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Johnny Ryall May 19, 2010 4:20 PM

A great piece in the Memphis Daily News about one of the more recent developments in the Wolf River Medical Corridor of East Memphis & Germantown

Trumbull Labs A Quiet Partner In Saving Lives
TOM WILEMON | The Daily News Photo: Lance Murphey

Trumbull gets test results back to its clients within 24 hours more than 95 percent of the time. In the other cases, staff physicians are spending the extra time necessary to study complex tissue specimens. “Turnaround time is extremely important,” said Norman Hill, executive director of Trumbull. “The anxiety of the patient is extremely important, but the other piece of that is starting the treatment promptly. If it is misdiagnosed, then nothing about that treatment protocol is going to be right.” Although Trumbull is checking for cancer and identifying cancer types in the majority of the tissues it processes, the pathology practice also performs other tests. Four of its pathologists are also internal medicine physicians. Trumbull provides data on coagulation and blood-banking. “Obviously, when a patient has surgery, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to determine whether or not the patient is stable enough to have surgery,” Hill said. “Part of that is determining if there are bleeding issues or in the case of a transfusion, people are working in the background to make sure blood is compatible.”

Trumbull Laboratories was founded in 1998 under its current operating name, but its history actually goes back decades to The Pathology Group of the Mid-South, a practice that dates back to 1947. Two years ago, Trumbull moved into new, specially designed laboratory space at 7550 Wolf River Blvd. It has 14 physicians and another 93 full-time employees. “We’re very people dependent,” Hill said. “We just can’t purchase a machine to process specimens for us. ” The lab has the equipment to perform flow cytometry, a test that was primarily used to check for blood cancers but now has wider applications for other cancers. One of its newer devices is the Cellient Automated Cell Block System, which allows for quicker cell block preparation. It also enables the practice to keep clear test samples for long periods and obtain results from smaller quantities of tissue. Trumbull’s biggest client is Baptist Memorial Health Care and its area hospitals. “One of our doctors is there Monday through Friday and on call 24-7 to work with those hospitals to get the right tests done on blood,” said Elise McAlexander, sales and client services supervisor. Other clients include freestanding surgical centers and oncology practices in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

Johnny Ryall May 19, 2010 6:56 PM

Not development news, but a gig booked for legendary Memphian band, BigStar, turned into a tribute for the recent passing of frontman Alex Chilton. Comedy sitcom "That 70's Show" opens with the BigStar song "In the Street". The show took place at the newly renovated Levitt Shell in Overton Park, where BigStar recorded their hit live album in the mid-1970's. The weather was a little omnious, but Midtown came out in the thousands.

Johnny Ryall May 19, 2010 7:57 PM

Cranes are up at Memphis International Airport for construction of the new transportation center. This massive project comes on the heels of the structural completion of the new 340ft air traffic control tower complex (base & tower).
The end result:

Johnny Ryall May 20, 2010 1:29 PM

Riverfront Develoment Corp. meets to garner city funding support

Wednesday morning’s Riverfront Development Corp. board meeting had the feeling of a pep rally to keep the Beale Street Landing project alive. Facing an $8.9 million funding shortfall to completion, the RDC is hoping the Memphis City Council will approve funding to keep the project at the foot of Beale Street afloat. The council will vote May 25 on releasing $1 million in federal funds for the first half of the project’s fourth phase, which includes a parking area, grass-roofed restaurant, restroom facilities and a boat docking facility. This money will be matched by a $1 million total pledged by the Hyde Family Foundations and the Plough Foundation. RDC chairman John W. Stokes Jr. implored board members to voice their support for the project before the council. “The $2 million keeps us going, it’s what keeps us alive,” he said. This funding would allow the RDC to keep the project moving forward and buy it time to focus on the $6.9 million second half of the fourth phase, which includes the Beale Street entrance area, pick-shaped islands and terraced areas. Stokes said this part of the fourth phase will probably involve a public/private partnership. In his president’s report, Benny Lendermon attributed the $8.9 million in cost overruns to various delays, such as getting historic approvals.

The RDC awarded the design contract in 2004 and the project was initially anticipated for a late 2008 completion. Now, the current schedule calls for a fall 2011 completion date. On May 11, Lendermon gave a report to a Memphis City Council committee stating that it took about two years to obtain approvals from the State Historic Preservation Office. This led to project redesigns, which pushed the project back another year, according to Lendermon. He said these delays led to a $1.3 million increase in redesign, specialty consultants and project management, as well as a $2.95 million increase in the cost of steel during the delay. The RDC also adds $3.25 million in other inflation and the loss of $1.4 million in federal funding for the project’s funding shortfall.

