Apr 18 2014

Coupons for Constituents

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

Click to see the entire mailer

Click to see the entire mailer

Political mailers say something about a candidate…and their campaign.

Aside from the intended message, there’s an unspoken message in the targeting, the imagery, and the words that are used…as well as the words that aren’t used.

These silent cues tell people things they may not immediately recognize. They paint a picture of a candidate, and create an emotional association…outside of the rational determination from reading the message.

Honestly, most political mail ends up in the trash…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t seen…and that those cues don’t enter voter’s minds on some level.

So it was with a good deal of surprise that I received the flyer to the right on Tuesday…mixed in with the grocery store flyers and coupons.

I nearly threw it away, except that I actually go through the grocery store mailers because that sometimes influences what I buy and where I buy it (but not often).

What was even more surprising, was the presence of coupons on the mailer…something this is discussed in this article at the Commercial Appeal.

I can honestly say, I’ve never received a political mailer with coupons. I’m not going to go into the legality of including coupons on a political mailer, because I’m not clear from discussions with folks who know more than me on the subject, as to whether or not they are legal. What I do know is there is an implicit conflict in their inclusion, that should give voters pause.

Your Everyday Discount Candidate

Politicians aren’t exactly loved in our society. They are viewed, it seems, as a necessary evil. People who are willing to do something most people don’t want to do…or even know about…all while those same people complain about what it is exactly those politicians are doing.

So it seems counterintuitive for any person seeking elective office to do anything that might call their ethics into question. Which is what makes this whole thing so curious to me.

In the CA article Election Commission Chair Robert Meyers asked if it is, “…somehow a way of buying votes?”.

That’s another question I asked myself as I looked through the flyer.

Jones says the inclusion of the coupons on the flyer was to show support for businesses in District 10, and not outside the bounds of ethics because the mail was not sent to individuals…but sent to residents regardless of whether they are registered voters or not.

I’m not willing to argue that one way or another…but I am willing to say that, for me, it didn’t give me a good impression.

Any publicity is good publicity?

There’s another thought that came to me this morning after I saw the article in the CA. That’s the idea that one can get free media exposure through creating some kind of controversy.

Looking at the financial disclosures for the Candidates in District 10, Reginald Milton has the clear advantage…having raised over $20,000 since the campaign began (aside from loans to the campaign). Jones on the other hand only reports $1500. Brown doesn’t have a report online…though the deadline was April 10th.

Considering how little cash Jones has on hand, one could argue that the inclusion of the coupons was a calculated move to get some free media.

If that was the plan, it worked…and his opponent in the primary played right into it.

From a risk/reward standpoint, the reward is much greater than the risk. Worst case, you get fined. In doing so, you get a ton of free (though negative) media, that you can use to highlight your campaign.

The reality is, local campaigns like this are a name recognition game…and exposure, good or bad can work to your advantage the further down the ballot the race is.

But that kind of 3 dimensional chess move doesn’t really happen in the real world…especially in local races.

Ed. Note on Disclosures: It should be noted, the large presence of signs by the Brown campaign leads one to believe he should have filed…however, the absence of a disclosure online doesn’t mean he hasn’t filed. It just means it hasn’t been posted yet. The Election Commission offices are closed today, so efforts to gain information on the filing will have to wait until Monday.


Ultimately, there’s no way to tell what Jones’ intentions were in this mail piece. Its probably best to assume the least Machiavellian option and say it was an honest, though concerning at best, and fishy at worst, ethical lapse.

With Early Voting just underway, it definitely gave Jones some needed exposure considering the fundraising disadvantage he has. But the bad press is mounting in the wake of reports of a $12,000 combined overdue tax bill, and at some point, voters will have to weigh these negatives, against the other candidates…if they haven’t already made up their mind.

Apr 12 2014

‘Bangers, Budgets and Bosses…a week in Memphis

So it was kind of a weird week in Memphis. That’s not unusual I guess, but the way things worked out leaves a couple of bad tastes in my mouth…so, I’ve taken to writing aging for now.


