Jimmy Ogle Steps Aside, Robert Montgomery Steps In for History Walking Tours

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Robert Montgomery (right) listens intently to Jimmy Ogle (left) on one of Ogle’s last downtown history walking tours.

For about 40 years Jimmy Ogle has been involved in Memphis entertainment and recreation, much of it centered on downtown Memphis. With a memory honed on sports statistics, he seemingly remembers almost everything he has learned about the city. For more than a decade, he has shared his knowledge of the history of Memphis in his “Jimmy Ogle Talks and Tours.” A major feature is his free downtown history walking tours which he has held each spring and autumn.

 
Ogle’s downtown history walking tours have been filled with facts and fun. Even if you are on a particular tour you have been on before, Ogle is likely to surprise you with new information. He says he has about 150 hours worth of Memphis history in his head so it is understandable he can cite new tidbits every now and then.

There are a number of people with great insight into Memphis history and they contribute mightily to the knowledge of the city’s heritage. Ogle will cite them from time to time as a source for some of his information or recommend a book written by one of those historians. Although Ogle became the official Shelby County Historian in 2014, he used to deny he was a historian, saying was a story teller, telling the story of Memphis. With his focus on recreation for much of his career and his personality, Ogle made history fun even for those who may have struggled with history courses in college.

There are probably few things that could draw Jimmy Ogle away from the city he apparently loves and a city that loves him. One of those things is sharing more time with his grandchildren. So Jimmy Ogle, the quintessential Memphis history buff has moved to Knoxville to have more time with his grandkids. He is concluding his downtown tours with some special ones which are being video recorded on behalf of the Downtown Memphis Commission. Ogle will be back from time to time and says he may occasionally host a tour. He has been identified as a true asset to the city that will be missed.

Ogle’s footsteps will not be left unfilled, however. Robert Montgomery, a Blue Suede Brigade member, has been designated to continue the downtown walking tours and Ogle is turning over boxes of resource material to Montgomery to help him prepare. Montgomery has also been attending and closely listening on these final tours Ogle has been giving.

The Blue Suede Brigade is a contingent of about 30 people working for the Downtown Memphis Commission who provide directions and other helpful information to tourists and residents alike as brigadiers walk or bicycle downtown. In recent years, the Brigade has also taken up some security responsibilities and they now wear shirts or jackets that have “public safety officer” printed on them. They are not police. One might say they are more like extra eyes on downtown ready to summon police if needed, or medical assistance if there is an instance which calls for that.

Montgomery has shown an extraordinary interest in the city and its history, especially for a 26 year old. It seems many begin to value history later in life but it would appear  Montgomery has gotten a head start. He is a graduate of Evangelical Christian School located in the Memphis metro area and attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

This writer has attended several of Ogle’s tours and has wondered if anybody would continue them after his departure from the city. If someone did, would they have the zeal for Memphis and its history that Ogle brought to his talks? It was hard to imagine who could do that. Montgomery may well be the guy. At his age he obviously does not bring as much first hand knowledge of the recent decades in Memphis as Ogle does. Ogle has passed along those boxes of material from which he drew a lot of his information and perhaps best of all, Montgomery can call on Ogle has a resource. The only problem may be that if he asks Ogle a question he may get a spoken dissertation on the subject. Ogle can stop talking but maybe the only time he has done so was when he strained his voice and the doctor told him not to say anything for three days. Fortunately for listeners, Ogle’s oration has proven quite interesting to hundreds, perhaps thousands, that have attended his history events.

Jimmy Ogle surely will be missed. Robert Montgomery is getting ready and appears more than willing to take up the slack in Ogle’s absence. Memphians can look forward to the continuation of the downtown history walking tours.

It’s been quite a ride, uh, walk, Jimmy. Carry on, Robert.

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Milton: We’re sending them [Shelby County Schools] children that have challenges that they’ll never be able to correct.