Johnny Ryall May 21, 2010 3:02 PM

Railroads making tracks to Memphis
Heavy investments beef up role in Aerotropolis plan
Memphis Business Journal - by Andy Ashby

Investments to improve all modes of transportation are key ingredients if Memphis is to succeed in marketing itself as “America’s Aerotropolis,” and railroad companies have shown they are all aboard. Rail is a key component in the aerotropolis concept in the Bluff City, connecting with the river and road systems at docks and intermodal yards across the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area. Of the five Class I railroads in the Memphis, three are investing about $430 million on new rail operations or improving operations in the metro area. A Class I railroad has annual operating revenue of $401.4 million or more, according to the federal Surface Transportation Board.

J. Vann Cunningham, assistant vice president of economic development at BNSF Railway Co., was in town April 21 to help open the company’s new $200 million intermodal facility on Lamar Avenue. “For us, it was landlocked, it had bad transportation access, and Shelby and Lamar is one of the most congested intersections in the entire city,” Cunningham says. “Everything said, this is a really bad place to be from an operational standpoint, but the market said we needed to be here.” “Here” is Southeast Memphis, which has 85.3 million square feet of distribution space, according to Xceligent Inc.’s first quarter 2010 report. There is also 30.9 million square feet more just south of it in DeSoto County, primarily in Olive Branch and Southaven. BNSF’s Lamar facility, which grew from 250,000 lifts to 600,000 lifts annually through the expansion, is the 10th largest out of 33 facilities in the railroad’s system. It has the capacity to become the third largest with 1 million lifts annually. The company made the decision to consolidate its primarily international facility in Tennessee and domestic facility in Marion, Ark., in 2003. It looked at more than a dozen sites in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. BNSF tried to lease the Marion facility, but is now working to turn it into a transload facility. This would allow BNSF to move a shipment from a railcar onto a truck, which would then be transported for its local customers.

Canadian National Railway Co. completed a $100 million reconstruction of its Harrison Yard, named after retiring president and Memphis native E. Hunter Harrison, in September 2009. The move nearly doubled its capacity to 3,100 freight cars, making it the company’s second largest classification yard in the country. The completion of Harrison Yard comes four years after the opening of Intermodal Gateway Memphis, a $35 million intermodal terminal operated jointly by Canadian National and CSX Corp. inside Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park. Norfolk Southern Corp. is planning to open a $129 million intermodal facility in Fayette County, Tenn., by 2012. The facility will be able to handle 327,000 containers and trailers annually. And Union Pacific Railway Co. expanded its West Memphis intermodal yard with a $25 million investment in the 1990s. “When you have those railroads coming together in a single place, you really have the best of all worlds from an intermodal standpoint,” Cunningham says. “Anybody who’s going to be importing and serving this region needs to be thinking about Memphis for a location.” The area’s five Class I railroads join other aerotropolis transportation options in river, airport and roads. “There are just not very many places in the United States that have this kind of transportation base to it,” Cunningham says. “We’re making a $200 million bet on it.”

Dexter Muller, senior vice president of community development for Greater Memphis Chamber, says railroads were a large part of the city’s early development, when they were used for shipping cotton. The rail industry started to decline in Memphis and nationally in the 1980s, when manufacturing started going overseas. The benefit for the railroads was that the finished goods from outside the country were coming back in containers, the bread and butter of intermodal operations. “That’s what changed the rail industry,” Muller says. “Prior to that time, rarely did companies ask to be located on a rail line.” With more containers coming from Asia to the West Coast, railroads started showing more interest in Memphis.“The reason we’re important is because we’re the interchange point to the East Coast markets,” Muller says. Muller cites Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s $26.7 billion acquisition of BNSF — the largest acquisition in Berkshire Hathaway’s history — in February as proof that rail is experiencing a resurgence. “We’re in the second rail era,” Muller says. “It’s a new heyday for rail and there’s no end in sight.”

