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Greensward, Weirich, and Black Lives Matter

A look back at news highlights from 2016 in the Bluff City

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January

• The Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) and the Memphis Zoological Society (MZS) agreed to join a mediation process to settle an ongoing dispute over control of the park's Greensward.

The agreement came during a volley of legal motions in which Citizens to Protect Overton Park (CPOP) and MZS opined on the control of the open field. The heart of the disagreement was whether or not the zoo could use a portion of the Greensward for overflow parking.

Around the same time, OPC announced it would host public meetings to gather input for a parking and traffic study for the park.

• Tremaine Wilbourn, the man arrested for the shooting death of Memphis Police Department (MPD) officer Sean Bolton, was indicted on a first-degree murder charge and other charges. Wilbourn is accused of killing Bolton last August during a traffic stop.

Tremaine Wilbourn
  • Tremaine Wilbourn

• The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility recommended a public censure for Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich as she "is guilty of acts and omissions" during the murder trial of Noura Jackson.

The board said Weirich's closing argument violated Jackson's right to silence. Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Jones was also targeted for possible discipline by the board for withholding evidence in the Jackson trial.

February

• Memphis Police Department officials asked the Memphis City Council for money to get the department's body camera program off the ground. Asked for a timeline on the full implementation of the body camera program, Michael Rallings, who was the MPD's interim director at the time, said "we're not there yet."

Michael Rallings
  • Michael Rallings

• 901Fest, a festival celebrating all things local, was added to the month-long Memphis in May programming, replacing the long-running Sunset Symphony.

• An attorney for SCDAG Weirich said she is not guily of any misconduct in the Noura Jackson trial and charges for discipline against her should be dropped. Assistant DA Jones said while he did withhold evidence from Jackson's attorney during the trial, it was a mistake and he should not be punished for it.

March

• Black Lives Matter (BLM) protested an art show at the National Civil Rights Museum that compared black-on-black violence to the violent acts of the Ku Klux Klan. BLM called the exhibit "morally and intellectually dishonest."

• Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers were called to as hundreds of protesters attempted to prevent parking on the Greensward. Officers from Crump Station said about 200 protestors "were laying [sic] in the grassy area refusing to move."

The hotly contested battle for the Greensward
  • The hotly contested battle for the Greensward

• Connor Schilling, the Memphis Police Department officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Darrius Stewart last summer during a traffic stop, has been granted a "line of duty retirement" by the city of Memphis pension board.

April

• Ikea said it was on track to meet its fall open date, store officials said, as the installation of the brand's iconic blue panels begin to go up on the building near Germantown Parkway. Installing the panels marked a construction milestone, store officials said.

• The Memphis Zoo's Zambezi River Hippo Camp opened. It was the first major exhibit to open at the zoo since Teton Trek in 2009. The four-acre exhibit features hippos, Nile crocodiles, okapi, nyala antelope, patas monkeys, yellow-backed duikers, lesser flamingos, cape vultures, and other African birds.

• Almost 3 million shoppers from all 50 states and a dozen countries visited Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid in its first year, store officials said at the time.

May

• The nonprofit behind Crosstown High, Inc. submitted a proposal to Shelby County Schools (SCS) to operate the high school. If approved by SCS, they have a goal of having it open by the 2017-18 school year.

• Alexis Pugh was named the new director of Memphis Animal Services (MAS), replacing former MAS director James Rogers, who was fired in December as Strickland reorganized his personnel after taking office.

• City officials allowed citizen groups to inspect the Mid-South Coliseum to evaluate its potential for future use.

June

• Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland unveiled two strategic planning processes that would focus on the future of downtown Memphis and Memphis at large.

• Registration began for employees at local state-owned colleges and universities to carry concealed handguns on campus. State lawmakers passed a law in 2016 that allowed full-time employees of the state's public universities to carry concealed handguns on campus.

• Tennessee Rep. Andy Holt held his controversial Hogfest & Turkey Shoot. The event got national attention as Holt promised to give away two AR-15 rifles, a promise that came after a shooter using a similar assault rifle killed 49 in an Orlando night club.

