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2014 The Year Ahead

A look at what’s on the horizon for city government, politics, business, music, film, theater, gay rights, and more.

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City Government
Big issues await the mayor and Memphis City Council in 2014.

AutoZone Park: The first battle will be the city's proposed purchase of AutoZone Park, which is scheduled for another public review and council vote on Tuesday, January 7th. The issue simmered on the back burner for years, until Memphis mayor A C Wharton pushed it to the top of the city's agenda in December, urging that the deal get done by year's end.

The council pushed back. Angered by the mayor's rush job and lack of communication on what would have been a $25 million transaction, council members twice delayed a vote on the matter.

The deal on the table now is a counteroffer proposed by council member Jim Strickland and approved by council members. The original agreement asked the city to pay about $20 million for the baseball park and about $5 million for improvements. The council's counteroffer reduced the stadium purchase price to $15 million and the funds for park improvements to $2.5 million. Also, any excess city funds generated at the park would go exclusively to stadium improvements, up to $2.5 million.

Expect a new counteroffer from the players on the other side of the deal, which include the St. Louis Cardinals and Fundamental Advisors, the private-equity firm that now owns the debt on AutoZone Park.

Pension Plan for City Employees: The city council is expected to tackle the $682 million gap in the city's pension fund after having received details of Wharton's proposed fix in mid-December.

A 2013 report by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed the city's pension problem was worse than some had feared. The fund was valued at around $2.1 billion in 2008, but stock values plummeted, and by 2009, the recession had taken a $400 million bite out of the pension plan.

Wharton's proposal would move new employees and those employed by the city for less than 10 years to a plan akin to a 401(k) retirement fund, similar to those offered in the private sector. The current pension structure guarantees employees a set amount of money throughout retirement. Investments in the new plan would fluctuate with the stock market.

Expect a three-way tug of war in 2014 as the council, mayor, and labor unions hammer out compromises on a deal that may take months to strike.

City Debt Repayment: State officials criticized the size of the city's debt and its debt management strategies last May. Moody's Investors Service, a major bond rating agency, gently downgraded the city's credit score in December, partially based on the city's "above-average debt burden" of about $1.1 billion. Moody's analysts expected the debt figure to go up in the coming years as the city's tax base declines and fixed costs rise. City council members were told during last summer's budget talks that the city's debt payments would rise substantially in the coming years to cut the debt load more quickly.

The city's current budget includes about $127 million in debt payments. City finance officials said debt payments would rise as much as $21 million for next year's budget and would rise again by $40 million in 2019.

The plan to ramp up the payments caught many council members off guard, with Shea Flinn calling it the "biggest nightmare" for the city. Expect some talk of the debt during the budget's annual "mid-year cleanup" process in January. No big moves on the city's debt strategy will likely surface until budget season begins in April. — Toby Sells

Business
There will plenty of new places to shop, eat, and drink.

Bass Pro Shops: The biggest, most ballyhooed opening of the year will no doubt be the big new bait shop on the river.

Years of political fights, complicated funding schemes, design changes, PowerPoint presentations, legal opinions, demolition, construction, miles of chain-link fencing, and more will culminate with what is promised to be the blockbuster, holiday-season grand opening of the only 32-story, stainless steel, pyramid-shaped Bass Pro Shops location in America.

Bass Pro in the Pyramid will have a raised walkway over replications of a Delta swamp, complete with wildlife and cypress trees. It will feature a glass-encased elevator on the outside of the building, offering rides to the Pyramid's pinnacle, where visitors will find observation decks with food and drinks.

It will also have a hotel with about 60 rooms called Big Cypress Lodge. If all that's not enough, Bass Pro officials said they have discussed installing a zip line on the property.

"New" Whole Foods: The store announced in May it would move into the Office Depot space adjacent to its store on Poplar. The move will increase the size of the store from 25,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. Store officials said at the time they expected the store to be complete on "the early side of 2014."

Once the new store is open, the current space will be demolished to make room for more parking. 

Midtown Fresh Market: Untold hours of party chatter throughout the 38104 ZIP code have focused on getting a better grocery store in Midtown. The Fresh Market was a dark horse in the race, but Midtowners rejoiced at the news that the company was converting the Ike's at Union and Cooper into one of its upscale grocery stores. Fresh Market officials were tight-lipped about the deal, but the company did file a number of architectural and landscaping plans for the store, and it's expected to be open in 2014.