Cargill Inc. uses rail extensively for its incoming and outgoing shipments. The Memphis facility is a “forward mill,” outside of the main corn-growing regions in the Midwest. All the corn coming into Memphis is from Southern Illinois. It’s turned into sweeteners and other products for soft drinks and food manufacturers. “This particular plant in Memphis was built because of access to rail and river,” says John Thompson, international business development manager at Cargill. It uses all of the modes in the aerotropolis concept except air because the costs would be too high. Corn shipments are brought in half by rail, half by barge. Cargill sends outbound finished products two-thirds by rail and one-third by truck, with a small amount being sent by barge. These shipping formulas change depending on market conditions. “If it’s cheaper to rail, we rail, if it’s cheaper to barge, we barge,” Thompson says. “It’s never 100% of either one, it depends on the marketplace.” The ability to use other modes has been key to Cargill’s growth in Memphis. The company has other plants, such as one in Eddyville, Iowa, where it can only use rail because it is in the middle of a corn field. Memphis’ increased intermodal capability gives companies more options. “Memphis is focused on intermodal because it’s trying to become the distribution center of the Southeast,” Thompson says. “That’s been the value of this city.”

Johnny Ryall May 21, 2010 3:03 PM

Osceola lands $10M wind turbine parts plant
By Chuck Bartels, Associated Press

German manufacturer Beckmann Volmer said Thursday it plans to build a $10 million plant in Osceola, about 55 miles north of Memphis, to produce steel components for wind turbines. The company said it will initially hire 300 people to work at the plant, and will later spend an additional $7.5 million more to expand and hire another 200 workers. The factory will pay an average wage of $18 per hour. The turbine parts will be used about 60 miles away at a turbine manufacturing plant being built by Nordex USA Inc., a factory that is to have 100 workers by the end of 2010 and 240 workers when it reaches full production in 2012. Ultimately, the plant could have 700 workers. The state offered an incentive package to Beckmann Volmer that included $1.5 million from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund and $2.5 million from a community development block grant. The company will get a cash rebate equal to 5 percent of payroll for 10 years and an abatement of state corporate taxes for 141/2 years. The state also is to provide training assistance and a refund of some state and local sales and use taxes.

A consultant on the site selection, Florian A. Stamm at Smith Gambrell & Russell LLP of Atlanta, said Arkansas had the business elements Beckmann Volmer was seeking. "Qualified work force, transportation costs and a pro-business environment were leading criteria in identifying East Arkansas as location for the investment," Stamm said. Beckmann Volmer was begun in 1995 with a handful of workers. The company has locations in China and Poland, and currently employs 650 workers. When Nordex, also a German company, broke ground in 2009, company vice president Joe Brenner said the firm wanted to have local suppliers, "a neighborhood of local wind players," as he put it. Gov. Mike Beebe met with Beckmann Volmer executives during a 2009 trade mission to Europe. The company noted on its website that the meeting "prepared a sound basis for the upcoming negotiations." Beckmann Volmer said Arkansas was one of five U.S. locations it was considering. The main component produced by Beckmann Volmer in Osceola will be turbine main frames, which support the turbine's structure.

Johnny Ryall May 24, 2010 8:06 PM

One for Soulsville

Out of the Desert
Shelby County government hopes to attract major grocery stores to low-income areas.
Memphis Flyer | by Bianca Phillips

The Soulsville neighborhood gave birth to the careers of Stax legends like Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding, but good luck finding an organic apple. Considered a "food desert," a large geographic area lacking mainstream grocery stores, Soulsville is the first neighborhood on the list for a county initiative to attract healthier options to low-income urban areas. In early May, interim county mayor Joe Ford announced a partnership between county government, the National Urban Financial Institution, and Schnucks. Though details are still unclear, the first goal of the partnership would mean a Schnucks store in the new $11.5 million Towne Center development located across the street from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music on McLemore. "If you go inside the grocery stores in these food desert areas, they basically sell the bare necessities and cheaper-grade food," said Shaunda Glass with the National Urban Financial Institution, a nonprofit organization geared toward micro-lending for small businesses in urban areas. "There's no healthy food section."

The lack of healthy choices in low-income urban communities can lead to higher rates of obesity and diabetes in those areas. Save-a-Lot on Bellevue is the only large grocery store in Soulsville, and a quick look inside revealed a limited produce selection with basics such as lettuce, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and some fruit. The snack-cake display was as large as the produce section. Glass' group will work with Schnucks to provide financial incentives to locate in Soulsville. That could mean winning grant money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development or using the local payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program. "They won't be taking the risk all alone if they have incentives from the county," Glass said. As of press time, there was no timeline for when the store might open.

The food desert initiative came out of the Mayor Ford's Women's Economic Empowerment Think Tank, a coalition of women dedicated to growing and forming businesses in Shelby County. "I already knew there were issues with inner-city communities being able to find a potato chip but not a potato, but nothing was being done about it," said Pamela Marshall, Ford's chief of staff. "So we talked about this at the first think-tank meeting as an opportunity to address that need. It addresses economic empowerment for women, as well as providing a healthy table for women as they prepare food for their children."

