Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My remarks before City Council

Below is the full text of my own remarks before the City Council last night.

City Council action

On Tuesday night the City Council voted to appropriate the $10.5 million to build a restaurant and gift shop at Beale Street Landing.

There were three NO votes (Shea Flinn, Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad) and one abstention (Wanda Halbert).

Opposition observers saw Conrad's vote as surprising and courageous, since he has been an RDC board member and supporter.

Though they ended up voting YES, several other council members seemed to be troubled and struggling with their decisions. Two of them, Jim Strickland and William C. Boyd, grilled Benny Lendermon at length on his claim that if the City didn't proceed with the project, it would forfeit $8.9 million of Federal money and possibly some State money, too.

Lendermon admitted that the Federal Transportation Department grants were for building the boat dock (the current Phase 3), but City money is being fronted and the Federal reimbursement needs to be applied for. The boat dock is mainly steel work and is being built off site.

But Lendermon seemed to be saying that if the City didn't proceed with Phase 4a (the restaurant), then it would be ineligible to receive the Federal payments on the boat dock. He didn't explain why the Department of Transportation considers a restaurant to be a necessary and essential part of a boat dock. Perhaps it was because no one asked him precisely that question -- and maybe that was his good fortune.

Myron Lowery, a YES vote, made a showy point of telling everyone that he was always in the loop on RDC's budget woes, even though Benny Lendermon had just told the CIP Budget Committee the opposite.

Further reading:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tuesday's City Council Agenda (part 2)

(Continued from part 1.) Tomorrow, the City Council is being asked to spend $11.5 million of taxpayer money to build a restaurant (and gift shop) business. When you strip away the hype and the bullying (and a boat dock we didn't need but are now stuck with) -- that's the essence of it.

Many might question, just on principle, the idea of taxpayer-funding and risk-taking for a restaurant business. But I think there are some serious business plan issues, not the least of which is this: There is no operator attached to this project.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tuesday's City Council Agenda

Here's a summary of what is on the agenda for Tuesday's City Council meeting (May 25). First, look at this drawing:

RDC Chairman John Stokes: It's my way or the highway.

Here are his exact words to the RDC Board [my emphasis]:

STOKES: Because if we don't get the two [million dollars], we're stuck with the way it looks now. And dadgum it, that's going to be on the conscience, in my opinion, of the Council members that vote NO. I'm just telling you that, because it's gonna be there forever till somebody... And we're not gonna do it.

Click here to listen to the 22-seconds of MP3 audio.

Sound like a threat to you? It certainly does to me. But threat or not, it's supremely arrogant.

It's all part of a cynical deceit that the RDC apparently plans to use with the City Council this Tuesday. They want us all to believe that we have only two choices: (1) Build BSL completely, as designed; or (2) suffer with the big hole and scarred landscape -- a mess that the RDC itself created.

This is a falsehood, of course. There has always been a third choice: Spend a more modest amount of money -- $1-2 million -- to fill the hole and re-landscape the undeveloped area. But the RDC officials don't want anyone -- not even their own board -- to seriously consider the third option.

BSL's current design with 3 pods.

For several weeks, the RDC has been quietly spreading this strawman argument, indirectly, via friendly bloggers ("If Beale Street Landing is halted...Tom Lee Park and the Cobblestones will forever be separated by a crater") and their supporters' letters to the editor.

Lately, they've gotten bolder, pushing the false choice out to journalists -- complete with RDC-Photoshopped pictures of their latest design (above) compared to the unfinished mess (below). (See Memphis Flyer and Memphis Business Journal.)

This past Wednesday, the RDC held a board meeting to pre-test and polish their strategy for getting a $10.5 million dollar authorization from the City Council (which a Council committee has already recommended against) this coming Tuesday. It seems that a picture of the unfinished mess at Beale Street Landing will take center stage.

You can click here to listen to the 12.5 minute board discussion regarding Phase 4(b), but here's a summary:

Lendermon has the current 3-pod design on the boardroom video screen, explaining that the $10.5 million will pay for the restaurant building, gift shop and restrooms. Even if that money is approved, he explains, $6.8M has yet to be found for the final phase -- the park area, or what observers often call "the pods".

Presumably to show this, Lendermon flips to a slide (shown below) that's missing the pods and terraces -- with the scarred and ugly dirtscape where the park would be.

The ugly picture with Phase 4(b) missing -- and nothing done to clean up the mess.

At this point, a board member tries to ask a rather obvious question: What happens if they don't get the money to do the park? Do they really intend to leave that area scarred and unfinished, or are they going to clean it up.

Lendermon won't answer her question. He keeps talking as if it's all or nothing choice. John Stokes jumps in and claims that the there's no point in talking about it, because the 6.8 million will be found.

The board member tries again and again to get a straight answer to her question.

It takes close over eight minutes for the board to finally get an off-hand admission out of Benny Lendermon [audio]:
LENDERMON: I mean, you could go in there with maybe, you know, a million [dollars] and and fix everything and make it green and make the connections to Beale Street, and all...

But, as we heard, John Stokes insists the RDC won't do it. It's Beale Street Landing as designed -- or a hole in the ground [audio]:
STOKES: [The point is] what are we going to do now? ...and again, if they vote it down, who's going to fill up that hole that's there now? We're not. I told Benny I'm outa [here]. I'm not going to go back and...and fill that hole up.

And so this Tuesday the RDC will go before City Council, show them that ugly (but unreal) picture, because, as Stokes tells his board [audio]
STOKES: You don't really...want for this part on the left [the pods-Phase 4(b)] to look great right now. You don't want it to. Because then it stops the project.

They plan to scare the Council (as they've already done with the general public) by presenting a stark, binary, and false choice: It's got to be our way...or a hole in the ground.

Further readings:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RDC knew for over a year and kept Mayor Lowery in the dark.

Memphis City Council committee votes against 2010 Beale Street Landing appropriation

By Amos Maki, Memphis Commercial Appeal

A City Council committee voted this morning against appropriating $10.5 million for the Riverfront Development Corp.’s Beale Street Landing project.

The request for funds in the current Capital Improvement Program budget will now go to the full council in two weeks with a negative recommendation from the CIP committee.

But here's the more interesting part: