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Cops, Lottery, & Racism

The mayor wants more police, council members say race played in Beale Street vote.

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State of the City

Public safety was the centerpiece of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland's first State of the City address, which he delivered last week in Frayser.

Strickland touted his administration's accomplishments, including shortening 911 answer times, paving more streets, and stabilizing the city's fiscal situation. But he said public safety remains the largest challenge for Memphis.

To tackle that challenge, Strickland hopes to hire hundreds of new Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers. The number of MPD officers was around 2,400 in the late 2000s, and that number has dwindled to just more than 1,900.

Strickland said the MPD has recently launched a violent crimes bureau to provide a more focused investigation of serious crimes. The unit will find and arrest violent and repeat offenders.

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Midtown Market returns

The project to put apartments and retail space on the site of the shuttered hotel at Union and McLean is back, and developers want a 15-year tax break worth more than $6.6 million to build it.

Belz HRP Partners got a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deal for the project in 2015 but were not able to get it off the ground.

The company unveiled a scaled-down version of its Midtown Market project last week in documents filed with the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. (CCRFC) in hopes of securing a new PILOT for the new project. Company officials said they can't afford to finance or build the project without the tax break.

In the new project, the four-story office building that fronts the southwest corner of Union and McLean will be razed in the new plan and replaced with new construction. The eight-story Artisan Hotel on the site will be converted into apartments. The new price tag for Midtown Market is $33.5 million, down from $43.5 million in 2015.

Lottery fight

Republican state Rep. Andy Holt and state Sen. Lee Harris, of Memphis, targeted the "predatory marketing tactics" found in Tennessee Lottery commercials with a new bill filed last week.

Holt said lottery television commercials seemed to suggest Tennesseans should buy lottery tickets instead of exchanging Christmas gifts, feeding themselves, or saving for a child's education.

"I have very publicly asked the Tennessee Lottery to ensure me (and the countless Tennesseans who are upset over these practices) that they would no longer run these types of ads," Holt said in a Wednesday news statement. "When the media asked them for comment, they had nothing to say, and they've said nothing to me."

The legislation will set up an independent commission to vet all lottery ads.

Race on Beale

Race will figure into the future of Beale Street's management as Memphis City Council members held a brief but pointed discussion about it last week.

Last year, the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority (BSTDA) agreed to allow the Downtown Memphis Commission to continue to manage the street. A local, African-American-led company called 21 Beale was passed over for that contract, a move that council member Joe Brown called "plain old racism."

The discussion continued last week with council member Janis Fullilove noting that, when it comes to Beale Street from a historical perspective, "We're not getting it." Council member Barbara Swearengen asked and was told that BSTDA member Jamal Whitlow, a black man, made the motion to not give the contract to 21 Beale.

The discussion will continue when the council meets next week.

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