Open carry is one of those things the NRA and groups like it have been pushing just about everywhere in the South.

I’m not a fan of open carry laws because I just don’t think its necessary, and when you remove the requirement that people get proper training to carry a firearm in public, you endanger public safety and the safety of the person carrying the firearm.

On the other hand, I’ve always found the argument by the “conceal-carry” set that a concealed firearm is somehow a “crime deterrent” disingenuous. If its concealed, its more likely you will have it stolen when someone with a gun in their hand gets the jump on you. If its concealed its less likely to give a potential armed criminal pause. If its out there in the open, it may cause someone to think a little before they act…or just kill you first and take your gun to continue whatever violence they intend to commit.

In any case, the bill passed the State Senate, but according to the linked report, will die in the State House because:

“Every gang-banger in Memphis will end up packing. Can you imagine?” – Rep. Steve McDaniel

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

McDaniel lives in a little town on I-40 over 100 miles from the nearest “Memphis gang banger”, but apparently there’s enough fear of such a thing in tiny Parker’s Crossroads, TN, that it would stop him for falling in line with the Tennessee Firearms Assn..

It probably helps that the filing deadline has passed and there’s no time to primary him they way they did Debra Maggart.

Betsy brought up the problem with that logic, though I’m not really sure what her point is…

But my buddy Cardell Orrin wins the day with this response to the specter of an “Open Carry Tennessee”…

I have no idea if this will pass the State House, but I hope it doesn’t.

All this proposal will do is lead to more accidental shootings and other mishaps, of which there are already plenty in this country.


Its budget season, which is one of my favorite times of year…because you get to see policy both in action and inaction (see what I did there).

Tennessee Budget

The State rubber stamped Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget down to the dollar…leaving out promised money for teacher raises, tuition freezes, and other critical stuff. A proposed additional $2m dollars for rape kit funding was also struck down, because…Memphis. State lawmakers just hate us for some reason.

Shelby County Government Budget

Shelby County Government also released a proposed budget which was praised for lowering taxes and providing raises for County employees.

Looking into the guts of the proposal, it seems that while overall revenue is down by about $53m (due primarily to fewer federal government transfers) property tax collections are projected to increase by just under $2m (which accounts for the penny).

470 employees will be lost, most of them (440) due to the end of the Shelby Co. Head Start program. I haven’t seen news about who, if anyone, has received the federal funds for that program.

This is an election year, so a tax cut, even a small one, is a political instrument as much as anything else. After last year’s hike, any cut will be trumpeted to the hills.

In reality, this budget is a continuation budget. There’s no new great vision or direction to be seen. There’s no great look at what the County Administration wants the County to look like going forward other than “the same”. And with all the structural problems the County has (that they largely ignore) its hard to feel really good about this budget…unless all you care about is the political viability of using a tiny tax cut as a means to garner votes.

Shelby County Schools Budget

The County Schools also released their initial budget proposal to the County Commission to accolades from the body. The budget includes a reported 2316 real job losses and 2380 jobs that move to the six municipal schools.

The real way to look at this budget, is not against last year, but the last year of MCS, since the remaining SCS schools are primarily former MCS schools. Here’s a top level breakdown:

12-13 MCS 14-15 SCS
Employees 13,031 12,818
Enrollment 104,829 117,154
Pupils per employee 8.04 9.14
General Fund 901,799,827 961,298,645
Per student expenditure $8602.58 $8205.43

It should be noted, these numbers represent a “top level” funding and employee count, rather than an actual representation of where and how the money will be spent. So while the “per pupil” and “per employee” numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction, the reality of that will be determined by how the real budget works out…and some deeper digging into the guts of the numbers.

This represents the lion’s share of education funding for the County, but a true picture of education funding won’t be available until the six municipalities present their budgets to the County Commission. How those six seek to claim the remaining 20.6% of county money could possibly be an interesting fight.