June 7, 2019 – Shelby County Schools presented its $1.4 billion dollar budget to the County Commission May 29 but said they need more than what is in their budget. Superintendent Joris Ray said the operating budget needs $7.5 million more and asked the County Commission to provide it. The school system is also asking for more for its capital improvements budget.

milton-reginaldSeveral County Commissioners spoke in favor of the $7.5 million request. One, however, had a different point of view. The reasoning behind Commissioner Reginald Milton’s viewpoint is one that is not often heard from elected officials when discussing funding for education. The Daily Memphian briefly reported on this in their story about the school system’s budget presentation. Milton’s comments are so different than what has been said publicly by others over the years regarding schools, a fuller coverage may be warranted. Here is what Milton said on the subject at a May 29, 2019, County Commission committee meeting.

County Commissioner Reginald Milton: “You said 23% of our students are college ready.”

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray: “Yes.”

Milton: “How many of our valedictorians are prepared for college?”

Ray: “The number of valedictorians prepared for college, probably 54%.”

Milton: “So about half of our valedictorians are not prepared for college.”

Ray: “Roughly.”

Milton: “Right. Do you care about our kids?

Ray: “Care about them deeply, sir.”

Milton: Do you love the children you are working with?”

Ray: “Love and”

Milton: “I know you do. I know the work you are doing you are 100% committed. Every day of your life this is what you are here to do. I believe you. I sincerely do. Twenty-three percent are college ready. Something’s wrong, right? And commissioners, the point I’m trying to bring here is that the reality is that they are an institution. That’s what they are. They are just, they are an entity that we’ve created and every time we have problems we turn to them. If our children aren’t eating right, we say you take care of it. If our children have mental issues, you take care of it. If our children don’t have a place to go in the afternoon, you take, we throw everything on this institution and expect this institution to solve the problem. The truth is they will never solve this problem. They’re an institution and they’re in to do a specific thing and that’s to educate our children.

We’re sending them children that have challenges that they’ll never be able to correct. There are problems that happen before they walk into the doors of this institution. And no matter how much we tweak it, now if we keep telling them to do it, they’re going to do it because they’ll never say no to us. We can say we want you to do, we want you to solve all these problems, none of them will ever say no. They’ll say, yes commissioner, give us more money. And they will try. And they will fail. The reality is that the real challenges is not that these people are not doing their jobs. They are doing their jobs but we’re giving them tasks beyond their scope.

“We have to invest in other issues that go beyond education and that requires that sometimes we have to, here comes the bad part, say no to you. That sometimes these dollars we cannot direct to you because you’re not going to solve it. But we need to address other issues.

“I walked through south Memphis and Orange Mound, I see roofs that are leaking and falling down, there’s mold, black mold in these homes these children are breathing it, there’s just, that’s this and there’s lead in these communities. You are not going to solve those problems. And it doesn’t matter how much money I give you, you’re not going to solve it. So there has to be a point where I sit there and say, you know what, no. I’m going to take this chunk of money and I’m going to give it to this and I’m going to have them address it,this, and because I know if we can solve this it’s going to solve your problem. And I can say that because none of you can say this: that I have ever said no to you when you come before us for funding. I have never once said no. On the $7.5 million: no. I think we need, our budgets are tight, we need to be looking in another direction. I think you do great jobs but we need to be looking outside of you because you can’t solve all these problems.”

With that, Milton relinquished the floor.

There have been about $75 million in proposed amendments to the budgets offered by Mayor Lee Harris, of which about two thirds are said to be requests from Shelby County Schools.

The County Commission next meets Monday, June 10 and plans to pass the budget at its June 24 meeting. The fiscal year for which this budget will apply starts July 1.

Progress and Festivals Close Streets Downtown

road-closed-sign[June 3, 2019 – update: in the article below it is reported the trolleys will be staged overnight in Civic Center Plaza. Last week, an official of the Memphis Area Transit Authority said they will overnight on South Main. It is therefore unknown to this writer where they will be overnight during the street closing. It has also been learned that two more closings of Main Street will be requested for the renovation construction of the Convention Center. Dates of those closings were not immediately available from the MATA.]