Johnny Ryall May 24, 2010 8:07 PM

Google Maps (finally) begins to upgrade Memphis area interstate highways & signage. Although, still no signage for I-22 (Memphis-Birmingham) or I-555 (Memphis-Jonesboro)

Johnny Ryall May 28, 2010 6:14 PM

Well, not the answer the City of Memphis wanted, but good for the metro.

McKesson will build $115M distribution facility in Olive Branch
The Commercial Appeal | By Toby Sells

Lured by nearly $4.5 million in state and local funding, McKesson Corp. will build a $115 million distribution facility in Olive Branch, moving about 300 Shelby County jobs across the state line to Mississippi. San Francisco-based McKesson will shift some distribution to the new Mississippi facility over the next three years. The health care technology, pharmaceutical and medical-supplies company employs about 850 people locally and will still maintain a large presence in Shelby County.

Last year, the company began considering whether to consolidate its distribution and repackaging operations in Memphis and Shelby County, move to Fayette County or North Mississippi, or to seek a less-expensive alternative. It was in line to be among the first companies in Shelby County for a "retention PILOT" property tax freeze. Instead, the company is the first to locate operations in Mississippi since the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund was signed into law. With it, the Mississippi Development Authority gave $4 million to McKesson for infrastructure improvements and preparation costs. Olive Branch gave $260,500 for infrastructure improvements and in-kind services. DeSoto County gave $250,000 for infrastructure improvements.

Leigh Anne Downes, director of life science business development for the Greater Memphis Chamber, said "in-kind" contributions are basically cash upfront agreements, which are barred in Tennessee. "We were diligently and tirelessly working with attorneys as well as McKesson to keep all of the facilities here in Shelby County," Downes said. "We are just not able to give cash upfront. It's not in our portfolio of incentives." Downes said the chamber "hated to see any portion of their business go across the border," but at least the jobs will remain locally.

Olive Branch Mayor Sam Rikard said the economic impact McKesson will have on the area is "very positive." "We are pleased to welcome McKesson to Olive Branch," Rikard said. "Not only will they provide jobs for its employees, but they are also providing jobs for the construction industry by building a state-of-the art facility in our town." The distribution center will be around 600,000 square feet and will sit on 66.5 acres of the Williams-Sonoma property on Polk Lane in Olive Branch.

Rikard said the city has committed $75,000 in funding for wastewater improvements to the site. He said $190,000 in infrastructure improvement costs will be waived by the city. Jim Flanagan, president and CEO of the DeSoto County Economic Development Council, said city and county officials have been working on the McKesson deal for several months. "It all came down to the location and the pro-business attitudes of elected state, city and county officials to induce the company to relocate to Olive Branch," Flanagan said. "The McKesson company representatives also saw the willingness of the state to step up to the plate to provide the financial commitment needed to bring them to Mississippi."

Johnny Ryall May 28, 2010 6:14 PM

Wolfchase getting 4 new stores, restaurant
Memphis Business Journal

Wolfchase Galleria is adding one new restaurant and four more retailers to its 1.1 million square-foot mix this year. The new arrivals will be The Happy Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, aerie, Brow Art 23, Charming Charlie and Teavana. The Happy Mexican Restaurant & Cantina is slated to open in August. The full-service Mexican restaurant will lease 4,398 square feet.

A division of American Eagle, aerie is slated to open in a 4,266-square-foot retail space by June. It sells clothing and personal care products, targeting females ages 15 to 25.

Brow Art 23 is slated to open in a 792-square-foot store by July. It sells eyebrow threading, eyelash extensions, permanent makeup and henna tattoos, as well as makeup and skin care products.

Charming Charlie’s 10,413-square-foot store is slated to open in August. The fashion accessories boutique organizes its fashion jewelry, handbags, belts, scarves and other items by color.

Finally, Teavana is slated to open this December in 900 square feet. The concept sells fine loose leaf tea and tea-related merchandise. It will have more than 100 varieties of tea, as well as an area for drinking tea.

Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc. (NYSE: SPG) owns Wolfchase Galleria.

Johnny Ryall May 28, 2010 6:15 PM

Council Approves Beale St. Landing and Tiger Lane Funding
Light Rail Funding Derailed In Committee
BILL DRIES | The Daily News

Memphis City Council members Tuesday approved continuing the Beale Street Landing project Tuesday. They also approved a $15 million project to create a 7 acre lawn at The Fairgrounds that was originally estimated at around $10 million. And the council derailed any funding in the new budget year for a light rail project. The action on the three high profile city projects came as the council moves toward a series of votes in two weeks that will bring to an end the city budget season. The $750,000 in funding for preliminary consulting work on a light rail route along Lamar and Airways to Memphis International Airport was rejected in council budget committee. The decision would become final if the full council agrees at its June 8 meeting. That’s also when the council will take a final vote on ordinances increasing sewer and solid waste fees.

