Convention Center Update: More Delay, More Financial Stress

convention-center-under-construction-dec-2019In the previous report here, the renovation of the Memphis Renasant Convention Center, which was originally scheduled to be completed in mid-August of this year, was two or three months behind schedule. Now it is said the “substantial completion” has slipped to mid-December.

It was also reported here that funding the renovation was getting tight, as the projections of the remaining needs were threatening to exceed the budget, including the contingency portion of the budget. Now it appears they will bust the budget. Sources in a position to know say that the list of remaining needs are being examined closely to determine what can be “value engineered” (use a less expensive alternative) or cut altogether.

A few months ago officials with the convention center were saying they would like to find a way to do some added work to put finishing touches on the renovation — some of those are things that had been removed from the plans before construction began to meet the available budget. That talk seems to have been quieted by the current circumstances. Those added features could have cost up to five million dollars more than the current budget.

According to the sources, the city has said there is no more money forthcoming for the renovation project. Finishing the project as originally approved on budget being a struggle, it appears those desired finishing touches may have to wait.

The $186 million dollar convention center renovation project is being funded from the Memphis hotel and motel tax and Tourism Development Zone funds. The TDZ money comes from sales taxes collected within a special district around the projects that exceed than the baseline amount established before the funded projects are developed. The baseline is adjusted annually to reflect changes in the overall sales tax revenue increases across the county.

On time and on budget for the convention center: not so much


August 25, 2020 – Last week the renovation of the Memphis Renasant Convention Center was to have been “substantially completed.” In case the name confuses you, that is the same building that used to be known as the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

If you’ve driven by the facility, you can see work is still underway. Now the completion date has been moved back to October or November — the answer varies depending on who you ask and how you ask the question.

For almost a year and a half officials with the convention center and the city have said the nearly $200 million renovation was “on time and on budget.” That changed substantially two or three months ago when an unexpected structural detail was discovered around the area below the ramp that trucks will use to go to the loading dock. It is unlikely, however, that discovery by itself has led to all of the two or three month delay in the completion of the project. While the construction crews have continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, it, too, has probably has an effect on the construction time line.

As for the budget, that is being stressed, too. According to knowledgeable people, with expected upcoming expenses it looks like the renovation is running a quarter to a half million dollars over budget and there could be further unexpected costs. Those overseeing the work are still looking at ways the excess might be reduced. Despite the current budget outlook, there have been rumblings that items that had been cut from the original project design before construction started to bring the budget within expected available funds should be put back in, which would require additional funding. There are also some maintenance items needing attention, like a leaky roof over the connected Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. The argument being advanced is that with a nearly $200 million renovation it should not be left without final touches that are apparent to users of the facility and the attached Cannon Center. Those “necessary” items to make it look like a “finished building” would be expected to add a little more than $5 million cost to the project.

While the construction delay and the potential additional costs may be disappointing, it is pointed out that if the delay were to happen it probably could not happen at a better time. Although the original idea was to continue hosting events at the convention center, it became obvious to the center’s officials that the construction was too disruptive and caused the convention staff to stop scheduling events for the renovation period. In addition, organizations that would have been holding conventions and other events this year have cancelled or postponed their gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means there would have been little or no business for the convention center during the extended construction period anyway.

The costs are a different story. A person close to the project’s oversight says there just is not any more money the city has available for expense overruns or additional features. Despite that, it is said that officials are looking for ways to come up with the money.

The Convention Center Board of Commissioners are expected to face the financial dilemma tomorrow when they have their regular monthly meeting.

Pandemic Political Pressure?

“The health department did not necessarily agree to move forward with opening things without a lot of discussion…”

There appears to be a lot of political considerations in the messages the public is being given in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally it is pretty obvious. Even locally there are clearly calls from some segments of the general public which put pressure on those in decision making positions. This article is about pressure among those public officials who are the deciders, which pressure appears, at least to the public, to be more subtle.

One of the first clues was when the suburban cities announced they would be following the state’s return to business plan instead of that issued by Shelby County government and the county health department.

About as close as an official will come to admitting possible political pressure was when Dr. Alisa Haushalter, a doctor of nursing practice and director of the Shelby County Health Department made the following comment to the news media on May 11, 2020.


Dr. Alisa Haushalter

“The health department did not necessarily agree to move forward with opening things without a lot of discussion and so in the end we came to consensus and did that collectively. In addition to our subcommittee the mayors meet regularly and have discussion. They have additional perspective to consider beyond the public health perspective and they also have discussion and in the end we have come to agreement, collectively. I think that’s the message we’ve given to the public: that we are in alignment locally across multiple municipalities.”

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland repeatedly say they listen to the doctors and use the data and the doctors’ advice to drive their decisions. Although it is not explicitly stated and therefore leaves a large loophole, in context one would likely presume those doctors the political leaders reference are medical doctors and doctors of nursing, perhaps other biological sciences doctors, not those with a Ph. D. in marketing or other non-health related disciplines. The above quote clearly indicates decisions are made distinct from the preference of the department charged with the health of the people of Shelby County.



Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris discusses COVID-19 response. May 4, 2020

On May 4, Harris did say, “this process has been, of forging unity, has been challenging. We have a large county with a wide range of perspective and experience. After that we are in unprecedented times.” He went on to say they have agreed on the phase one of back-to-business plan.

At almost every announcement made by local public officials regarding the COVID-19 pandemic response, the term “consensus” is used describing the position of all the Shelby County governmental entities involved in the response planning. It has been said that a united plan is one of the most important aspects of the planning and implementation process. Time and time again, governmental officials have complemented themselves on achieving that consensus.

Despite the claims of unity, when Stacy Jacobson of WREG asked Harris about a news release from the City of Germantown saying that as of May 6 personal appearance businesses, including salons, barbershops, nail salons, spas, waxing/threading salons, tanning salons and massage therapy establishments will be allowed to reopen in Germantown, Harris had to say that his only thought was the release of that announcement was a mistake. That is because the Shelby County Health Officer’s directive did not allow salons, spas, waxing/threading salons, tanning salons and massage therapy establishments open on that day. Germantown did come back within a day, prior to May 6, to comply with the local orders. It seems Germantown thought it could follow the state’s back to business plan, which did not apply to Shelby County or the other metro areas in the state. The announcement indicates at the least a lack of communication among the local Joint COVID-19 Task Force participants or a lack of consensus among the members until those proposing a deviation were brought back into line.

Officials have said that at times more than 100 people are involved in the Joint COVID-19 Task Force discussing the pandemic response in Shelby County. While the full listing of those persons has not been widely disseminated, it has been noted that either the mayors or their representatives of each of the seven municipalities, the county mayor, and the health department are included. The meetings of the Task Force are not open to the public, unless you are invited by the powers that be, you are not privy to the discussions or the votes, if any, that are guiding public policy as to when businesses can be open and how people are supposed to interact with one another.

Acting under emergency powers granted by state and local laws, there have been few situations in which government has exercised as much of its restrictive power over such a large number of people and businesses in Shelby County. The Tennessee General Assembly’s law stating that it is the policy of “this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret” seems not to be applicable even though decisions affecting the health and business of everyone in the county are being made on a frequent basis.

The private nature of the Task Force’s meetings leaves the public with only small clues as to the actual preferred positions of the participants. The public is left with little evidence of their consensus, or lack of it prior to potential political pressure, job intimidation, or other inducements. This not to say that there are strong arm tactics, the public just cannot know if there are or not. With the repeated announcement of consensus and the small clues of a lack of that degree of unity, the question remains open, although those small clues suggest that political or other pressures may be brought to bear.

Sculpture planned for Cossitt Library called “scary”


This writer has been told that’s how an officer with the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society describes the design for a piece of public art designed to go in front of the renovated Cossitt Library in downtown Memphis. It’s not a single person’s opinion, others in the society agree.

bird-sculpture-allThe proposed art piece is a metal structure designed to look like a large book with a pop-up feature which is supposedly modeled after a mockingbird, the Tennessee state bird.

The piece is being contracted by the Memphis Urban Arts Commission. It has been approved by the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Design Review Board. It is or shortly is scheduled to begin fabrication. Lauren Kennedy, Executive Director of the Urban Arts Commission says it is hoped to get the manufacturing process underway quickly so that the sculpture can be placed in front of the Cossitt Library in time for its opening in September. She also indicated that not only had the selection committee approved the design but also a public art review group. The firm contracted to create it is rhiza A+D, which is said to be an art, architecture, and fabrication firm based in Portland, Oregon.

What is art for some may be trash to others so one’s opinion may be only their own. It appears, however, there is an alarming opinion of some familiar with part of the content of this piece. One might anticipate that the design for a sculpture planned for the front of a public library featuring a specific feature might be submitted for evaluation by experts in that feature. It appears this may not have happened in this case. Apparently no one thought to talk to local bird experts. Those knowledgeable birders say something is off in the design. They say the bird appears to be in distress.

Given Kennedy’s comments about rushing the sculpture into manufacture, should the library, the city, or the public at large decide an image of a scary bird in distress is not very inviting for the Cossitt library, action may need to be taken quickly. If not, there may be people who are freaked out when they approach the downtown library. But since art appreciation is subjective, maybe they’ll like a disturbing image.

Memphis: selling herself

You might think that Memphis selling herself refers to advocating or advertising the city to others in an attempt to attract business, tourists, or new residents. Certainly that is one way Memphis sells itself. That is not, however, what this article title is about.

This is about Memphis taking money to brand parts of itself as something other than Memphis.

