do something really significant on that
block of the riverfront is a great
opportunity for downtown and tourism in downtown. I think it also
solves some problems long-term in Overton Park
in terms of all of the increased use of Overton Park. And it meets the
needs of the Brooks. I think it’s the
type of thing that probably is gonna be a lot
easier to raise money for because it’s gonna be iconic, it’s gonna be
game-changing for downtown. It’s an opportunity
to really put a signature on downtown Memphis. And so I think
there will be lots, I don’t want to speak
for Emily on that, but we believe there will
be lots of private money and philanthropy money
that will come in and wanna be a part of that. – And we’ll come
back to the funding and get into the TDZ and the
public and private and so on. And before I get to Tina, Bill, let’s you and I talk. The other news that really
is best I understand, and you can correct
me if I’m wrong, that happened
simultaneous with this but was not related to it, is that the Memphis
College of Art, located in Overton Park, is
decided to close it’s doors. And it’s doing kind
of a teach down, it will wind down
operations over the next, I believe two years. A beloved and historic part
of the Memphis community and obviously anchor
right in Overton Park. Give us some background
on MCA deciding to close. – This is something that had
probably been in the cards, but I think a lot of
people were trying to avoid for several years now. And it’s not something
that’s necessarily unique to Memphis. These colleges of
art in other cities have had a difficult
time financially. There were some moves made for the Memphis College
of Art to open a downtown branch on South Main that just clearly
didn’t work out. So the decision was made
with interim leadership there that really the
only course of action at this point was to close. So the classes that are
there now will graduate, will move toward graduation. That’s why the two
year wind down period. But the Memphis College of Art is not accepting any new
students at this point. And so that– – And we’ll do another
show at some point here and we’ll try to get the
leadership on and so on. But I think we made a decision
not to mix the two issues because they are so different. For you Tina, as
Executive Director of Overton Park Conservancy, and I have to disclose
of course as I always do that I am on the board, I
am board chair I believe of the Overton Park
Conservancy right now. But for you, and you and
I have talked about it, everyone has talked about, what’s going on at Overton Park? Because these two great
institutions are quote, leaving the park. And so your take on that. The Conservancy does
not have formal control over any of the park entities. All of the entities in
the park are separate, but the things you’ve
heard and your reaction to all that’s going on. – Well it’ll certainly be a
pivotal moment for Overton Park after having these
historic, iconic, cultural institutions
in the park for so long. For so much of the
park’s history. So it’ll be a time of change, but with change
comes opportunity. So we’ll be looking
ahead at what to do next with those two assets
within the park. And we’ll be working
with the leadership, both Brooks Museum and
the city of Memphis, and the College of
Art to help facilitate the conversation about
what happens next. And what would be
an appropriate fit for the park long term. – Yeah, Bill. – Tina, does this give
you some new options in terms of the master plan. Well so we are planning to
launch a master plan in 2018. And it has always
been our intention to look at the park holistically through that master
planning effort and to look at how all of these
institutions work together. We work together informally now, our staff members
communicate with each other. And we look for ways that we can have greater efficiencies
in our operations and support each
other’s programming. And through our master
plan we will now also look at the
physical spaces. Not quite sure yet what the
structure of that will be, not sure if we’ll just have
simultaneous planning efforts or if we’ll look at everything
through one planning effort, but it’ll be an
opportunity to look at the historic
uses of those sites. And then what really wide open potential future
opportunities are. – So much discussion in kind
of a third angle on this about the architecture that
the original Brooks represents and that the Memphis
College of Art building designed by Roy Harrover
represents as well. Do you know at this
point if you’re looking at a preservation
of those two structures? – Well I think
it’s a little early to talk about the
physical spaces. I know that the Brooks
Museum has brought in, and I’ll let Emily
talk about that, but is looking at what
the current conditions of the building are and the
characteristics of the building. So we’ll beginning with
some information there and that’ll certainly
inform the discussion. – And you also,
separate from this, there is the group
that’s working on the zoo parking expansion. And you now have some
preliminary designs from Powers Hills who is
doing the designs on that, and you’re getting public
input on that, correct? – That’s correct. There’s a survey out right now where members of the
public can weigh in on what they like
about each of those three individual concepts, what they don’t like
about each of those three. I feel very optimistic
that we’re gonna get to some closure on
that issue very soon and we’ll be able
to really focus on the other areas of the park. And again, bring our master
plan and coordination back around to all of
the park institutions. And working together. – And obviously the
park and zoo parking has been a controversy
for several years now. So when these other
separate pieces came up there was some
thought that okay, is the zoo parking plan or
the trajectory that it’s on going to change with
Brooks moving out, with Memphis College
of Art closing? Will the zoo parking
plans change as a result of those other changes? – I don’t anticipate
those plans changing. I don’t anticipate the
design approach changing. And I also don’t
anticipate the overall needs of park
users changing with the move out of these
two institutions. We still expect
to have something on both of those sites.