University of Memphis

One budget I haven’t paid that much attention to in previous years is the U of M budget. But its an important one, that represents nearly $500m in spending in the area.

This year’s budget represents the first full year of re-prioritizing the University in the image of interim President Brad Martin…whom one must assume is acting on behalf of his friend and former employee, Gov. Bill Haslam.

What’s not certain is if the faculty will endorse the proposal, or if tenured members of the faculty will use their relative safety to fight back against these budget cuts and other proposed changes to the University.

Of course, tenure or not, a certain level of caution should be exercised, as the State government has shown a great deal of disdain for tenure generally (particularly in public education) and probably wouldn’t hesitate to change the rules to suit their desire to quash anything that challenges their supermajority status.

This will be a new area for me this year, but I think its as important as anything. The future of the U of M will play a big role in the future of the County.

The City of Memphis is set to release its budget proposal on Tuesday, so nothing to report there right now. Also, if this year follows previous years, the proposal itself won’t look much like the final budget, as priorities and funds are shifted.


A Commercial Appeal article published after Thursday’s Democratic Mayoral Debate, quotes District Attorney candidate Judge Joe Brown as saying he’s something akin to a political boss. Brown was answering a question about the value of his endorsement in the upcoming May primary.

Here’s the actual quote:

If you’re a candidate, is there some value in having Joe Brown on your side? Are you hearing that a lot?

“Yes. In other words, who’s going to make the tough decisions? Alright, you want to do this, you want to do that. You can either work it out yourselves or if you can’t, I pick who I’m going to support. When I support you, that is important to your candidacy. … I’m not going to endorse in every race, but when there’s a big knock-down, drag-out, I’m trying to” — he was interrupted here by a well-wisher.

“So in other words, I smooth it out,” he said, returning to the conversation. “It’s called being boss.”

You view yourself in that role?

“No, that’s what they want,” he said.

Who? Bryan Carson?

“Sorta, kinda,” he said. Then, he characterized how the party talked him into running for district attorney, and his reasons for seeing opportunity there against incumbent Republican Amy Weirich. – via the Commercial Appeal

There’s no question that DA candidate Joe Brown could play a major role in the outcome of the August election. But some things are far less certain:

1. Brown’s influence on a May primary in which he has no competition. The May primary election has historically had incredibly low turnout.

2. The balance between Brown’s influence and the organizing efforts of the three Mayoral candidates (along with the other candidates in the primary contests).

3. Brown’s actual role as a boss.

Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Bryan Carson had this to say about the latter:

“He doesn’t have a role,” Carson said, adding a few moments later, “he has no influence on the Shelby County Democratic Party.”

So, not a boss?

“That was his characterization,” Carson said. “What I did, we needed a candidate for the top of the ticket.” – via the Commercial Appeal

I have a big problem with the characterization of anyone as a “boss”.

First of all, the bosses of old had patronage jobs to toss around. While this is still the case (to some degree) the depth of that influence has diminished in a world of greater scrutiny and dwindling budgets.

Secondly, Brown not only has no such jobs to dole out, but also hasn’t really been involved in local politics in any measurable way until recently.

Finally, the notion of a boss is a rally point for the opposing party. August is set to be a sleeper…except for local races, and for Brown to give the County GOP anything to rally on other than their slate of candidates isn’t particularly helpful.

But there’s another reason…the idea of a “boss” gives the perception of corruption…because of all of the things I listed above. That’s something we really don’t need.

We don’t need a return to the era of “bosses”, despite what some seem to think. The “boss” era in Memphis politics may be looked back on as a golden age, but it also set up all kinds of trouble that we’re still dealing with. More than I care to get into at this point.

Truth be told, there is no one in elective office in Shelby County, with the possible exception of State Sen. Mark Norris that has the political power to be called a “boss”. The political power structure is too diffuse to sustain such a person.

Further, I would argue that no elected official is seeking or could in any way lay claim to the title. There’s too much dissent, and not enough carrots or sticks being used to execute such power.