The most recent example is this month’s decision by the Memphis Convention Center Board of Commissioners voting to name the convention center the Renasant Convention Center after Renasant Bank. This writer has heard from reliable sources that the vote was unanimous, despite some commissioners having earlier expressed concerns about the proposal. While it is not known how long the commissioners knew the name of the entity wishing to buy the naming rights – it was kept secret from the public until the meeting in which the vote occurred – it is reliably reported that the commissioners only got the 40-plus page contract the night before the vote and at least one of the most engaged commissioners admitted at the voting meeting to not having read it.


Those promoting Memphis often say that anytime the city’s name is spoken or seen in a positive or neutral manner it is a valuable event in terms of marketing the city to those businesses,tourists, or perspective residents. Instead of being exposed to the name Memphis Convention Center those references will now be to the Renasant Convention Center.

The city already has the FedEx Forum, the AutoZone Park baseball stadium, and city officials say they want to sell naming rights to the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium and the proposed Fairgrounds youth athletic facilities.

One could speculate that is too bad Circuit City stores have gone away, with only the name existing for an on-line retailer. Just think if it were still a thriving brick and mortar business how much money the city might get to sell the city name altogether. Instead the City of Memphis, it could be Circuit City, Tennessee. Come to think of it, the on-line retailer Circuit City might still be interested in purchasing the naming rights to the city.

The current mayor of Memphis says Memphis has momentum. It was the key phrase in his reelection. There is considerable development underway in the city. Far more than $2-billion of development projects have been announced. Downtown buildings long vacant are beginning to be renovated and occupied. A new 500 room hotel is expected to rise near the newly renovated Memphis, I mean Renasant Convention Center. Restaurants, museums, and entertainment venues abound.

Memphis is dressing itself up. It is looking good. Now, apparently, she is ready to sell herself.

$22 Million Project Hits Snags at Shelby County Schools

scs-logoAugust 20, 2019 – update: the SCS administration says that it expects to implement the revised ERP system for the same $22 million already planned for it. The administration has also said, as noted below, it intends to eliminate “unneeded” elements of the proposed ERP plan. It was not clear if those elements to be removed from the plan will be discarded to keep within the $22 million budget or because the new SCS administration of superintendent Joris Ray has a different opinion than the previous administration of superintendent Dorsey Hopson as to what is actually needed.

August 19, 2019 – The Shelby County School system is attempting to determine how much work done under a $7,240,638 contract can be salvaged and applied to a overall $22 million project.

For at least four years, Shelby County Schools has been pursuing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solution to help integrate and manage the various core business functions of the school district.

It has planned to spend about $22 million on the project. In 2017, it selected the Oracle database system as the primary service and issued a contract with CherryRoad Technologies, Inc. to provide implementation of the Oracle Cloud based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. It is said that SCS will be the first school district to adopt the cloud based ERP system from Oracle.

Now the school district has revealed that Oracle did an assessment of the progress of the project in October, 2018, and shortly thereafter work on the implementation was halted. School system officials say the contract with CherryRoad has been terminated and that it is investigating how much of the work done so far is “salvageable” and can be used going forward to complete the project. To assist in that evaluation, SCS management says Oracle will conduct another assessment of the implementation effort later this year after the work has resumed. SCS says it is going to relaunch the project in early September.

SCS estimates the project will take a year or slightly more to complete once the work resumes. It plans to “reframe” the ERP project, that it is in an “investigative stage” and cites the fact that many of the top level administrators at SCS have changed with the resignation of Dorsey Hopson as superintendent and the selection of Joris Ray as the new superintendent. The administration change has included the firing in April of its Chief of Information Technology.  The Board of Education approved a $5 million contract with Oracle in June to implement the ERP system. CherryRoad was, and according to its website still is, a “platinum partner” of Oracle.

An ERP system is designed to bring multiple business practices into an integrated computer system so that decisions can more easily consider the various aspects of the goals of the business. In many cases, individual elements of the business process have already been automated but were independent from other elements of the business which had their own software solutions. An ERP is designed to replace or integrate existing computerized applications, or create new ones, so that they work together to present a bigger picture of some of the core functions of a business.

SCS says it intends to pursue the areas of the ERP system that involve budgeting, finance, human resources and payroll and to eliminate what it considers “unneeded systems” from the ERP project.

SCS administration officials are reluctant to mention the name of “CherryRoad” in discussions of the status of the ERP project and indicate that there are legal considerations forthcoming. The Shelby County Board of Education has an executive session scheduled for Monday, August 19, 2019. SCS executive sessions are closed to the news media and public and such secrecy is permitted by court decisions allowing the public body to get legal advice from its lawyers when it is named in a lawsuit, anticipates a lawsuit, or is threatened with a lawsuit. It is unknown at the time of this writing what the subject of the August 19 executive session is but reference has been made by SCS administrators to consultation with its attorney(s) in regard to the ERP project. It may well be that the August 19 executive session is primarily called to discuss the legal ramifications of the terminated contract with CherryRoad and its work done under that contract.
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Jimmy Ogle Steps Aside, Robert Montgomery Steps In for History Walking Tours


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.

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.


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.]