That’s what I assume today. And those new uses will have
their own parking needs. They’ll have their own
stakeholders to weigh in, but right now that’s
a big unknown. But I think it’s
safe to assume that we’re gonna have somebody
using those spaces and needing parking for them. So one of the pieces of this
zoo parking lot expansion is the anticipation
that there will be use of that parking space by
some of the other park users. For example, the Levitt Shell using the parking lot
during evening events when the zoo patrons
are not using that lot. – Emily, your thoughts
on what happens next. With let’s just stick
with the Brooks Museum. I’m also curious as just
a neighbor, as it were, your thoughts on MCA. But in terms of the Brooks,
what do you see happening there? Will the Brooks have a say
in what happens next there? Or is really more handing
it off to the next tenant? – This is where the board and
staff needs to be Switzerland. We’re going to care
for and maintain, we’ve already down some
fantastic renovations, the city of Memphis
helped us with some of it but a lot of it we did ourselves getting ready for
the centennial. Until the minute we leave, we will take very good
care of the building. Leaving it better than
when we came in, we hope. But the building is
owned by the city, so that’s not our
decision to make. So our goal is to set up
something that’s very positive, that’s productive, but
is ultimately neutral. I’ve received lots of
different phone calls from people with ideas
and that’s all great, but I do explain to them
it’s really the city and OPC will be
working on a process. And we will not be
involved in that. We want to be helpful
to the process, but we won’t really
have an opinion. – So you Alan and
the administration is about to take possession. I mean over the course of time, the Brooks thing
will take some years and the MCA is a
couple of years. You’ll have two buildings
in Overton Park, your thoughts on
what happens next and what the process should be? And are people calling
you and saying, hey Alan I’ve got
this great idea, I wanna put a X, Y, Z,
into the MCA building. – I’ve become a real
estate broker. [laughter] Got a bunch of calls just like– – (Emily)
Me too. Just like everybody
else around the table, but I think we got
a great opportunity. But I think we need to
very deliberate about it and we need to be very
strategic about it. Because one thing
we don’t need to do is further balkanize
Overton Park. And if you put an
institution in there that immediately
is at full capacity in a particular building
and they need to grow then that further
impinges on the park. So we need to think
about not just what the tenant is
and is it compatible, but what’s its long term plan? And is the Overton Park
a good site for that? And I didn’t realize
when I took this job how much the internal
combustion engine was going to figure
into my everyday life. But parking is a real issue and we don’t wanna further
compound the parking problems by putting an office building in where there’s people
coming and going and lots of car needs. So I think we’ve gotta be
very strategic about it, there are lots of good ideas. And one thing that’s interesting is I’ve heard lots of ideas that may or may not be
good in the park, but they’re great ideas
and so maybe we can find some other place
for them in Memphis. And this I think will
be a good catalyst for acquiring a lot of good
cultural assets in the city. – Just some technicalities here, the city owns the Brooks Museum. The Brooks owns its
collection, is that correct? – So basically over a
series of years since 1916 there were a variety of
different collections that have come in and
some city, some us. So it’s a little bit
more complicated. – The building
itself though is– – The building itself
belongs to the city, and I should say that
MCA owns its building, so it’s a slightly different– – Thank you. Have you
gotten into that yet? This is all still relatively new and you’ve had a
lot on your plate, but MCA owns its building,
they have a lease– – A ground lease. So the city owns the land,
enter the cadre of lawyers. Lots of lawyers. And so really it depends, right now it’s all
kind of in flux. We were talking before
the show about I believe it’s a Memphis Flyer article where there was some
hope that a white knight might ride in and
save the situation. And we’re gonna be
very cooperative. I know Doug McGowen and some of the general services
folks have been talking about going in just
to look and see what kind of shape
the building is in. Because if MCA just
said here’s the keys, they could do that. Could Doug McGowen, who’s
the COO of the city, before I get to Bill… I mean this in a hypothetical, just so we understand the
logistics here of the building, if MCA owns the
building and they’ve got big debts and it’s a
little unclear to me and I think others exactly
how this wind down happens, are they free to