The council set the stage for a vote in two weeks on a balanced budget by approving a restructuring of the city’s bond debt that is expected to save the city $41 million. In committee Tuesday, the council gave preliminary approval to almost all of the $9 million in budget cuts suggested by Mayor A C Wharton Jr.. The two moves would add up to $50 million in savings that would go toward the city’s contested but court ordered share of Memphis school system funding in the new fiscal year.

The Beale Street Landing Project got a $10.5 million greenlight to go ahead with the next to last phase of construction on the boat landing, restaurant and gift shop at the foot of Beale Street at Riverside Drive. The council approved a construction contract with Webb Building Corporation. The funding is in the current fiscal year budget. The final phase is a park at the foot of Beale Street that would cost an additional $6.5 million for which the city has no funding available currently.

The Tiger Lane project at the Fairgrounds spans the current fiscal year and the fiscal year that begins July 1. The bid awarded by the council came in about $5 million higher than originally anticipated. The city has the money for all but $2.5 million. The Wharton administration backed a $13 million version for which the city already has all the funding committed. In addition to creating a greenspace from the East Parkway entrance to the Fairgrounds to the west side of the Liberty Bowl, the plan approved by the council would pave old parking lots as well as newly created lots where buildings and barns stood until recently.

The council approved the most expensive of three options that includes renovation of the Pipkin Building and the Creative Arts Building – the two buildings not demolished this spring. The plans also call for an extension of Young Avenue across East Parkway to the west side of the Mid-South Coliseum. And, a new addition to the plans creates a second new road off Hollywood between the Children’s Museum of Memphis and the Liberty Bowl that would lead to the Salvation Army Kroc Center. New parking lot lighting and a wrought iron fence on the Hollywood side are also included.

Johnny Ryall May 28, 2010 6:15 PM

Sterick Building, riverfront cobblestones on endangered list
The Commercial Appeal | By Tom Bailey Jr. Photo by The Commercial Appeal files

Two of Downtown's highest and lowest structures are now listed among the 10 most endangered historic sites in Tennessee. The 31-story Sterick Building, boarded up at age 80, and the 19th century cobblestone landing along the riverfront are on the Tennessee Preservation Trust's annual list. The ranking is designed to rally public support behind the preservation of historic structures.

The estimated 800,000 cobblestones were part of the steamboat wharf built between Beale and Jefferson from the 1850s to 1890s. They provide a rare example of 19th century cobblestone wharves and constitute the "most intact cobblestone landing on the major inland waterways of the U.S.," according to a news release from the trust. They are now threatened by "neglect and inappropriate development," it stated. The "development" apparently refers to the Riverfront Development Corporation's plan to restore and preserve the cobblestone landing. "Inappropriate renovations, redevelopment challenges and a looming land-lease expiration" threaten the building, states the trust's press release. Citizens and preservation groups around the state nominate sites to be placed on the endangered list.

The Sterick's "mere presence Downtown as a landmark is tremendously significant," said June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage. "We don't think we'll see any more of that nature built for quite a while." Preservationists realize renovating the Sterick Building will be difficult, given its age and such "environmental issues" as asbestos, West said. So Memphis Heritage, which nominated the building to make the list, is seeking to buy time for the building until conditions change or opportunities arise. Sterick LLC owns the structure.

Memphis Heritage and Friends of Our Riverfront jointly nominated the cobblestones, West said. Friends of Our Riverfront has opposed the RDC's $6.8 million plan to preserve the cobblestones by, in part, putting rip-rap at the base of the slope so the stones don't erode into the harbor. The group also has opposed plans to build three concrete walks along the cobblestones, and say both the rip-rap and walks mar the historic character of the landing. Lance Murphey/The Commercial Appeal files

The RDC also believes the cobblestones to be an "incredible historical" site, RDC president Benny Lendermon said Tuesday. The concrete walks not only take up less than 1 percent of the cobblestone landing, they also provide a way to bury the overhead utilities, he said. Putting a concrete apron instead of rip-rap at the base of the landing would double the restoration cost, Lendermon said. The RDC consulted with the state historic preservation office -- not the same as the Tennessee Preservation Trust -- before designing the project and, as a result, "changed a number of things," Lendermon said.

