Monday, May 28, 2007

Editorial: More confusion at the fairgrounds

Commercial Appeal [link]
May 28, 2007

It didn't seem possible, but the redevelopment planning process for the Mid-South Fairgrounds got even more muddled last week.

Prominent local developer Henry Turley appeared before the Shelby County legislative delegation to push for a bill to designate the fairgrounds area as a "tourist development zone."

That designation would allow state sales tax revenue collected within the zone to be used to pay for public improvements at the fairgrounds.

Which would be awfully convenient for Turley and his business partners, who hope to be selected by the city as "master developers" for the 170-acre complex.

Turley said his plans for the property would include a "big-box" retailer like a Target store, as well as less-intensive land uses.

And apparently he's been quietly lobbying for about a month for the change in state law needed to support his vision for the property.

Turley said both Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton are "fully supportive" of what he's been trying to do.

Establishing a tourist development zone at the fairgrounds may well be a good idea. But the way this is being handled is wrong for several different reasons.

For one, why do Memphis and Shelby County governments need private developers to speak for them on legislation that relates to the use of public tax dollars?

The city and county have their own lobbyists, who should be taking the lead on this issue, if a decision has been made to seek the tourist development zone designation.

Second, a committee that's been studying possible re-uses for the fairgrounds hasn't even finalized a redevelopment plan yet. The committee is waiting on a report from private consultants, due by July 15.

So far, though, the committee's work has focused on creating a "walkable" neighborhood, with housing and small shops to complement the sports and entertainment facilities already at the complex.

A big-box retailer would be inconsistent with that ideal. As anyone who's driven on Germantown Parkway can tell you, big-box retailers tend to cluster together, surrounded by acres of parking lots. There's nothing remotely pedestrian-oriented about that type of development.

Third, after the committee makes its recommendations for the fairgrounds, the city would still have to approve them. Only after that process is complete is the city planning to seek proposals from developers.

Letting Turley take charge of the lobbying effort for public incentives suggests that his team has the inside track in the bidding process, which might discourage others from submitting proposals as good or better than Turley's.

Fourth, it's troubling that Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson is among Turley's business partners on the deal. Gibson hasn't been on the commission very long, but he should know better than to get involved as an investor in any project that would rely heavily on public financing.

Redevelopment of the fairgrounds is long overdue. But it shouldn't be left to a group of private developers to call the shots on a public project of that magnitude.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Turley wants fairgrounds project

Developer seeks legislative OK to use sales tax money

Commercial Appeal [link]
By Richard Locker
May 24, 2007

NASHVILLE -- A partnership led by Memphis developer Henry Turley wants to redevelop the Mid-South Fairgrounds area and is trying to win legislative approval to use sales tax money generated by new "major retail" centers there to help finance the project.

The state legislation would designate the fairgrounds area as a state "Tourist Development Zone." That would allow state sales tax revenue collected from new retail development that is built there to be plowed into public projects on the site -- including renovating Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium or building a new football stadium, Turley said.
The overall project would be a mix of public and private money -- at least $50 million in private financing for the privately owned businesses that would locate there.

The legislation that he has been quietly lobbying for for about a month requires at least $75 million in public investment in the zone, which would include whatever is done on the stadium, the Mid-South Coliseum and infrastructure at the site. Diversion of the sales tax money from the state's coffers to the project would help repay bonds sold to finance the public improvements.

In addition, Turley said he expects at least $25 million in federal tax credits -- jobs tax credits for new jobs created there, tax credits for historic preservation on the site, and market tax credits for redevelopment of a blighted area.

The redevelopment would leave the fairgrounds area bordered by Central on the north, East Parkway on the west, Southern on the South and Hollywood on the East as a mix of green space, athletic fields, "major retail" like a Target store, mixed use developments, "festival" space and other uses, Turley said.

It would incorporate into the project the existing Fairview School and the Children's Museum of Memphis, whatever the city and county decide to do with the Liberty Bowl and Mid-South Coliseum, and the Salvation Army's plans to build a multi-use Kroc Center on the site near East Parkway.

