What started as a run-of-the-mill information session about the proposed Fairgrounds TDZ plan at Memphis City Hall Tuesday turned into a rafter-rousing praise party urging project leaders to blaze forward and to convert the non-believers.
Well, something like that.
Memphis City Council member Kemp Conrad had some questions about the project two weeks ago. He asked Robert Lipscomb, the city director of Housing and Community Development and the city’s point man on the Fairgrounds project, to come back to council Tuesday with some answers.
Conrad got his answers before Tuesday’s executive session but Lipscomb went on down to the fifth floor conference room (home of the council’s committee meetings) to talk shop anyway.
It all began easily enough. There were questions about what other cities Memphis would be competing with. Can Memphis even compete in this market space?
Lipscomb repeated the fact that the Mid-South Coliseum will not work for the plans he and his group of developers have planned for the site.
Furthermore, he said entire Fairgrounds plan is still only a concept. Only if the state Building Commission approves the concept and gives the city the Tourist Development Zone (which would divert state and local tax revenues to pay for the development), will further and more definite plans be made for the Fairgrounds. He repeated the fact many times.
“This is a concept plan,” Lipscomb said. “Nothing is set in concrete. It all could change depending on the funding.”
Any developing plans after that would be brought to the public in a series of open meetings. Final plans on the project would have to be approved by the city council, Lipscomb said to questions by council member Jim Strickland.
Wanda Halbert fumed in frustration over the process and seemed ready to just get on with the next step. She suggested a big, public meeting on the issue for all the “dos and don’ts, the wills and won’ts.”
There was some back and forth between Lipscomb and other council members concerning what type of facilities might be needed at the Fairgrounds, mainly, sports venues versus concert/graduation space. Are two buildings needed there or just one?
This detailed part of the conversations sparked council member (and potential mayoral candidate) Harold Collins to sit up and speak loudly about the project as a whole in a speech that went just like this:
“I might dive right into Disneyworld. Disneyworld is a theme park for dreamers, for people who use imagination and conceptual ideas that no one else could ever think of.
“And I’m saying to you all in this room that you all have the capacity to do it as well. And if you’re going to ask us to get out here and spend that kind of money to develop it, then don’t limit ourselves.
“Let’s be the dreamers we’re destined to be. Come up with a concept that will allow us to have O’Jays and the Harlem Globetrotters the next day. We can do that.
“Let’s not reside [sic] ourselves to be sitting back and waiting. Let’s get creative. Let’s get physical. Let’s do this!
“We don’t got to worry about nobody else. We not competing against…you know who we’re competing against, Robert (Lipscomb)? Ourselves and our fear of failure. That’s who we’re competing against. There are no poitical agendas. All we want to do is move Memphis forward.
“I’m sick and tired of saying, ‘We’re going to the next level.’ Take the elevator down if that’s where you want to go to.”
Collins’ speech ended with a table-pounding exclamation mark, to which council member Janis Fullilove said, “Preach on!”
Council chairman Myron Lowery tempered the meeting’s timbre somewhat noting in a “first-things-first” recitation of the process in which he noted that the city has to get the TDZ first.
Lowery also said the council should do a better job getting the word out about public meetings on the issue and hoped the media would help them.
He said “not a lot of folks are getting” the fact that the TDZ is state money and “if we don’t get the TDZ, we get nothing.” He was corrected by Strickland who reminded him that 72 percent of the TDZ funds would be state funds, some of the locally collected funds would go to Shelby County Schools and a portion of the remaining bit would be captured away from the city coffers.
Lowery acknowledged Strickland’s point but had a larger message about the Fairgrounds project. It went like this:
“Every project in this city has its naysayers. They make us better and make sure we do the right thing. From Beale Street Landing to the FedEx Forum, and the Bluff Walk you’ll hear ‘no, no, no’ from certain segments of this community. That’s the nature of change. We have to embrace it and listen to the public and make sure our decisions are logical and concrete.”