Kroger Construction: The new year will bring a flurry of construction activity around the Union Kroger location. The company announced in August it wants to open an enormous new store to replace the Kroger now housed in the former Schnucks location.

The first signs of progress at the location will be the scheduled demolition of the Trousseau building next to the existing store and some of the buildings behind the store, Kroger spokesman Joe Bell said. Those spots will be paved to add parking spaces to the site. It's a necessary first step before demolition can begin on the Belvedere Apartments. The site of the mid-rise building just west of the current store is the proposed location for the new store, scheduled to open in 2015.

Truck Stop: In spite of the initial controversy surrounding the project, the Truck Stop restaurant deal will likely happen at the corner of Central and Cooper in 2014. The Truck Stop's investors, restaurateur Taylor Berger and attorney Michael Tauer, have tried to temper neighborhood concerns about their plan with public hearings. Current tenant Midtown Nursery's lease is up in February.

Muddy's Midtown: Only second to the party chatter devoted to getting an upscale grocery store in Midtown has been the question of why Muddy's Bake Shop is "all the way out" in East Memphis. Well, Muddy's owner Kat Gordon answered the call in August. She closed on a house at 585 Cooper and predicted an "early 2014" grand opening for what will likely be called "Muddy's Midtown."

Tart: Coffee and pastry shop Tart promised a January 2014 opening after signing its lease on a Cooper-Young space in October. The café will serve French and New Orleans-inspired pastries and double as an art gallery for "local and underground talent."

Crosstown: Demolition and construction crews will be busy in 2014 at the former Sears Crosstown building, and activity around the building will increase.

Hula-hoop-based exercise studio, Co-Motion Studio, opened in a spot just north of the Crosstown building on Cleveland in December. And the Church Health Center, which will be one of Crosstown's tenants, plans to open an outreach center close to the building in 2014.

Overton Square: Overton Square's hot streak will continue in 2014 with lots of new places to eat, drink, and play.

The Lafayette's Music Room brand is expected to return to Overton Square in the space at 2119 Madison with blues and Southern food. Babalu Tacos & Tapas announced in August it would open a 5,000-square-foot restaurant in 2014 in the old TGI Fridays space, with chef-quality tacos and tapas and a patio with an indoor/outdoor bar.

Sekisui founder Jimmy Ishii announced in August he'd open Robata Ramen and Yakitori Bar in the Griffin House, which used to be part of Paulette's. The restaurant will serve kushiyaki skewers of grilled meat and vegetables, kara-age bite-sized fried chicken, ramen noodle soups, and other traditional Japanese items.

The Square Olive will offer bulk and bottled specialty olive oils, olive-oil-based soaps, hand lotions, and pet shampoos.

East Memphis: Two new-to-Memphis restaurant concepts are set to open in 2014 around the Crescent Center office complex at Poplar and I-240.

Seasons 52 is a fresh grill and wine bar that will offer a seasonally inspired menu, according to the restaurant's website. The Capital Grill will open close to Crescent Center's parking garage, bringing its extensive wine list, seafood, and signature dry-aged steaks.

Owners of the healthy, fast-casual concept Lettuce Eat have planned a February opening. The restaurant will offer salads and wraps and will be open for lunch and dinner, next to Swanky's Taco Shop in the CarreFour Shopping Center.

Construction of the second Broadway Pizza location has been underway this year at 629 S. Mendenhall. Its owners call the new spot "Broadway East" on Facebook but promise the same food, products, and recipes they've served at the original Broad Avenue location since 1977. — Toby Sells

Politics
2014 will see lots of elections, local and statewide.

The one thing certain about the political landscape in Memphis and Shelby County in 2014 is that there will be elections: elections for governor and for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Lamar Alexander; elections for state representatives and for the state Senate; elections for Shelby County mayor and for members of the Shelby County Commission; elections for trial judges and retention votes for state appellate judges.

At the state level, the chances for substantial change are virtually nil. Yes, there will be more allegations made by disgruntled Democrats against the Smilin' Jack persona of GOP governor Bill Haslam — regarding the Haslam family's Pilot Corporation, over-influential lobbyists, the governor's campaign war chest, his alleged subservience to Tea Party conservatives, etc. But none of it will stick — at least, not in a way threatening to Haslam's reelection.