May 11, 2019 – Every year, Riverside Drive is closed for parts of the month of May to accommodate Memphis in May festival events. Although government administrators seem to dislike it and repeatedly try to narrow the driving lanes and slow the speeds, Riverside drive is a major downtown north-south thoroughfare. So, when May ends and the street opens once again many are relieved that they have eleven months before the next significant road closings downtown.

Those drivers may be in for a surprise if they drive in the northern section of downtown, even if they drive those stand-up scooters, or probably even if they walk.

On June 3, 2019, a portion of Main Street is scheduled to close for six weeks while the skywalk between the Sheraton convention center hotel and the convention center is demolished and a new skywalk built. That closing of Main, from Winchester Avenue to Exchange Avenue, will cause the trolley service operated by the Memphis Area Transit Authority to stop at the temporary station in front of the convention center. Trolleys will have to stop their northward trip there and begin southbound from that spot. MATA will provide those rubber wheeled “trolley” buses to get passengers around the closed block and to the normal turn-around station at A.W. Willis Avenue and Main Street. During this phase, the trolleys will park overnight in Civic Center Plaza in front of City hall, so if you get there before they begin their daily service, you can see or get a photo of the current rolling stock of Memphis trolleys in one place.

The Main Street closure will probably have minimal affect on private automobile traffic as Main Street is a pedestrian mall south of Exchange, so it’s not a through street.

Front Street and the Interstate 40 off ramp to Front are much more traveled, however. On October 6, 2019, Front Street between Poplar Avenue and Winchester Avenue and the Interstate’s off ramp to Front Street are scheduled to be closed for eight months. Renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center includes new construction of meeting rooms on the west side of Front Street in the area which now is an open area underneath western part of the center, as well as changes in the street level facade on the east side of Front Street. The thoroughfare is scheduled to reopen by May 1, 2020. Yes, you got it, the plan is to reopen Front Street just in time for the annual closing of Riverside Drive for the Memphis in May events.

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Those overseeing the renovation of the convention center say they know they will get complaints about the road closings, perhaps passionate complaints. It is said, however, this the cost of progress in Memphis, as they say, Memphis has momentum and they want those traveling on the streets to endure the inconvenience for the final outcome of an improved convention center and improved city.

 

Will Third Try Be the Convention Center Charm?

mcc-rendering-westNovember 10, 2018 (updated/corrected November 11, 2018] – The City of Memphis is asking for bids for the renovation of its convention center. It is the third time this year.

As reported here earlier, the process has had a few hiccups along the way. The bids received in round one and two have simply exceeded the City’s budget for the renovation.

After the first set of bids from two contractors were received, which would have put the project well beyond the budget, the architects went to work to provide “value engineering,” meaning substituting less costly materials and some relatively minor design changes.

The second bid solicitation was divided into six categories, a base bid and five options for additional construction. In the second round of bids three contractors participated. Bid opening was November 1. The lowest bid for the base and all the options came in at $173,382,000. The next lowest bid was more than $10-million higher.

There were widely disseminated media reports that the renovation project, based on these bids, would come in under the budget of $175-million. Those reports were apparently based on a lack of understanding of the project. There are about $25-million in “soft costs” that the project will require. Soft costs are things like architect, lawyer, and consultant fees, of which there are obviously considerable. Add those soft costs to the lowest construction bid for the base all options and the total expected cost of the renovation project would be $198,382,000, once again, nearly 25-million over budget.

Soliciting rebids, even multiple rebids, for major projects is not uncommon, according to architects and construction consultants.

The reason the second round of bids had those five options was in case the total exceeded the budget. The Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners and the City could then pick and choose the options, with hopes of finding an acceptable combination that would come in within budget.

The choices of options, however, were narrower than seen at first glance because there is considerable agreement that three of the options are critical to the future of the convention center. Figuring only those three critical options in the lowest bidder’s proposal and including the soft costs brings the anticipated cost down to $188,674,000. That is still $13.6-million over budget. Using only those three critical options in the other bidders’ proposals brings the project, based on their bids, more than $10-million over the lowest bidder’s.

On this third solicitation for bids, released yesterday, two of the less important construction options have been dropped: a renovation of meeting rooms on the third floor where convention center staff offices and some smaller conference rooms are now located, and a “media mesh,” a large electronic sign, on the side of the building.

On top of all this, one of the November 1 bidding companies has filed an appeal with the city, claiming its bid was the only one that met the documentation requirements. That bidder, by the way, had the highest proposed cost of construction.

Architectural and construction consultants say that the rebidding process, if it goes successfully with this third round of bid solicitation, will not likely affect the August, 2020, substantial completion date of the project.

The new bids are due into the city November 20, 2018.

 

[In an earlier version of this story the date the bid solicitation was released was also given as the date the bids were due in to the city. The actual date the bids are due is November 20, 2018]

[Update: Bids were accepted and a contract was awarded. Construction began in December, 2018, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of August, 2020. You can find further details about the Convention Center renovation in the postings by mainstream news sources in Memphis and at the Memphis Tourism web site.]

Memphis Convention Center Call for Rebids Released

mccc-brochure-artSeptember 18, 2018 – The rebid solicitation for the renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center was released today by the City of Memphis. Bids are due November 1. Assuming a satisfactory bid is accepted, construction is expected to begin by December, 2018, and completed by the autumn, 2020.
Bid documents for the project are available through mccrenovaton.com, including a brochure type of description, suitable for general interest reading, of the planned renovation entitled “Memphis Convention Center Expansion and Renovation Update.”

Convention Center Renovation Plans After “Value Engineering”

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The proposed renovated west side of the Memphis Cook Convention Center with meeting rooms which are now listed as an option after a “value engineering” effort to reduce costs.

August 2, 2018 – Some additional information about the planned Convention Center renovation has come to light. As reported in our July story, after the lowest bid for the renovation came in $24 million more than the budgeted amount an effort was launched to cut down on the expenses without significantly reducing the quality or scope of the project. Those involved called the revisions “value engineering.” In our previous report, the estimated savings was still being calculated by a consulting firm. That figure came in at $35 million. The Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners was told that now the estimate base cost was $113.6 million with four optional packages. The Commissioners made it clear they wanted three of those four alternatives included, but that would raise the expected cost to about $185.7 million. The elements left out of the “base bid” but which commissioners clearly wish to include are meeting rooms in the west section of the convention center (on the west side of Front Street), a new loading dock for big trucks, and meeting rooms in the South Hall.

Another feature which was originally discarded in the value engineering effort was the pedestrian bridge between the Sheraton Hotel and the convention center. It turns out, however, that bridge belongs to the Sheraton and the owners of that facility want the bridge to stay, so it is now back in the plans and is included in the base bid.

The one optional package that appears to be still left out is the renovation of the third floor to provide more meeting rooms.

According to a person knowledgeable about the planning, the city will be looking to see if an additional $10-15 million can be found so that the renovation plan will not be “compromised.” Another person involved in the talks simply says, “we’ve got to figure out something” to get the additional funds. The $175 million budget was planned using hotel/motel taxes and money from the Downtown Tourism Development Zone. It was unclear if the additional money could be developed out of those sources or if other public funds could be used.

Path to a renovated Memphis Convention Center: a bumpy beginning to a smooth landing?

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Artist’s rendering of the Main Street side of a renovated Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The Memphis Cook Convention Center is among the major magnets to bring people to Memphis. Like can happen to those traveling to the convention center,  its renovation has had a few bumps along the way as it begins the journey toward its destination.

