Some additional thoughts on our recent story about the complex nature of the many irons in the fire at the moment at City Hall.
Complexity is certainly nothing new to local government. But we have come a long way in the last 50 years or so when local government tended to be a pay as you go business.
And when local government attempts the kind of public-private partnerships in which the phrase “win-win” is used repeatedly, the complexity meter spikes.
It was during the Hackett administration that construction of The Pyramid began as a joint city-county government project. The complexity came when then Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett and Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris moved to fill the still to be built structure with more than a 20-thousand seat arena.
Enter Sidney Shlenker, the promoter who devised a set of attractions including the College Football Hall of Fame, an American Music Awards Hall of Fame and a Hard Rock Café — which moved to several locations in The Pyramid plans.
When it came, the Hard Rock Café was on Beale Street. The plan for other attractions in The Pyramid was a set of agreements that depended on all of the other pieces coming to The Pyramid. When neither that nor the financing came through, Shlenker’s political stock dropped dramatically and he was barred by court order from ever setting foot in the building.
The symbol of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton’s goal of promoting minority business enterprise is the Westin Hotel, just south of Beale Street. Herenton got low marks from critics for the city’s minority business enterprise program that did not reach large numbers of black entrepreneurs in terms of contracts. But Herenton has said he pursued specific projects – most notably the Westin – to advance the cause.
“The only thing I asked them to do – they had to have 25 percent minority participation in the deal – in the hotel and in the garage,” Herenton said in 2010 of the 99-year lease on city-owned land where the hotel and garage were built.
The lease is now part of a complex dispute between the owners of the Westin and the Shelby County Assessor of Property over whether the hotel is taxable property.
The business of local governments is complex even at its most basic level. But the complexity level seems to spike when local governments move to do more in the way of economic development.