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Q & A With Paul Morris

President of the Center City Commission

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Q&A with Paul Morris,

President of the Center City Commission

The Center City Commission (CCC) launched a nationwide search for a new president after 12-year veteran Jeff Sanford announced his resignation from the post earlier this year. Despite taking applications from coast to coast, new president Paul Morris was right under the commission's nose the entire time.

A former CCC board chairman, Morris served on the commission's board for five years before resigning in late January. The corporate attorney begins his new role June 1st, and he took a few moments away from wrapping up his law practice to talk to the Flyer about his challenges and priorities as the CCC president. — by Bianca Phillips The CCC did a national search but settled on a local. Do you feel like you had a home-court advantage?

I think it's an advantage that I already know what the challenges are for downtown. I know the downtown stakeholders and the people in government and the private sector who will be necessary to be at the table and solve the problems. What are you most looking forward to with your new position?

It might sound cheesy, but I'm looking forward to the chance to play a part to make Memphis an even greater city to live in. I'm taking a significant pay cut to do this job. I love Memphis, and I truly believe the most efficient way to turn the city around is by focusing on our downtown. It's been proven in other cities that a good downtown can be a powerful magnet for mobile professionals and businesses.

What will be your biggest challenges to reaching that goal?

The responsibilities of the CCC are perceived to be very broad. But the amount of money we have and the amount of authority we have, in terms of regulatory authority, is relatively small.

The CCC's annual operating budget is about $4 million. The city's budget is $600 million. The biggest challenge in recognizing the lack of resources and lack of authority is that we have to be an advocate to city government to get these things done.

The city recently passed some CCC-backed panhandling restrictions, but the problem continues. Do you have any new ideas to combat panhandling?

I believe it's true that panhandling and homelessness are separate problems, but they are related. We don't have the moral authority to effectively fight panhandling if we don't also advocate for a solution to homelessness.

I visited a new rehabilitation facility in San Antonio, Texas. ... It's not just a shelter. It included the equivalent of our Church Health Center with medical professionals on-site. They also offered job training.

Could we start something like that?

[The San Antonio facility] is partially city-funded, but they also raised private funds. San Antonio is not a super-rich city. People always say, well, this is Memphis, we can't afford to do anything like that. But San Antonio did it, and they don't have a lot of money either. You have to look at the cost savings. The way we address homelessness now is very expensive.

What pitfalls do you hope to avoid?

What I want to avoid during my term as president is the CCC being perceived as a parochial organization that only cares about downtown and fights for downtown's interest to the disadvantage of other neighborhoods.

I think it's important to make the case that helping downtown, even if you don't live there or work there or visit there, is helpful to you because no great city in the world lacks a great downtown. If we want to be a great city, we must have a great downtown.

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