The real question is whether the Democrats can find a credible gubernatorial candidate to make a pro forma challenge. At this writing, their best bet, former Tennessee Regulatory Authority member Sara Kyle of Memphis, appears reluctant to do so. Tennessee has become so indelibly red-state that even someone as embarrassingly transgressive as 4th District Republican congressman Scott DesJarlais, the "values" campaigner and pro-lifer exposed as a philanderer who insisted on an abortion for a lady friend, could not be taken out in 2012 by a Democrat. He is, however, almost certain to fall to a Republican challenger in next year's primary.

Likewise, the Tennessee legislature, already ruled by a GOP super-majority, will resume its intramural quarrels in January, untroubled by interference from the General Assembly's handful of remaining Democrats. The question is not, for example, whether there will be state vouchers for private schools. It is a matter of how many vouchers for how many students. More gun liberalization bills? Democratic Senate leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, an opponent, predicts a bill allowing universal gun-carry will be introduced, with good prospects of passage.

Any limitation on GOP successes will largely be determined by whether there is a continuation of last session's power struggle between House speaker Beth Harwell and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, the Senate speaker and the state's real power center. Medicaid expansion? Fuggettaboutit!

Shelby County's Democrats — numerically superior to the GOP on paper — will try to recover from the Republican sweep of 2010 and wrest the county mayor's job away from GOP incumbent Mark Luttrell. Not so easy, given that Luttrell has always had crossover support. But outgoing county commissioner Steve Mulroy (maybe) and former commissioner Deidre Malone (for sure) may challenge. And, of course, Democrats will try, with fair chances of success, to unseat the Republicans now holding the other countywide offices on the 2014 ballot.

Looking ahead to 2015, mayoral hopefuls like city councilmen Jim Strickland and Harold Collins will be using next year to brainstorm their chances and lay the basis for challenging the reelection of incumbent mayor A C Wharton, whose hold on popular confidence and affection shows signs of weakening.

And all of the political circumstances of 2014 and beyond — locally, at least — will depend on whatever comes of the current turmoil surrounding the Shelby County Election Commission and its embattled administrator, Rich Holden, who is facing mounting public criticism, and possibly worse, as a consequence of five years of glitches in the conduct of local elections. — Jackson Baker

Film
Movies that will make box offices and critics take notice in the coming year.

Now that we've put 2013 in film to bed (see story, page 54), it's time to look ahead to 2014. Note: All release dates are tentative, subject to change, or, in some cases, speculative. I ain't no Nostradamus.

Doppler Effect: Because Memphis is a relatively small market, there are a few prestige pictures that we've been forced to hear about for months but haven't played here yet. Chief among these is Her (January 10th), Spike Jonze's romantic something wherein Joaquin Phoenix falls for his operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. It could happen. Also belatedly dropping in January are August: Osage County and Lone Survivor (January 10th) and the Stockholm syndrome-seeming plot of Labor Day (January 31st). And be on the lookout for Hayao Miyazaki's career-capper The Wind Rises, about the man who designed Japanese Zeros.

Nerd Alerts: The reign of our comic-book-nerd overlords continues. Damn, when is this going to end? Never? Oh, okay. Hope you like Marvel superheroes. From May to August, there will be four films featuring characters from the comic book publisher. The Nerd-erers' Row starts with the most promising of them all, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4th). If it can recapture part of the greatness of Ed Brubaker's original story arc, it's going to be great. After that, in order: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (May 2nd), X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23rd), and Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1st), the last being the riskiest crossover venture of them all. Add to all that The Lego Movie (February 7th) — starring Lego Batman and Wonder Woman, and, seriously, it looks good — and the noir pastiche sequel Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (August 22nd).

Things Blow Up Good, Again: If fistfights and fireball spectacles are more your thing, 2014 looks to have you in good hands. The first half of the year features a few high-profile reboots, including Tom Clancy's great spy in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (January 17th), Detroit's revenging lawman in RoboCop (February 12th), and the Japanese icon in Godzilla (May 16th). Regarding the last: Despite an intriguing trailer, will the fight be a letdown without robots, à la Pacific Rim?

Teenage Wastelands: Hollywood is ever looking for its next big franchise. Following the success of teen-books-turned-blockbuster movies such as Twilight and The Hunger Games comes the next great thing, Divergent (March 21st), starring Shailene Woodley as some kind of teen girl who can save a dystopian world. (I don't know, I'm just speculating.) Also making the leap from YA page to screen is Vampire Academy (February 14th), about some kind of teen girl who's a vampire in school. (I don't know, I'm just speculating.) And you can't forget The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (November 21st).