sell that building without the city’s permission? Or does the lease give
you rights to say well, whoever goes in that building
we have say over that? My suspicion, I have
not thoroughly reviewed, I told the city
attorney Bruce McMullen when I came in, when I’m in
city hall I’m not a lawyer. And so I haven’t reviewed
the lease with that in mind, but I would suspect
that the city would at least be a player in that. – Because you would think that, I mean who would
want to go in without and then immediately be
cross ways with the city. I guess there’s
somebody who might, but by and large most people
probably wouldn’t want to. Okay, Bill. – Emily, let’s talk
about the riverfront. Tell me about what you have now. As we speak this week
there is more confirmation that this is going to happen. That the Brooks is going to move to this riverfront property, but there’s still a
lot left to be done. – Absolutely and so
where we are right now, and I do wanna just add that
the Brooks board and staff has been very
sensitive to the fact that we have been in
Overton Park for 101 years. My first phone call
when the board started exploring the idea of a
relocation was to Tina, who has been such a great leader within Overton Park. But now that we are
planning to move downtown where we are is
getting ready to hire, we’ve been vetting for
the past several months a major fundraising consultant who will help us with this. We wouldn’t have
gotten out so far if we didn’t already have
made significant headway towards what it will take to
build this new art museum. We will be working on an
architect selection process which will take anywhere
between six to nine months, I think six months is a
little bit optimistic. Our collection is international and so we will be
casting a very wide net and we will go through a very thoughtful and
deliberate process. Being very sensitive
to the site, which in my opinion and I think shared by a lot of of
international architects who have already called, is some of the best real
estate in the world. It’s an incredibly
beautiful site. It’s the Mississippi River, there’s a real opportunity
here to do something that’s quite
sensitive to the site. But it’s probably a
five year process. I mean we’re aiming for 2022. And I think what people
forget about art museums is once it’s built you still have to test
all the climate controls. So there’s this
several month period before you even bring
in one work of art, much less 10,000 works of art. So there’s at least a six
month process of testing, six to nine months of testing, and then bringing
in the collections. So we’re looking at 2022
and that is reasonable. It’s a pretty tight
deadline for an art museum. We think it’s do-able barring
any sort of unexpected turns. – Couple questions on and
I’ll go back to Bill. Do you have a
budget, even a scale, I mean what we’re talking
about in terms of money? – Yes, we do. And it’s gonna be a little
bit of a moving target. What we want to do is
to build the endowment. I’ve been through this before and I know what
happens and everybody gets excited about the building and gets excited
by the architect and they add more and more and suddenly you’ve
gone over budget. We don’t wanna do that, we want to have a
runway for when we open. And so we’re really
focusing on the endowment. So for every dollar
that goes towards the construction of
the new building, a certain percentage will
go towards endowment. Whether it’s 80/20, 75/25,
90/10, we don’t know yet. It’s too soon. – Right, and you’ve
successfully dodged do you have a budget or a goal. [laughter] And you may not be
ready to disclose that. – I think actually
if anyone wanted to do their own
research it would end up being around $110 million. – For just the facility. – That is building,
that is endowment. – Building, endowment,
and the whole thing– – Remember with art museums, and this is the part that’s
really tricky for people, the rule of thumb, you
can do it for less, I certainly know art museums
who have done it for more. And it’s a sticker shock, so if you have a pacemaker
make sure it’s working, $1,000 per square foot is usual for art museums. And I know that’s
shocking for people, but people have to remember
the kind of climate control, humidity control factors that you have to do for
the collection. And we have a duty of care
for over 10,000 objects and so there are certain
things that we must do. Where we are one
of 272 accredited art museums in the country. There are something like 30,000 but only 270 and
so are accredited, we’re one of those precious few. So we take very seriously
our duty of care. – Those are some of
the issues with the current site, right? Is climate control and the
safety and care of the art– – And we maintain it,
but we’ve MacGyvered it as far as we can. – Okay, back to Bill. – In order to get
traveling exhibitions, I think people don’t know
what goes into these shows. But there are