It is the first time either the cobblestones or Sterick Building made the endangered list, which doesn't always work. For example, the old Rosemark School building made the 2008 list, but was demolished by Tipton-Rosemark Academy. Memphis's Zippin Pippin roller coaster made the 2006 list, but was purchased this year by Green Bay, Wis., and dismantled. Both the cobblestones and the Sterick Building are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Johnny Ryall May 28, 2010 6:17 PM

Main Street apartments pre-leasing
The Commercial Appeal

Barboro Flats developers opened a model unit and started pre-leasing apartments this week in Main Street's newest building. The residential leasing agent, Henry Turley Co., is taking applications and deposits for 92 one- and two-bedroom units that are expected to be ready for occupancy around July 1. "We've had lots and lots of interest," said property manager Stephanie Hall, who sent an e-mail blast to interested people after the model was completed late last week.

Rents at 100 S. Main range from $850-955 a month for one-bedroom units, and $1,400-$1,610 for two bedrooms. Slovis & Associates is handling leasing of 7,200 square feet of first-floor commercial space, which is attached to a 205-space parking garage.

Johnny Ryall May 28, 2010 6:17 PM

A 20-Year Roll
An inside look at two decades of Tunica County gaming and how it changed the Mid-South.
Memphis Flyer | by John Branston

Hail, Hardface. In addition to having one of the great nicknames of all time, Hardface, whose real name was Harold Clanton, was in some ways the grandfather of Tunica gambling. He had a tough look that worked — think Morgan Freeman in a bad mood — and ran several illegal gambling joints in Tunica from the 1950s until he died in 1982. His businesses made him one of the Delta's few black millionaires. He broke a lot of laws in the process, but history has sanitized his sins. On historic markers, he is remembered as an "entrepreneur." Well, why not? A lot has changed since the modern form of "dockside" gambling was legalized 20 years ago this month in a special session of the Mississippi Legislature. It was called House Bill 2 and created the Mississippi Gaming Control Act. The backers never envisioned that it would create a gambling empire in one of the poorest counties in America. "Maybe one boat" was the way they talked, boats being riverboats, which was what the casinos were originally supposed to be. That proved to be one of the great miscalculations of all time, for a lot of reasons. One of them was Hardface. Many Tunica residents were not strangers to gambling or the intricacies of cards and craps. So when casinos got their foothold in the county in 1992, there was a supply of labor that knew the business — at least in rough form — and some visionaries who knew the potential for profits in gambling.

The successors to Hardface had, if not hard faces, at least hard minds and hard numbers that supported business plans that were hard to believe. They included brothers Rick and Ron Schilling, the owners of Splash casino, the first casino to open in Tunica County; Bill Boyd, the CEO of Boyd Gaming, who paid a then unheard of $25 million for the site of Sam's Town; Jack Binion, the canny, unassuming operator of Horseshoe, who sold out to Harrah's for $1.45 billion; and Harrah's Entertainment, the former Memphis-based company that bought out Horseshoe, Grand Casino, and Sheraton.

Twentieth anniversaries are occasions for recalling "landmark legislation," a phrase that has been overhyped with regard to health care, bailouts, and stimulus bills. But House Bill 2 really was a piece of landmark legislation. Nobody knew it, but Mississippi and Memphis would never be the same. The bill legalized dockside gambling on the Mississippi Sound and the Mississippi River. The best guess was that there would be three casinos — actual boats, mind you — on the coast and three more on the river. One of those, the longest of long shots, would be in Tunica, which was dirt poor but just 30 miles from Memphis. Dockside gambling got off to a slow start due to restrictions on where and how the casinos could be built. The first two boats opened on the Gulf Coast in 1992. But three years later, the rules had been changed, and there were nine casinos in Tunica County with no resemblance to a riverboat, and Memphians were spending an estimated $300 million to $500 million a year in them.