So while the notion of a “boss” and the perceived power and stability that title might hold for some may seem attractive, it just isn’t likely to happen here again. That’s something that presents both a challenge for the future, and a net positive for those who are willing to forge alliances to get needed things done in the community.

Unfortunately, there remains a “boss mentality” in the area…something that will take a long time for us to get over. The kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” that many feel for the era of bosses, and the new era of the unspoken “bosses” that play a large role in anointing political leaders in the area, is a bigger problem to deal with.

That’s another post for another time. But suffice it to say, we don’t need another boss, and Brown, even if he may think of himself as one…isn’t one.

Mar 26 2014

The “stunt” and the forgotten client

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

Update: Magistrate Hal Horne has issued recommendations regarding the contempt charges. He says “…Mr. Brown was attempting to provoke a riot in the courtroom which was filled with over 70 citizens….”.

First of all, Brown is a retired Judge. Maybe we should use his title. Secondly, listen to the audio again, and tell me if you hear the makings of a riot. I don’t.

Retired Judge Joe Brown

Retired Judge Joe Brown

The events of Monday that began with District Attorney Candidate Joe Brown “inciting a riot” by one account, and pulling a “stunt” by another are in the books.

Public opinion about the event itself appears to be mostly set based on people’s opinions of Brown and their level of support for him or his opponent in the election.

If what Judge Brown did was a premeditated “stunt”, I would be disappointed that real people with real problems were being used as political props. But after talking to him, I don’t think it was.

There are many people here in Memphis that see the Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court (MSCJC) as an institution that distributes unequal justice…something that’s not exactly without foundation.

While the focus has been on theatrics, a client has been largely forgotten by the media. That client has had problems with MSCJC according to Brown, and those problems are the foundation upon which he objected his way into a contempt charge.

What we know

The events of Monday pique my interest in understanding why things went down the way they did, and if the authority (in this case the Juvenile Court) engaged in any of the charges Brown has raised.

There are three things that we know about the situation and the individual parties involved:

1. Joe Brown was dismissive of the Magistrate’s authority after that Magistrate ruled to continue a case that has been ongoing for 8 years.

2. The Shelby County Juvenile Court is under Federal oversight for failing to provide due process to children, racial disparities in the administration of justice, and unsafe confinement procedures. Incidentally, a quick listen to the audio released by the court shows that the due process problem is the exact thing Brown was complaining about.

3. Outside of this, we know Brown for his public persona. Many people have pointed to Brown’s comments at a Shelby County Democratic Party function in the fall as a way to judge his actions based on some the mean, inappropriate, and ignorant things he said at the event. I won’t link the two together, though those comments are and were unsettling.

Any or all three of these things may influence your opinion of what happened and why. But it is the immediate messaging to the media after the contempt that also raises questions for me.

The Timeline

30 minutes after the first news of Brown’s arrest broke, a media outlet tweeted that “some people” thought this was a publicity stunt. No word on who those people were.

Around the same time, a reporter from another outlet tweeted that the Chief Magistrate from the Juvenile Court said, Brown “nearly started a riot” in the courtroom. There are reasons to question this characterization, which I will get into later.

Two hours after the first report, Amy Weirich’s campaign called the affair a stunt.

30 minutes later, the Chief Magistrate released audio of Brown’s comments, but not the entirety of the proceedings.

By this point, the “stunt” and “riot” message had been firmly implanted in the words of media outlets, and its hard to discern which how much of it was pure repetition or group message adoption.

This timeline is reflected in a storify post at the bottom of this post. Not all the tweets from yesterday are used, just the first ones in my timeline on each topic.

The Audio

I listened to the audio released by the court itself several times Monday night.

I found myself wondering what happened before the whole contempt thing even became an issue. The audio is not a complete accounting of the proceedings. Because of this, we have no context as to why Brown chose to openly question the authority of the Magistrate in his court.

Brown’s account of what he was doing at the court which can be seen here.

In this second clip, Brown is calmer, and concisely lays out what happened in the court and what led to the outburst.

