Opinion » Editorial

Good News, Bad News



Just to let you in on something, the forthcoming September issue of our sister publication, Memphis magazine, is devoted to as complete an exposition of the charms, attractions, facts, and figures of the area comprising Overton Square south to Cooper-Young.

Meanwhile, Beale Street, one of the nation's most visited entertainment districts ever, rocks on. And, of course, there is Graceland, once again this week, on the 36th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, the object of massive national and international attention. By the time of the 40th anniversary of the late cultural icon's passing, the city's $43 million redevelopment of Elvis Presley Boulevard, under way since last fall, will be complete, and it's truly mind-boggling to try to imagine how large the incoming tourist crowds will be for that occasion.

There is more. Recent news reports suggest that the on-again/off-again concept of a restaurant at Beale Street Landing may be on again, that the stalled Highland Street gateway project for the University of Memphis has a chance of getting rolling, and that an upgraded Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel may signal a serious new beginning for an ad hoc convention complex downtown, in concert with the 2014 opening of Bass Pro Shops' colossal new enterprise in the Pyramid.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the means of getting tourists here to discover this burgeoning gestalt of goodies (thereby contributing significantly to the local economy) has begun to shrink — and may shrink further. American Airlines and U.S. Airways are proposing to merge, thereby creating the world's largest airline, and that prospect, while doubtless gratifying to the airlines' stockholders, is a seriously daunting possibility for the Memphis area.

Air travel has long been contracting at Memphis International Airport, as rates have risen and the number of flights offered and destinations served has continued to diminish. Those who hoped we'd seen the worst got a shock when Delta Airlines recently announced the inevitable — that it was shutting down its inexorably shrinking hub here.

The American/U.S. Airways merger — with the inevitable further dimunition of local service that would follow — is a serious specter indeed. Luckily, it is recognized as such by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has filed an antitrust action to block the proposed merger. On behalf of Tennessee and of its major cities, in particular, state attorney general Robert Cooper has joined in that litigation. Several other states have done so as well.

Southwest Airlines is making its debut here this fall, which will help counter the recent decline in air traffic, but the American/U.S. Airways merger could quickly put things in reverse.

"While shareholders might benefit, creditors might benefit from consolidation, the fact of the matter is, consumers will get the shaft. The right option here is a full-stop injunction." That's what Bill Baer, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division, said about the proposed merger on Tuesday, and that's about right.

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