The city already has a fairground redevelopment study under way. Even if the state tax legislation is approved, Turley and his partners likely would have to bid or respond to a governmental request for proposals to become "master developers" of the project, then be selected by the city.

"We have no standing. If there is a master development process, we will go for it," Turley said.

He presented the plan here Wednesday to the Shelby County legislative delegation and asked its members to support the tax bill. The bill won Senate approval earlier this month and is awaiting action in the House budget subcommittee where it is encountering difficulty.

Turley said the other partners are Memphis businessman Robert Loeb, Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson II, who has helped him lobby for the bill, and a New York real estate company.

Turley said he has discussed the project with both Mayor Willie Herenton and County Mayor A C Wharton and said "both are fully supportive" of his efforts to pass the tax bill before the state legislature adjourns for the year in early June.

Members of the delegation were generally supportive. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, whose district includes the fairgrounds, said the project could be a major revitalization for the entire area between the University of Memphis and Cooper-Young, including the Beltline neighborhood just east of the site.

However, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who also represents the area, said it was "unacceptable" for the developers to seek the legislation without consulting with him and city officials first.

Turley told The Commercial Appeal in an interview after the delegation meeting that even if his group does not get the project, "what I want to do is make the tool of a Tourist Development Zone available to Memphis. This opportunity presented itself so suddenly that we had to seize the opportunity."

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Board Meeting

Click here [PDF, 418 KB] for the Treasurer's report delivered to the Board at their May 16, 2007 meeting.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Public's domain

Acting on 'public purpose,' government can snatch private property

Fred Davis' quarter-acre lot at 205 Looney was appraised at $16,200, according to Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark's Web site. Davis bought the lot, site of a fire-gutted apartment building, in 1989 for $53,000.

The Commercial Appeal [link]
By Amos Maki

Fred Davis, owner of Fred Davis Insurance Agency, bought a small lot on Looney Street in the Uptown neighborhood in 1989.

Davis, a former longtime city councilman, thought the property would make a good investment and that he might eventually develop it.

But he may never get the chance, because the Memphis Housing Authority and the Division of Housing and Community Development have notified Davis that they want to buy his property.

If Davis doesn't voluntarily sell, MHA could use "as a last and final resort" its power of eminent domain to acquire the property.

"If I decide that I want to develop it, I ought to have the option to do it," said Davis. "If they said this was for a fire station or library or the general public good, I can deal with that."

While different in some respects, Davis' case has echoes of Kelo vs City of New London, Conn., where the U.S. Supreme Court decided that local governments may force property owners to sell and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public. In Kelo, the public benefit was additional tax revenue generated by new developments.

Governments have long purchased private property for the construction of roads, bridges, dams, sewer lines and other public projects. If owners are unwilling to sell, governments turn to eminent domain.

But the Kelo case touched off a nationwide debate about how and when eminent domain should be used, with dozens of states passing laws to make it more difficult for municipalities to exercise eminent domain.

"The Kelo decision was actually one of the best things that ever happened to the national property rights movement, as it clearly imprinted the precarious nature of private property rights in the public consciousness and has inspired significant reforms nationwide," said Leonard Gilroy, a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, in a statement.

In Tennessee, a bill passed last year placed new restrictions on eminent domain but still allows its use for public purposes, industrial parks and limited private uses.

"It was a bit of a compromise," said Kevin Walsh, a principal with the law firm of Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC. "It was an attempt to calm some fears people had from Kelo, and I don't know that it truly accomplishes it."

One main provision of Tennessee's legislation requires local governments to certify the "public purpose and necessity" of seizing land.

The law also said indirect public benefits coming from private development -- such as new tax revenue in the Kelo case -- did not qualify as a "public purpose."

The legislation also gives property owners more time -- 30 days instead of five -- to challenge a finding of "public purpose."

Importantly in Davis' case, the legislation said housing authority or community development agencies could acquire property to "implement an urban renewal or redevelopment plan in a blighted area."