Getting Biblical: Two leviathan-budget biblical tales will be hurtling at our eyes in 2014. First up is Noah (March 28th), wherein Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe end the world. Later in the year, Exodus (December 12th) has Ridley Scott pitting Moses (Christian Bale) and Joshua (Aaron Paul) against the guy from the statue in front of the U of M.

Award: Last are the movies that promise to be the best of the year, with good directors, actors, screenplays, and premises, including the World War II drama The Monuments Men (February 7th) and Foxcatcher (TBD), with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum portraying an Olympic tragedy. Christopher Nolan follows up his Batman movies with Interstellar (November 7th), about space travel. Transcendence (April 18th) puts Johnny Depp as a ghost in the machine. Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx update Annie (December 19th). And you'll probably want to keep an eye on the new films from P.T. Anderson (Inherent Vice), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and David Fincher (Gone Girl). — Greg Akers

Theater
The Hattiloo Theatre in Overton Square is set to open in June.

Ekundayo Bandele has been a man on a mission, and the fruits of his labors are just about ripe. In 2014, a scant two years after the launch of a capital campaign, the founding director of the Hattiloo Theatre, a black repertory theater currently located on Marshall Avenue just to the north of Sun Studio, moves into a newly constructed and versatile performing-arts space in Overton Square.

In June, the Hattiloo opens its new home with a production of Once on This Island, a tropical, fairy-tale musical that puts an Afro-Caribbean twist on some of Shakespeare's best-loved stories.

The impending move has Bandele left wondering about how it might change his organization's identity. "I've thought about removing [the subtitle] 'A Black Repertory Theater' from our name," he says. After serious consideration and some extraordinary displays of support, Bandele says he decided to leave the name intact.

"It's who we are," he says. "It's in our DNA."

"I was at New Sardis getting an award," Bandele says. "The preacher, LaSimba Gray, said, 'We have in our congregation today a man who is building a monument for the African-American community in Memphis, and we will not let him carry his stone across the River Jordan by himself.'

"They took up a collection," Bandele recalls. "And the church matched it. Then everybody stood up and sang the Negro National Anthem. I was floored."

At a time when competition for fund-raising dollars is so fierce that even the Orpheum has had to rethink its timetable for constructing an ambitious performing-arts school, the Hattiloo Theatre raised $700,000 from Memphis' African-American community.

"No organization has ever done that," Bandele says. "Our minority donations are just under 40 percent of total fund-raising."

"Next year, we're doing a symposium called the 'Cultural, Economic, and Historical Effect of Hattiloo's Move to Overton Square,'" Bandele says, reiterating his hopes that the space might become a nexus for black culture in Memphis. "Because if we treat this thing like it's just another building being built, then we're missing an opportunity." — Chris Davis

Crime
MPD plans to continue to push crime trends downward in 2014.

Crime rates in Memphis have been on the decline over the past few years, and the Memphis Police Department (MPD) is determined to make sure this trend continues in 2014.

In 2013, through December 17th, there were 46,912 crimes committed in the city, according to MPD statistics, lower than 2012, in which there were 49,256 crimes during the same period.

Crime has decreased nearly 30 percent overall since 2006, according to the MPD. That year, 66,081 crimes were reported from the first of the year through December 17th.

"These stats are a direct reflection of the unwavering efforts of our officers to combat crime," says MPD spokeswoman Alyssa Moore. "The Memphis Police Department is committed to protecting and serving this great city of Memphis."

Crimes that have decreased include robberies at businesses. In 2013, through December 17th, 188 business robberies had been reported, far fewer than the 295 that took place in 2012. Incidences of rape have also declined. There were 340 rape cases in 2013 in Memphis, through December 17th, compared to 412 in 2012. The number of criminal homicides in 2013 is also down in comparison to 2012 — to 121 from 138 in 2012, over the same time period.

Other crimes also declined in 2013 from 2012 levels. There were 319 fewer aggravated assaults; 252 fewer auto thefts; and 450 fewer residential burglaries.

"Those particular crimes, in all honesty, the same people are doing them over and over again," says Buddy Chapman, director of Crime Stoppers of Memphis and Shelby County. "It's not at all unusual to find somebody who has been convicted of burglary multiple times."

Moore says, "The Memphis Police Department is committed to fight crime in 2014 and years to come using all the necessary resources and technology in hopes that our crime rate will continue to decline. This is our mission, this is our city, and this is our duty."

Chapman is less optimistic. He thinks the persistent numbers of youth getting involved in crime combined with repeat offenders not receiving substantial punishment will keep the crime rate from declining.