Neither the court audio, nor Brown’s description sound like the “riot” the Chief Magistrate of the MSCJC described.

I spoke with Judge Brown on the phone about the case against his client, and he confirmed the details he laid out in that second clip. He also noted that his concerns mirror DOJ charges.

The Questioning and the Client

What’s lost in this Monday Morning Quarterbacking is what happened and had been happening with the client…who will have to come back to court on another day to have her case heard. This delay isn’t the result of what Brown did, it was the thing that set Brown off.

Brown asked for the case to be dismissed. According to Brown, the defendant in this case, a female has been summoned to Juvenile Court multiple times over the past eight years on a child support claim. The plaintiff, however, does not live here, has not provided the name of a child to test paternity, nor a date of birth, or any proof of a child at all.

Note, the woman Brown was representing isn’t asking for a paternity test on this unknown child, nor child support.

It was on those grounds, as well as due process claims, that Brown asked for a dismissal. The Magistrate continued the case, which is within a few seconds of the “riot” that the Chief Magistrate reported to the media.

The Crusade

The statistical analysis shows that Black children in Shelby County are less likely to receive the benefits of more lenient judicial and non-judicial options.

The case data showed that a Black child was more than twice as likely to be detained as a White child. This number remained unchanged after accounting for other legal and social factors.

…Black children in JCMSC have a greater odds ratio (2.07) of being considered for transfer to the criminal court and have a substantially higher chance of having their case actually transferred to the criminal court.
DOJ Investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court – Summary of findings

In the nearly 19 months since the DOJ findings, and 15 months since the consent order was signed, there has been no public accounting of progress at MSCJC.

In that time, its not as if politics have been absent from the halls of the MSCJC. Earlier this year, Odell Horton Jr. wrote an opinion at the request of the County attorney that says Judge Person’s exclusion of community monitors, per the consent decree, could be subject to scrutiny under the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In that article, MSCJC CAO Larry Scroggs is cited as saying, “Brooks’s public criticism of Person, her votes on the commission against funding certain requests by the court and her candidacy for Juvenile Court clerk as reasons for denying the community monitor program.”

It makes me wonder if Brown’s candidacy had any bearing on what happened in his case.

Either way, based on the comment from Scroggs, it seems clear that political considerations play a large role at what happens at the MSCJC.


You don’t have to like Judge Brown, his tactics, his personality, or anything else, but you also shouldn’t just assume this was a stunt based on your opinion of him. There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

I can say, without question that I find many things about Judge Brown’s public statements from last year troubling. But my distaste for those things doesn’t blind me to the possibility that there may have been a real injustice going on at the MSCJC on Monday.

That potential injustice was the cause of the conflict, right or wrong. That should be the focus of future coverage, but it won’t be. That story is too hard a get and doesn’t sparkle with the same kind of conflict, intrigue, or mug shots.

Mar 23 2014

Take Action: Support Mulroy’s Title X resolution

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

Shelby County Commission

Shelby County Commission

On Monday, the Shelby County Commission is set to consider a resolution to ask the County Administration (Mayor Mark Luttrell) to put the contract for Title X services out for bid.

As noted in this post, the number of people seeking out Title X services has dropped dramatically in the two years since the contract was awarded to Christ Community Health Services.

Friday, I received a mailer asking people to call and email in support of this resolution.

I can’t tell you how important this is.

So while it may be the weekend, you can send emails, call the County Commission on Monday, or plan to attend the 1:30 meeting.

Make Calls

Here is the number to call: 901-222-1000

Ask the staff to take your name and address and ask Commissioners to support Steve Mulroy’s resolution to re-bid the Title (X) 10 contract now.

Ask them to give the message to all 13 Commissioners.

Send Emails

Email a message to: Tamisha.Draper@shelbycountytn.gov and ask that it be forwarded to all 13 Commissioners. Make sure to include the message: “Please support Commissioner Mulroy’s resolution to rebid the Title X (10) contract” with your personal message, name and address.