That is the main difference between the Kelo and Uptown eminent domain cases.

"If you look at Kelo, there was never any indication by the condemning authority of blight," said Walsh.

The Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission declared the Uptown area blighted, allowing MHA to use eminent domain. In other words, the use of eminent domain in Uptown is to remove blight while the use in New London was to create more tax revenue by removing existing homes and residents to make way for more expensive developments.

MHA initiates the proceedings and buys the properties through its land bank. Then the city's development partners -- Belz Enterprises and Henry Turley Co., master developers of Uptown -- are paid fees to develop the property.

Davis' Uptown property is at the corner of Fourth and Looney. Surrounded by Uptown homes on the south and east, and well-kept existing homes on the north, with a mix of older and newer homes to the west, the vacant site has some tall grass. But Davis said it is hardly "blighted."

"I've paid my taxes and I keep it up," he said. "I pay somebody to come over here and mow the grass."

Robert Lipscomb, the city's chief financial officer, director and CFO of HCD and executive director of MHA, said the city has always used eminent domain as a tool of last resort and that there is a delicate balancing act of property owners' rights.

On the one hand, Lipscomb said, the city wants to preserve the property rights and investments of owners like Davis.

But on the other hand, the city is trying to bring more investment to the Uptown neighborhood. That investment could be halted or slowed by vacant lots strewn with grass, weeds or junk, Lipscomb said.

Eminent domain has been used, or threatened, in several Downtown projects, including FedExForum, AutoZone Park, the National Civil Rights Museum and in the airport buyout area.

With eminent domain, the government offers "just compensation" for the property and then takes the land. In MHA's case, the agency offers owners the appraised value of the property.

Davis' quarter-acre lot was appraised at $16,200, according to Shelby County Assessor Rita Clark's Web site.

While Davis said he has no current plans to develop the property, which he bought in 1989 for $53,000, he said he might one day decide to build something on the site, formerly home to a six-unit apartment building gutted by a fire.

And Davis believes the lot could bring a higher price on the market, especially since Uptown is in the midst of a remarkable transformation.

"There are two kinds of values to property, appraised and market," he said. "Appraised is a hell of a lot different from market value."

Gene Pearson, director of the graduate program in city and regional planning at the University of Memphis, said that while sometimes controversial, eminent domain is an important tool for cities.

"It's probably the only way redevelopment can take place in a timely fashion," Pearson said. "Clearly, most cities see areas that have declined and they make a judgment call as to what is in the best interest of the city and property owners may not see it that way.

"It's always subject to definition and there is always going to be debate."

If the city moves forward with eminent domain, Davis said the debate would almost certainly continue.

"I would have to get some legal advice on the best way to respond," he said.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Corrected RDC Capital Improvements Program Budget 2008-2012

A corrected CIP budget was reviewed in committee today. Download all five pages in a single PDF file (508 KB). (Click here for the earlier, uncorrected version.)

Update: Click here to see the artist renderings of Beale Street Landing as of May 11, 2007, as provided to City Council members.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

RDC Capital Improvements Plan 2008-2012

Click each image below to enlarge. Or download all five pages in a single PDF file (616KB).

RDC Summary (click to enlarge)

Beale Street Landing (click to enlarge)

Cobblestones (click to enlarge)

Park Improvements (click to enlarge)

Current vs. Proposed (General Obligation Bonds) (click to enlarge)

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

River has something for all

Race helps spur interest in Mississippi's charms

Commercial Appeal [link]
by Bryan Brasher

Before many Mid-Southerners have breakfast Saturday morning, more than 500 people will begin paddling canoes and kayaks from Green Belt Park south toward Jefferson Davis Park on the main body of the Mississippi River.

For some of the paddlers, the 26th annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race will be their first exposure to the Mississippi.

But many others have been enjoying the legendary waterway for years -- and in ways you might not have imagined.

Once feared by even the surliest river rats, the Mississippi has become a hotbed destination for a vast array of people who simply can't stand to spend their free time within the confines of four walls.