House Bill 2 had created a Southern gambling destination that would rival anything outside of Las Vegas. By 1996, Tunica County had more slot machines (11,114) than residents. It was a law that touched Memphians' everyday lives, if not directly then indirectly via the Tennessee lottery, the Memphis Grizzlies, the expanded concert scene, politics, religion, advertising, cotton farming, airports and highways, Beale Street, and the stock market. It changed the way we think about politicians and what it means to be socially conservative and liberal. The conservative Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, is staunchly pro-casino. The liberal congressman from Memphis, Steve Cohen, is the father of the state lottery, Tennessee's answer to legalized gambling in neighboring states. In simplest terms, both men are pro-gambling. The equation of gambling and sin is no longer a topic of serious public debate. It changed — or maybe saved is a better word — the local media. If form holds, the newspaper you're holding will have four or five pages of full-color casino ads in it. Over the course of a year, that adds up to several hundred thousand dollars to help pay the salaries of this company's 48 employees. Add in the revenues that The Commercial Appeal and local television and radio stations take in, and the impact of casino advertising on local media can be measured in millions of dollars. It changed the way we think about entertainment. The nine Tunica casinos (Bally's, Fitzgerald's, Gold Strike, Harrah's, Hollywood, Horseshoe, Resorts, Sam's Town, and Tunica Roadhouse) took in nearly $1 billion last year, with an estimated 30 percent of that from the Memphis market. Casinos all but killed the Mud Island Amphitheater. The Pyramid, which opened in 1990, failed for a lot of reasons, one of which was competition from Tunica for entertainment dollars, especially concerts. FedExForum and the relocation of the NBA's Grizzlies to Memphis were, in part, a response to the casinos. It changed the way we think about business. Casinos invested billions in hotels and restaurants, without the incentives demanded by manufacturers and service companies, because gambling is so lucrative. Publicly owned companies funded much of the construction and the debt, and thousands of investors profited. It changed spending priorities for state and local government. Tunica, with a population under 10,000, boasts a commercial jet airport and the only completed link of Interstate 69 in the Southeast.

House Bill 2 also changed the lives of the three men riding in a car with me on a Saturday morning last week, headed from Memphis to Tunica on a short road trip into history. My companions were casino insider Herbie O'Mell, who has played host to thousands of high rollers; Beale Street insider Bud Chittom, co-owner of Blues City Café and other restaurants; and Bobby Leatherman, a Memphis lawyer from one of Tunica's oldest and wealthiest farming families that sold sites to the casino companies. O'Mell helped open Splash casino in Tunica, a 75-minute drive from Memphis on a dangerous two-lane highway. It was his idea to charge a $10 admission fee. "The owners said I was crazy. I said, 'I'll tell you what, let me do the marketing. Let's start off with it, because if you start the other way you can't go back. Let's see what happens, and you all can fuss at me.' It turned out it would take eight people each night to collect the money. From the first month to the last, the lowest month we had was $400,000 to the bottom line, just from the $10." There was a torrential storm on opening night, and the canopy covering the lines of people waiting to get in blew away. Owner Rick Schilling, watching the spectacle unfold, marveled, "What a business." The $10 admission stayed in place until Harrah's opened more than a year later. Splash literally made too much money to count it all. "We had the cash in laundry bags all over the cage," O'Mell said. "And the gaming commission shut us down for 72 hours. It took us that long with money counters to count the money so we could open back up." Splash actually doomed itself by showing that "dockside riverboats" could be barges floating in a lagoon next to rather than in the river. Once the engineering was accomplished, it was just a matter of building canals to sloughs farther and farther from the main river and getting the necessary accommodation from the gaming commission. Leatherman, whose parents live in a house flanked by a tennis court and an Indian mound near Robinsonville, leased the land for the first Harrah's casino. "After Splash took off, the interest picked up," he said. "I went from getting a call every six months or so to getting a call a day. Harrah's was local and the biggest, so we worked out a deal to lease a site to them. I have always attributed Tunica's success to Harrah's decision to come down here. There was a feeling that if they are going in there, then we are going in there."

The most aggressive of the newcomers was Boyd Gaming, a Las Vegas operator named for founder William Boyd. Boyd had a plan for a full-scale resort with a hotel, restaurants, entertainment center, and indoor parking and wanted to buy its land rather than lease it. Leatherman's cousin, Shea Leatherman, made the sale, with the help of real estate friends Phil Zanone and John Pitts. "Nobody had any idea what to ask for it," Bobby Leatherman said. "I think they may have thought $6 or $8 million, who knows. They zoned off 150 acres. They sat down and met with Boyd, and Shea told them they really didn't want to sell, but they would entertain an offer. They were having lunch, and Bill Boyd said, 'We will pay you $18 million.' That was the first offer. Phil said he looked down, because if he looked up he knew his poker face would melt. He said he needed to excuse himself to go call Shea's brother, who lived out in California, and check with him. So they walked outside, and Pitts tells him they can get more. So Shea says, 'All right, John, you can have a piece of whatever extra you get, but if you screw this up, I am going to kill you right here and now.' So they go back to the table and say how they really didn't want to sell, but if they did they had to get $25 million for it. Bill Boyd looked at them and went, 'Done.'"