insurance companies that insure these works of art. And nothing moves
until they’re satisfied that no damage is gonna be done. – And thank you for
saying that Bill. We’re actually working
with an unnamed institution for four major loans
and they remembered from the 1990’s the
challenges to our climate. Now we maintain it,
but it really is, as I said we’ve MacGyvered
our way as far as we can. – Alan, you’re gonna be
involved in the talks I take it, in working this out
and the mayor has talked about some fundraising. He’s also talked
about some city funds. Are there parameters
on your side of this as these discussions begin
about how to finance this? – Well we’ve had some
discussions about it and I think when it
comes to the art gallery we’ll let Brooks take
the laboring oar on that. Just as in economic
development situations Mayor Strickland’s policy
is to be gap fillers, be the last money in
that sort of thing. One idea that we’ll
get the site prepared, we’re providing the real estate so that’s a significant
contribution. And we’ll be there, the
Tourist Development Zone, we’re asking the state to extend the qualified public us
to include the riverfront. Which also would
include this project and so there’d be
some money for that. But we’re trying to put a seed in each one of these projects rather than trying
to build one project will all of the TDZ
money we’ll be getting. – How did Mud Island end up
getting linked to this? Was that an opportunity
that the city saw to have, since they’re right across
the harbor from each other? – Well I don’t think you
can talk about Mud Island without talking about a
southern connection to downtown. Every plan that’s come
about in the last 20 years has said there needs
to be some sort of southern connection to downtown. In fact one even had
a land bridge that made a lake out of
the Wolf River Harbor. And so the opportunity
to do a connector that would connect this project with the proposed Center
for Freshwater Studies and possibly an
aquarium on Mud Island, really I think gives
juice to both projects. And turns maybe the Brooks… If a new and improved
Brooks on the river would, and I’m making this number up, would generate half a million
people in a year of visitors, and an aquarium might generate another half a million people, I think it might even be
600,000 between the two of them. So I think it really does
give a lot of synergy and a lot of it really does rest on whether or not we
get this TDZ extension so that we can use some
of that money to fund it. – And when do you
find out about that? – Hopefully by
the end of the year we’ll have either an official
or unofficial nod on that. – And this TDZ, just because
there’s so much going on, is entirely separate from
the fairgrounds TDZ. – Entirely separate
from the fairgrounds. – Same law, but they’re
separate funding. One might get approved,
the other might not. I mean they are
separate projects. – They are complete
separate tracks, yes. And self-contained. – And, just a couple
of minutes left, I wanna come back to
something Emily, and I’m sure you’ve been asked and I’ve seen you be
asked at a forum I was at, when you talk about raising
that amount of money a certain number of people say well why not raise that money and invest it in the
existing facility? There are problems
as you articulated and we’ve written about and
other people have written about, because you’ve talked about
some of the issues with… Why not put that money
into the existing site? – Given the 100 year
history there. Think that we have
physical constraints within the site that we’re on. I think our board is very
proud of Overton Park, we probably have
some board members maybe even in common or at
least supporters in common. And if you look at
some of the options for staying where we are, the one that the board
was gravitating to would include taking over more of the precious parking
space that we already have. It means more concrete in
a green park, not less. And regardless of how OPC and
the public feels about that, our board is not
necessarily convinced that that’s a good
idea for the park. So believe it or not, the board was considering
all of the different options. And also thinking
about what the impact would be for Overton Park. And actually one of the
conclusions was sort of relieving some of
that congestion, let’s out some of
the air so to speak. I’m mixing metaphors
left and right. But we would end up
with what is already three different building
campaigns knit together. Anyone who has been to
the building will know that we have some wasted space– – Okay, and I apologize I’m
gonna have to cut you off. But I appreciate the
answer to the question. I know you’ve talked
in other articles and there’ll be more
conversation about this. I wanna thank you
all for being here. We’ll be off next week,
everyone enjoy Thanksgiving. See you in two weeks. [dramatic orchestral music]

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