City officials who are marketing the Memphis Riverfront expect that interest to continue growing.

In fact, they're counting on it.

"The river and river front are free to use, so there are no actual numbers -- no paper trail -- to tell us how many people are going out there," said Dorchelle Spence, director of communications for the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation. "But we see anecdotal evidence from our windows all of the time. We have a front-row seat from our offices on Front Street -- and I can say without a doubt, recreational interest in the river is growing."

Paddling frenzy

Spence said companies like Outdoors Inc. and the Mississippi-based Quapaw Canoe Company have helped raise people's knowledge of the river by providing safe, easy, educational trips onto the water.

Saturday's race is a perfect example.

When Outdoors Inc. owner Joe Royer started his Canoe & Kayak Race back in 1981, one of his chief goals was promoting the river -- not only abroad, but to locals who may have been ignoring the river their whole lives.

"I understand that people love to get away to Yellowstone for a week or to the Smokies for a week to have a great experience outdoors," Royer said. "But that's not always possible -- and if you live in this area, it's not even necessary. We have one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world right here in our own backyard."

Royer's race has introduced thousands of paddlers to the river in a safe, structured environment. People who have grown up fearing the river's legendary whirlpools and cross currents have paddled his course incident-free for more than a quarter-century with safety officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency looking on.

Even people who dare not venture out onto the water in a canoe or kayak have gained an appreciation for the Mississippi River during the race.

"For some people this is a race," Royer said. "For others, it's an event.

"You'll see people gathered along the banks of the river watching the race. There will be people barbecuing and playing with their kids. All of those people are enjoying the river, even if they're not on the water."

Little bit of everything

On its web site at, the Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation has a list that shows the tremendous diversity of activities available along the river.

The list includes everything from canoeing and kayaking to meditating and relaxing. It lists new-age activities like yoga, Pilates and rollerblading, and age-old pursuits like painting, kite-flying -- and even dating.

"Sunsets in Memphis are just like the sunsets that people get in the West," Spence said. "You have the sun setting over the water against a pastoral plain, and it's a very romantic setting.

"Certainly, it's a popular dating destination -- and an inexpensive one, too."

For those who don't see dating as a true form of outdoors recreation, the Riverfront Development Corporation is working to make traditional outdoors pursuits more readily available.

The Development Corporation lists 11 downtown parks on its riverfront map, including Mud Island River Park, which is now renting canoes, kayaks and pedal boats for use in Mud Island Harbor.

Plans are also in the works for Beale Street Landing -- a modern docking facility that will allow people to get close to the water without boarding a boat.

"Right now, there is really no place where you can dip your feet in the water or sit close to the Mississippi," Spence said. "If you walk down the cobblestone bank, you get into that muddy, mucky section, and it just isn't that much fun.

"The Beale Street Landing facility will allow people to experience the river up close."

Construction is scheduled to begin on Beale Street Landing this year as soon as the high water subsides. The project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

An artist's rendering of the project is available at

(Cat)fish of a lifetime

While many people are finding new ways to enjoy the Mississippi, one long-time river pursuit -- the pursuit of giant catfish -- is also growing.

Famed Mississippi River fishing guide James Patterson takes a solid stream of catfishermen onto the river on day-time trips that range in price from $250-$400 for two people.

His web site at features more than 50 photos of customers holding catfish that weighed 20 pounds or more -- and those fish were caught in 2006 alone. A separate gallery features dozens more pics of catfish as large as 61 pounds.

Such world-class catfishing has led to national attention for the Memphis portions of the Mississippi River, and it's prompted visits from numerous major tournament trails.

The Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest Tournament Trail will visit Memphis on July 28, and the Cabela's King Kat Trail will return on Aug. 25.

"I get excited every time we come to Memphis because you just never know what sort of fish might be brought to the scales from that Mississippi River," said Darrell VanVanctor, director of the Cabela's King Kat Trail. "People who haven't experienced catfishing on the river owe it to themselves to try it just once."

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