Public projects in Memphis have a checkered past in terms of being completed on time and on budget. For example, the last expansion and renovation of the Memphis Cook Convention Center was completed in 2003, was millions over budget, a year and a half late, and resulted in several lawsuits. More recently, the Riverfront Development Corporation’s Beale Street Landing came in $16 million over the original price tag.

A proposal to largely update the look and some of the functionality of the Memphis Cook Convention Center started as a $55 million project which was to be completed in September, 2019, in time for the celebration that month of the founding of Memphis 200 years earlier. With an increase in the hotel/motel tax and using Tourism Development Zone revenue to finance it, an expanded vision for a major renovation developed with a price tag of $175 million. Architects, construction managers, and consultants were hired. Then it was learned that the proposed method of contracting for the work, a construction manager at risk, in which the manager would be responsible for any cost overruns, could not be used for the project under Tennessee law. That caused a bit of a delay in the planning as the Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners reworked the format for a more traditional construction contract.

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Artist’s rendering of an interior space in a renovated convention center.

Some of the key elements of the more extensive renovation included more breakout meeting rooms with higher ceilings to accommodate large screen displays, a lot more glass to provide natural lighting, the removal of the mezzanine level, new LCD lighting, an overall enhanced internal appearance, and redesigned “back of house” facilities and passageways for staff only use. A major aspect of the original $55 million concept remains, although altered somewhat, and that is covering the outside of the building with a metal skin to make it look more modern and similar to the attached Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.

Among those working to assist the convention center’s board in planning and estimating the cost were the principals of two of Memphis’ leading architectural firms in addition to the primary architects, LRK of Memphis in conjunction with the world wide convention center designer TVS of Atlanta. When the bids went out, the estimates, expressed with confidence, was that construction costs would be about $136 million and a total cost meeting the proposed budget of $175 million.

Then the bids came in. There were only two firms bidding and the lowest bid was $199 million.

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Artist’s rendering of west side of a renovated convention center.

The consultants’ primary explanation for the high bids was that there were several large projects either underway or out for bid at the same time the convention center renovation bid was solicited. That, they said, resulted in a very tight construction market and led to other companies not bidding on the project because they were either already at capacity or could be if they won contracts for other developments for which they had put in bids.

Scott Fleming, an architect consulting the convention center board says “every construction project I know of is struggling with budget. It’s a bidder’s market.”

Back to the drawing board, literally. The architects went to work to alter the plans to find cost savings. The city and convention center commissioners decided to rebid the project. They hope that the construction market will have loosened a bit and more construction firms will bid on the project, the competition possibly lowering price. It has been said that a construction project with only two bidders can increase the cost 25%. The new request for bids is expected to go out in mid September.

Last month representatives of the TVS architectural firm presented proposed cost saving changes to the renovation design. They were awaiting a cost estimate to show how much difference the changes are anticipated to make.

mcc-rendering-meeting

Renovated and additional meeting rooms are an important aspect to the convention center’s future. Load bearing columns will remain in some rooms but the design calls for seating in the center providing a clear view to the front with walking areas provided outside of the columns.

Among the major changes: painted drywall instead of brick in several interior locations within the convention center, elimination of the aerial walkway between the Sheraton Hotel and the convention center, substituting wood laminate instead of solid wood in numerous locations, using a perforated metal instead of wood for some decorative features, changing the lighting design, including eliminating cylindrical lights which could be lowered or raised to enhance an event in the main exhibit hall, reducing the outcropping of a meeting room which will extend from the front of the building, changing the finish on the exterior, and discarding a planned large video screen sign for the west side of the building. The cost of cellular phone signal boosters is being removed from the renovation budget but is expected to be included through separate funding. In all, the design firm found more than 200 “value engineering opportunities,” meaning places where changes could save money.

Tom Marshall, one of the consulting architects, says “we are greatly pleased with the level of quality maintained” in the revamped plans. After seeing an artist’s renderings of before and after the cost cutting plans, another participant in the meeting said, “I can’t tell the difference.”