July

• The battle for the Greensward ended. The Memphis City Council approved a plan from Strickland that had support from the Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy. That plan provides new parking spaces for the zoo, a berm to protect zoo parking from the Greensward, and more. The deal would allow the zoo to use the Greensward for parking until at least 2019.

• A Black Lives Matter protest that began with a rally at FedExForum turned into a massive march through downtown Memphis, eventually shutting down traffic on the I-40 bridge. The protest was followed the next day with a public meeting between city officials and protesters at Greater Imani Church. MPD director Michael Rallings said there were "some tough dudes on that bridge and some tough girls" and that the event for him was like "juggling 500 hand grenades." Afterward, Rallings called for 30 days with no killing and said that it is "time for dialogue."

The Black Lives Matter protest
  • The Black Lives Matter protest

August

• Wiseacre Brewing got 180 days to inspect the Mid-South Coliseum and decide if they want to expand their business into the former arena. Wiseacre co-founder Frank Smith pitched an idea to council members to convert the long-vacant Coliseum into a brewery, a tasting room, event space, and a retail location.

• Memphis in May (MIM) brought more than $88 million to the area's economy in 2016. More than 265,000 attended the month-long festival this year, and they spent $38.3 million while they were there. Spending outside the festival gates (restaurants, parking, shopping, and more) was more than $72 million, according to MIM.

September

• Former Christian Brothers High School student Lance Sanderson and his parents have filed a lawsuit against CBHS that asks the school to pay damages of $1 million for sexual discrimination and failure to fulfill a school contract. The school turned down Sanderson's request to bring a male date to the 2015 CBHS prom.

• The prosecution against Robert Lipscomb, the former city leader accused of rape, was dropped. A spokesman in the Shelby County District Attorney General's (SCDAG) office said "prosecution has been declined" in the case and said that his office would offer no further statement.

The accusations against Lipscomb came to light in September 2015. Lipscomb lost his jobs as director of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and director of the Memphis Housing Authority.

• No federal charges were to be filed against former Memphis Police Department officer Connor Schilling in the 2015 shooting death of African-American teenager Darrius Stewart. The decision not to charge Schilling came after a "comprehensive, independent" review of the circumstances related to the event by a host of agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

• Gary Shorb, the retiring CEO of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, was named the new, permanent, executive director of The Urban Child Institute (TUCI). The move came after TUCI announced a new gifting strategy to get more money into the Memphis community and after Gene Cashman, TUCI's founder and longtime executive director, and board chairman Dr. Hershel "Pat" Wall retired from the agency.

October

• A new partnership between the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and the U.S. Department of Justice was announced to review MPD's use of deadly force and community-oriented policing.

• A project at the Prairie Farms plant in Midtown had some neighbors and at least one developer hoping the milk plant will move, while the company's owner said the project will clean up the site for its neighbors and keep and create skilled jobs in Memphis.

November

• The long-awaited Kroger store on Union re-opened. Shoppers mobbed the brand new store, which includes a Starbucks, juice bar, sushi bar, Corky's BBQ, a growler station, and more.

• Installing new computer systems for the Shelby County court and jail systems resulted in inmates being lost in the system and staying longer than they had to, according to Just City, which sued jail officials to fix the problems. The class action lawsuit against Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham sought damages of $10 million for those locked up in the jail for "unreasonable periods of time."

December

• The state of Tennessee will invest $12 million to improve the public infrastructure surrounding St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, revitalizing the nearby Pinch District.

An additional investment of $25 million in public infrastructure projects by the city of Memphis will expand the nearby Pinch District, developing it into a commercial area. The announcements were made after the hospital revealed plans to invest around $9 billion in Memphis in capital, programs, and people.

• With a symbolic log sawing meant to bring good fortune to one's home, Ikea Memphis opened its doors to a cold and eager crowd.

The symbolic sawing of the log at Memphis’ new Ikea
  • The symbolic sawing of the log at Memphis’ new Ikea

The 271,000 square-foot store is the Swedish company's first in Tennessee — the 43rd in the United States and the 392nd across the world. Ikea has created 225 new jobs in Memphis, and, reflecting the company's sustainability efforts, has installed the city's largest rooftop solar array.

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