Attend the meeting

The meeting begins at 1:30. They often start a few minutes late, but get there early to ensure you get a good seat.

The Title X resolution can be read here.

Attending the meeting is a good way to make a show of support. Go with a group of people. Wear the same color to show the Commissioners you’re part of a larger organizing effort.

Speak at the meeting

Not everyone is comfortable speaking at public meetings, but it is important that some people, other than the usual suspects do. This ensures there is a record of support for the resolution.

Here’s a quick primer on how to do it.

When you get to the meeting, go up front and see the deputy for a speakers card. Fill it out, and turn it in.

The Title X resolution is the 17th item on the agenda. It could get deferred to another meeting or delayed to a later time in the meeting.

Be not deterred

DO NOT LET DELAY TACTICS KEEP YOU FROM SPEAKING OUT. If the issue is delayed or deferred to another meeting and they don’t hear from the public, go back up and let the deputy know you still want to address the committee during the public statements portion of the meeting.

Sometimes with delays they will still hear from the public, especially if there are a lot of people there to speak on an issue, but that is entirely up the the Commission.

If you do speak, be respectful. No one will listen to a person being rude of impolite. Take notes, or a prepared statement. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point (there’s usually a 2 minute limit).

Show your support

I know there are a lot of people still stinging from the last Title X vote nearly two years ago. Don’t let old feelings stop you from taking the opportunity to be a part of righting the situation.

This issue is bigger than any one individual.

Please consider taking a little (or a lot) of time and work to pass this resolution.

Mar 19 2014

On the proposed Peabody Place Convention Center

Future home of Belz Convention Center?

Future home of Belz Convention Center?

Monday, Mayor Wharton opened the possibility that Peabody Place might be a good opportunity for increasing Memphis’ convention space on the cheap, without throwing more good money after bad (like we did in 2002) at the Cook Convention Center.

Peabody Place has been vacant for the better part of four years, though it didn’t officially close down until 2011. The lack of activity at the site is a sad reminder of just how isolated downtown is for the vast majority of Memphians, despite the huge population growth in the past 15 years or so.

Who could have imagined…in 2001 when it opened, that people’s buying habits would change so swiftly, or that the folks who by and large moved downtown would be on the bleeding edge of that change. The mall wasn’t a bad idea for its time, but it couldn’t withstand the 1-2 punch of a deep and wide recession, along with changes in the way people buy things.

Since its closing there have been rumors that the building would be re-developed by Belz Enterprises into a combination of suites and convention space. But with demand for downtown hotel rooms flat, and a local convention business that’s anything but robust, no solid plans have been announced.

There’s no question the site SHOULD be developed into something. The question is what?

Mayor Wharton thinks the answer is…a convention center.

Is that a good idea? Lets start from what the city wants/needs first and work backwards.

What the City Wants/Needs

There are several schools of thought as to what the city’s convention business needs. Spend a little time in the Cook Convention Center and your first instinct will be…a modern convention center.

But that modern space need not be something along the lines of the $650 million dollar Music City Center in Nashville. In fact, we don’t have the hotel space downtown, or just about anywhere else to utilize a space that big. Increasing the number of rooms in the downtown area will take some time, and a track record of low vacancy rates isn’t helping. Last time I looked, occupancy downtown was around 60% which is a little below the national average, but the Average Daily Rate (ADR) was only about 74% of the national average. So until there’s a consistently a higher occupancy rate, causing an increase in the ADR, developers aren’t exactly going to flock to downtown Memphis.

What we have here is the classic “chicken/egg” scenario that is more frequently used as a rationale for inaction in this city than any other place I’ve lived.

Truth is, hotels aren’t going to flock to downtown unless there’s a good bunch of somethings (attractions) that are going to inspire confidence…and ladies and gentlemen, the Cook ain’t it.

But all is not lost. Any of the three options under discussion: revamping the Cook, building a new Convention Center, or turing Peabody Place into a convention space could crack the egg and pluck the chicken. But if the goal is increasing hotel capacity, the Peabody Place proposal has some competitive disadvantages for developers.

