Saturday, May 22, 2010

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:


Anonymous said...

Could you tell me who was at that meeting and the idenity of the woman who was asking the tough questions?

Mike said...

Although I have regularly observed and recorded RDC board meetings in the past, I didn't personally attend this one. The recording was furnished to me by someone else. I would rather not guess at the owners of the voices -- other than Lendermon and Stokes who are recognizable to almost anyone in this town.

The RDC board members are listed on this page.