Responses to the new request for bids are due November 1, and if a bid is satisfactory it is expected to be awarded by mid November. Construction would begin shortly thereafter.

mcc-rendering-front-street

Improving the appearance where Front Street goes under part of the convention center as well as providing modern meeting rooms on the west site is part of the plan.

The estimated cost is still unknown and the actual bids for the renovated renovation plans are, of course, unknown. What is known is that the expected completion of the project, September, 2020, is now a year later than the original target date. Although portions of the convention center will remain open during construction, the timetable change also means some other events which the convention center might have hosted will have to be redirected to other local sites, turned away completely, or if already contracted, cancelled. Convention center commissioners were told that the overall cost of lost business, including possible penalties, could reach one million dollars. Kevin Kane, President and CEO of Memphis Tourism (the Convention and Visitors Bureau recently rebranded as Memphis Tourism), says “it will be worth the pain… They’ll be talking about us like they talk about Nashville.” He was speaking of Nashville’s convention center which opened five years ago to widespread acclaim and costing more than $600 million.

 

Local newspaper column lacks information — may reflect lack of staff

December 18, 2017 – In a Commercial Appeal column today, Ted Evanoff opined on several topics. For two of them, it would seem he, and perhaps the newspaper itself, was unaware of what has happened or is happening in Memphis.

Given the repeated reductions in reporters and copy editors it may be unlikely the newspaper staff collectively knows about Memphis activities. A single writer might never have known but when copy editors were local and long familiar with Memphis events, it is more likely a column which seemed to miss some points would be either edited to supply them or returned to the writer with information helpful for a rewrite.

In today’s article, Evanoff wrote, “I know there’s already a lot going on to bring college-level instruction into the high schools. But I doubt there’s enough, particularly on the vocational side.”

Of course, “enough” is always going to be subjective evaluation. What is enough for some may not be enough for others. The idea of “college level” courses being in high schools boarders on an oxymoron. While high school advanced classes with either dual enrollment (in a college and high school) or those which bestow college credit do exist in local public schools, it would seem that the vast majority of “college level” courses, vocational or otherwise, would be held at colleges. If they were held in large numbers in high schools, would they not then be high school level courses?

To the point of being fully informed and fully informing, the article could have been of greater benefit if it noted that Shelby County Schools is currently reworking its vocational program. Central office administrators are planning to present to the members of the Board of Education their recommendations in January. While not revealing all the details, the school district says it has examined the needs of Memphis employers and proposes to revamp the vocational programs to focus on the six areas they believe will be more beneficial to Shelby County employers and, therefore, for graduates of the programs as they hunt for jobs. Currently the school system offers vocational classes in about 17 different subjects. It is said some classes will continue in those areas, but greater emphasis, and more classes, will be put on those six areas identified as more likely to help more students fit into the local workforce.

A second subject in the same article asks, “Could Memphis at least synchronize the Poplar Corridor stoplights?”

It has. Or at least it has tried. Even the Commercial Appeal has reported on it. Reporter Tom Charlier in an August 10, 2016, article wrote:

Five years ago this month, the city began laying 120 miles of fiber-optic cable to connect traffic signals on such roads as Lamar, Winchester, Poplar, Airways, Summer, Germantown Parkway and Stage Road to a coordinated network. The synchronized signal system gives motorists — especially rush-hour commuters — a good chance of driving through several successive intersections without hitting a red light… Along Poplar, between East Parkway and Yates, travel times in both directions have been cut by an average of 2 minutes.

It may be reasonable to be unimpressed with only a two minute advantage and perhaps there is a good point to be made there. If the improvement is only two minutes when many stoplights hold traffic for a minute, it would seem that effective coordination of the lights might reduce travel time considerably more. Nevertheless, the Evanoff article does not acknowledge the synchronization projects that have taken place and, as noted, even reported on by his newspaper.

Finally, a couple of observations. “Odd thing is I drive 12,000 miles a year into just about every nook of this city and I rarely see anyone toss anything out of car windows,” writes Evanoff. He says he does see a lot of “awful lot of litter flying out of the back of garbage trucks speeding along the road.”

No doubt Evanoff’s view of garbage trucks spreading litter is accurate but for this writer it not an uncommon site to see individuals dump trash out of their car onto public streets or parking lots.

One might wonder if after multiple rounds of cuts in editorial staff at The Commercial Appeal if resources might be better spent to increase the number of reporters and local copy editors rather than maintaining columnists who express opinions which sometimes appear to be not fully informed. That is not to disparage Evanoff’s position, he is fulfilling his role. It is to question the roles being filled at The Commercial Appeal given its much diminished capacity.

 

Coliseum Reuse Alternatives: Are We in Middle School?

coliseumSeptember 6, 2016 – Are we back in middle school?

That’s the question that occurred to this observer today. But no, it was not middle school students in view, it was Memphis City Council members.

So what brought to mind middle school? Smirks, rolling of eyes, snide comments while someone else was making his point.

It was one of the most disrespectful displays by a public body seen by this writer in years.

One might say that the presentation by the chief executive officer of the DSG Group, Brian Saulsberry, in his attempt to get the council to consider his proposal for renovation of the Mid South Coliseum was not very persuasive. It began on a discouraging note for DSG, it could never get the full digital slide presentation to display properly on a big video screen. That may or may not have been DSG’s fault, it could have also been the limitations of the City Council’s computer system. Nevertheless, Saulsberry pressed on, referring to the same images that were in a handout given to council members which would have been seen on the large screen. Unfortunately for DSG and for those who might wish the coliseum remain a public amenity, the presentation did not get much better and was received by council members even worse.

Regardless of the Saulsberry proposal, the smirks between council members, the rolling of eyes, and the snide comments were juvenile.

One of the worse offenders was Allan Wade, the contract attorney for the council. He frequently looked to council members and smirked, even once was seen rolling his eyes, as Saulsberry made his pitch. Council member Janis Fullilove was inclined to laugh during the presentation as Wade made faces. Council chairman Kemp Conrad looked over to Chief Operating Officer of the City Doug McGowen and smirked. McGowan smiled back. Council member Worth Morgan was seen smirking at other council members or attorney Wade while Saulsberry was speaking. Council member Philip Spinosa, Jr. went so far as to criticize Saulsberry’s pronunciation of council member Frank Colvett’s last name by Saulsberry and that the documentation DSG had provided misspelled the name of a building at the Fairgrounds (the Pipkin Building). Maybe, or maybe not, such errors are worthy of dismissing a proposal for the use of city property.

Smirking is a pejorative word which this writer is using a lot in this article. It seems to fit better than any other, however. Clearly there was not native humor in the subject matter. The smiles were of derision. Usually such a conclusion should not be made by an observer and relayed as such to readers. Typically the facts are presented and the reader is left to draw her/his own conclusion. In the case of facial expressions and the timing of these, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to relay to the reader the nature of those expressions without drawing the natural interpretation and referring to it in that way.

No matter how lame they may have thought the proposal by the DSG Group was, the behavior of some council members and their attorney was inappropriate and embarrassing for the citizens of Memphis.

Any alternative proposal for the use of the idle Mid South Coliseum as well as the commercial, private, for profit concept of Wiseacre Brewing deserved respectful attention, even if it falls far short of what a city official may think desirable.

Earlier this year council members listened to hours and hours of pitches from supposedly non-profit organizations that wanted money from the city, some pretty tenuous organizations with vague plans. No smirks were observed during these proposals.

The rapid acceptance by council members of the Wiseacre concept to convert the coliseum to a beer brewery already has to raise questions. Rarely has local government worked so fast. The behavior of council members to Saulsberry’s presentation before the “executive committee” of the council cannot but continue to make one wonder just what is going on.