Stacking the deck, public-private partnership style

I’m not one of those that’s 100% against the idea of a public-private partnership as a general statement. They can sometimes work out. The public gets what they need (an amenity or service) and the private business gets what they long for (a revenue center).

That said, if the idea of expanding the amount of convention space is part of a long-term plan to also increase tourism in the city, and, in the process, increase the number of rooms, occupancy rates, and ADR, then building your space on land that is controlled by a large hotel operator may not be what you want to do.

The problem is, it creates a competitive advantage for the hotel. Since they’re right there and they can bundle services, it means other hotels are left in the lurch.

I’m not a hotel developer, but I wouldn’t want to go up against that.

And the Peabody has a history of using its current competitive advantage as a blunt object.

If you want to do a meeting at the current Peabody facilities, and use an outside vendor for A/V and all sorts of other things, the Peabody will try to add a 10% surcharge. They have an in-house vendor…A/V powerhouse PSAV.

I’m not dogging on PSAV. They’re a fine company, and I’ve worked with them (as a client-side production coordinator) on several occasions.

But there are local A/V vendors as well, and if the public is going to lend its dollars to a venture such as this, local companies that hire local people should have a fair shake…without the threat of additional cost to their clients.

The 300: Myths of Many Small Meetings

Atriums and skylights. Things never seen in a convention space.

Another area of concern is the space itself.

My memory if the inside of Peabody Place is a bit hazy, but the ceiling is mostly glass, and there’s a huge atrium area, that’s uneven, and concrete, which means it will have to be leveled.

These aren’t deal breakers, but there are structural concerns that have to be dealt with for a Convention space, that a atrium centered mall doesn’t have to worry about.

More and more conventions are increasing production…even for small events, which means how much weight a structure can hold, and how large of a distance between the beams is really important. Again, this is not “unfixable” but something to consider before you get too excited.

Then there’s this quote from Mayor Wharton about some kind of “niche market” he envisions:

Most of your traffic when it comes to conventions and meetings they’re not the 15 to 20 thousand people, its the 300, 400, 500…that would be a niche market for us…

Now it’s true, the 10k+ convention market is small and competitive. Its also true that most conferences are less than 1000 people. But there are some real problems with Mayor Wharton’s premise.

First, no one plans to focus on the small market. They make contingencies…like air walls, and other separations, much like the Grand Ballroom at the Cook, which I’ve seen used for as few as 150 to as many as 1500+ people.

Second, any space should represent growth from the Cook. Peabody place is 300,000 sq. ft. The Cook is 350,000. There’s no question that adding Peabody would add much needed space, but it doesn’t build on what we lack. If anything it would merely add to what we’re already not utilizing.

Finally, Peabody Place is land locked. There’s no room to grow in the future to accomodate new meetings, and the growing size of meetings that we currently host.

The AutoZone meeting that happens each year uses every usable square inch of the Cook…and then some. Adding space for more 300-500 person meetings isn’t going to help that convention, or others like it that have outgrown Memphis in the past several years, at all.

Its simpler than this

As I wrote back in October, any work to expand our convention business in the city should focus on bringing spaces together that can work in tandem.

There’s no shame in building something in the 600,000 sq. ft. range, or even expanding the Cook to that size (so long as it includes more ways to get into the exhibit halls without an elevator).

And if we did build a new building in that 600k range, we should make sure we have the space to expand…just in case.

Because, at the end of the day, we need to work to bring more hotel rooms to Memphis so we can compete for other things, like an NBA All-Star game, or a political convention or whatever the next opportunity holds.

As for Peabody Place, if Belz wants to re-develop it into something like Mayor Wharton’s vision, they should go for it. Its not like they weren’t thinking about it already.

The reality is, there’s a reason Belz Enterprises hasn’t already turned Peabody Place into the very thing Mayor Wharton is proposing…and that’s because its just not feasible for them at this time…and that doesn’t make it look any more attractive as a public project either.