"I don't anticipate that it will go down," Chapman says. "I do think that crime is a cyclical thing; certain crime [percentages] go up, other crimes go down. I don't see crime overall as becoming less of a problem to society." — Louis Goggans

Gay Rights
Many legal and legislative battles lie ahead in 2014.

The year 2013 was arguably the biggest breakthrough year for LGBT equality in U.S. history. The Supreme Court overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act, forcing the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages.

As of this writing, six more states — Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Utah — legalized gay marriage, and same-sex marriages resumed in California after the Supreme Court overturned the state ban. To date, 18 states and the District of Columbia have legal same-sex marriage.

In Tennessee, Knoxville, Collegedale, and Chattanooga approved domestic partner benefits for city employees. In October, four Tennessee couples, including Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis, filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Nashville challenging state laws that prevent Tennessee from recognizing their marriages, which they entered into in states where gay marriage is legal.

But what will 2014 hold? Attorney Maureen Holland, who is representing the couples involved in the marriage lawsuit, believes the suit will come to a resolution this year. "In my opinion, [the judge] will have to make a fairly immediate decision, because, with a preliminary injunction, you have immediate, irreparable harm going on. Those are fast-tracked."

Since it's not a class-action lawsuit, its outcome may only apply to the couples who filed the lawsuit. But the judge could issue a broader ruling that affects other married gay couples living in Tennessee. Either way, it would set a precedent for future married same-sex couples. There is also a chance the case could be appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which could have implications for other states in the same circuit as Tennessee.

"If four [couples] can have their marriages recognized, it bodes well for everybody similarly situated," Holland said.

"Tennessee Equality Project's Shelby County committee will pursue domestic partnership benefits for Memphis and Shelby County employees in 2014," TEP executive director Chris Sanders said. "Also on the local TEP agenda are plans to add anti-bullying language to Shelby County Schools' policy and legal enforcement of federal marriage paperwork allowing couples to adopt their partner's last name."

Statewide, TEP will be pushing what they call the "Dignity for All Students" Act, an anti-bullying bill that bans harassment of students based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

"It's the only equality bill in the history of the state that has bipartisan sponsorship, but it will still face an uphill fight," Sanders said.

Meanwhile, Sanders expects the so-called "License to Bully" bill, supported by the anti-gay Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), to possibly make a comeback. The bill, which died in a previous session, makes it okay for students to bully gay kids so long as they are doing so because of their religious beliefs.

Other things to watch out for: a possible comeback of the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which bans teachers from discussing homosexuality in schools, and a possible bill attempting to ban adoption for gay couples, according to Sanders.

"Also, with all the movement around marriage, we might expect a bill banning civil unions," Sanders said. "We don't have them in Tennessee, but we also don't forbid them. I could see a bill that tries to close the gap." — Bianca Phillips

Live Music
Some notable early-in-the-year concerts and musical highlights.

In addition to the Hi-Tone, New Daisy, Minglewood Hall, and Young Avenue Deli all stacking their calendars in early 2014, Lafayette's Music Room is tentatively set to open in early July in Overton Square. But with warm summer months on the square seemingly a lifetime away, here are some early-2014 concerts and musical highlights to look forward to in the meantime.

Fair warning: In no way is this list comprehensive. They call this city the birthplace of rock-and-roll for a reason. There's live music happening every night.

On January 11th, local rockers the Dirty Streets hit the Young Avenue Deli with Giganto and newish band Werwulf. Dirty Streets have three albums under their belt, and their psych-tinged Southern rock holds up with any of the Memphis greats. Later in the month, Against Me! returns to Memphis and the New Daisy.

On February 1st at the Hi-Tone, local songwriting weirdo Clay Otis releases his second album. Backed up by local classic rockers the Sheiks, Clay Otis live is a spectacle that must be seen to be believed. A few days later, on February 4th, Waxahatchee, aka Katie Crutchfield, also makes a stop at the new Crosstown venue. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Crutchfield pours out confessional pop songs, and everyone from NPR to MTV seems to be taking notice.

In semi-related music news, Rocket Science Audio co-founder Robin Pack says that his studio will continue airing the once-a-month web series variety show they began in 2013. Originally based in Crosstown, they recorded many local bands before moving to a larger space next door to Murphy's on Madison Avenue. Each show pairs two bands with a comedian. Pack said he's interested in adding more elements to the web series, including a game show and a sports show. — Chris Shaw

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