At the formal council meeting later in the day, the council voted to adopt its minutes from its meeting two week ago which confirmed the city’s commitment to give a long term lease to Wiseacre Brewing to convert the Mid South Coliseum into a brewery. The beer maker now has 180 days to review the feasibility and to go forward or opt out of the deal.

Coliseum Conundrum— Coalition Officers Resign

coliseumAugust 10, 2016 – As
far as this writer knows, it has not yet been reported that the president of the Coliseum Coalition in Memphis and the organization’s secretary both resigned in early August, according to a source in a position to know. The reason for their resignations is unclear but it raises a question whether their resignations are related to a proposal to turn the Mid-South Coliseum into a for-profit, private corporation, brewery. The resignations of president Mike McCarthy and secretary Marilyn Albert at about the same time as the Wiseacre proposal was being shopped around to the grassroots organizations intent on saving the coliseum is a very suspicious coincidence, at best.

The Coliseum Coalition’s web page has expired and as best we can tell its Facebook page as of earlier today did not mention a change in the organization’s leadership.

Wiseacre Brewery has proposed moving its operation into the unused Mid-South Coliseum, using the 60 foot tall ceiling to accommodate its large stainless steel tanks in the center of the one-time basketball arena and concert venue, removing the seats, and leasing the “pie shaped” seating sections for various uses, i.e. restaurants, museums, all with a glass wall allowing guests to look out at the steel tanks.

Wiseacre’s Frank Smith outlined the proposal before a City Council committee Tuesday saying that he was not asking the city for money but if this proposal is going forward he wants confidence there will be no change of mind on part of the city. He says his business is willing to put $12-million into a new facility, whether it be at the coliseum or elsewhere because the brewery is outgrowing its current space on Broad Avenue. Smith says if the decision is made and renovation begins to put the brewery into the coliseum, there will never be another concert or another graduation ceremony in the coliseum. The seats will be removed and significant changes made to the floor plan.

It is reported that most of the Memphis City Council members expressed support for the plan. It is clear that the public is divided in its opinion of the proposal.

The Mid-South Coliseum has been the subject of several groups attempting to save it after the city proposed demolishing it and creating a mixture of commercial, for-profit businesses along with other uses for the old Fairgournds property. It has just been within the past year, perhaps the last six months, that those wishing to save the coliseum and hoping it can be returned to a public use, especially as a venue for concerts and graduations, have been able to rest easy. The city’s plan for the Fairgrounds which included demolition of the coliseum, developed under former Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb, faltered under strong community opposition. When Lipscomb was left the job in 2015 under allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor and thereafter a new mayor came into office in Memphis in January, 2016, those plans appeared to die. Hope among the public proponents of reviving the coliseum as an entertainment venue were buoyed.

The Wiseacre proposal seems reasonable as a last chance alternative to save the external structure of the Mid-South Coliseum. The question raised, however, is whether or not the situation is at the last chance stage. Given that the apparent threat of imminent demolition of the iconic structure has just dissipated within the past year, it could well be argued that the city is not at the last chance stage for making the coliseum a an entertainment venue once again. The problem with the Wiseacre proposal, then, becomes timing. Smith says that it must make a decision and begin construction on a new facility in 2017. That does not give much time for other prospects to develop.

The Mid-South Coliseum was built to be a facility for pubic use. It is owned by the residents of Memphis. There obviously is a strong will among people that it return to that use. Others think that turning it over to a private, for-profit business such as Wiseacre saves the external structure and brings the city revenue. The Mid-South Coliseum is, indeed, an iconic image to behold but it much more than that. Those seeking to restore the building to some degree of its past say it holds historic value in its pubic entertainment venue uses, not merely the “round house” external structure.

Has the possibility of restoring the Mid-South Coliseum to something of its past glory past or are those jumping on the Wiseacre bandwagon rushing to judgment?