By 1996, there were nine casinos operating within an hour of Memphis, all of them booking entertainers and stealing employees from each other and from restaurants in Memphis. An entertainer who could get hooked up with Harrah's might play seven or eight different casinos over three months. "After the casinos built their auditoriums, they started doing what is called soft tickets," Chittom said. "Somebody that can't sell a hard ticket on their own would comp places. The same people that book fairs and festivals would book casinos. So you started seeing the Beach Boys and A groups that are now B groups. "Delbert McClinton was making $7,500 a night before the casinos started. Then George Klein and Herbie booked him at the Horseshoe at $25,000 for two nights, and the next casino would give him more. Delbert is not a has-been. The same goes for Don Henley of the Eagles. The people they draw bring money." Casino hosts like O'Mell and Klein made a nice living as go-betweens for the casinos and entertainers and high rollers. "It's hard to tell which entertainers are successful," O'Mell said. "The reason why is that it makes no difference whether they fill the hall up or not. They go back and they look at that date from a year earlier and see what the drop was in gambling. The house might be a third full, but somebody and his wife who loved that act might have walked into the casino and lost $200,000. That's a successful night, if you see what I'm saying." Chittom said the competition was cutthroat for a while: "A lot of restaurants went out of business, especially on the south end of town. Mud Island got murdered. I think Houston's lost about 28 managers in the first two years. And good bartenders and waitresses. If you were attractive and could pour liquor, you were gone. That finally wore off. Beale Street is immune to it. More people come there by accident than go somewhere else on purpose. If anything, Beale has been enhanced." O'Mell said the Memphis Grizzlies and their non-compete clause hurt the Memphis entertainment market more than the casinos did. "It got so bad with their first right of refusal that Sesame Street could not play the Pyramid, so the show went to the DeSoto Civic Center. That is why the Pyramid closed. The dozen top acts play FedExForum and that's fine, but the act that draws 6,000 or 8,000 isn't going to play here. They're going to Mississippi or Little Rock."

High rollers get the glamour treatment, which now includes chartered flights direct to Tunica's new airport, limousines, and luxurious hotel suites. But slot players are the backbone of the casino business, generating about 80 percent of the revenue. A typical scene on a gambling floor is hundreds of patrons, many of retirement age, hunkered over slots handling anywhere from one penny to $10 or even $100 a pull. The bucket of coins is an anachronism, replaced by a simulated sound and a paper ticket.

Tunica's most famous operator was Jack Binion, known for his humorous aw-shucks commercials and his no-nonsense management. Binion would walk the floor a lot, mingle with the help and customers, and pick up trash himself. And he was known to take even the largest bets. O'Mell tells this story: "I'd go over to him and say, 'Jack, this gentleman wants to play big.' He'd say, 'Okay, I'll tell you what. Whatever your first bet is is your limit. If you want to bet $100,000 on the first card out, you can play $100,000 limit.' Because when you make that first bet, you're playing with your money." Binion sold out in 2003. The business has become less personal and more numbers-driven, at least in O'Mell's mind. He tells the story of a customer who came to him with a problem: "He and his wife had been playing a lot and wanted to go eat at the steakhouse. So the casino guy goes away and comes back with one comp to the steakhouse and one comp to the buffet, based on their amount of play. And the guy said to me, 'Well which one should I give my wife?'"

As for Tunica County, cotton farming did not go away. There wasn't as much production in 2009, but Leatherman said that was because prices were so low. "Shea still farms cotton, and my dad is retired, but he rents land to a guy who farms a lot of cotton. Come back in the summer, and these fields will be cotton." A lack of rooftops and better public schools in adjacent DeSoto County have kept population growth to a minimum. With roughly $30 million in casinos taxes coming in every year, Tunica County is long on amenities and public improvements but short of major grocery stores and drug stores. At the insistence of Paul Battle, the late former president of the Tunica County board of supervisors, the casinos have to build everything themselves, including roads, sewers, and a water system. There are no city property taxes. There is some sign of diversification, with a German company building a pipe manufacturing plant east of Highway 61. "Haley Barbour brought it in," Leatherman said of the new plant. "He is going to be term-limited as governor. I would be in favor of changing the state constitution to make him King Haley." What are the odds?

Johnny Ryall Jun 4, 2010 1:47 AM

St. Jude named top U.S. children's cancer hospital
The Commercial Appeal

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has been named the nation's top children's cancer hospital in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The magazine gave the Memphis pediatric cancer research hospital the best overall score for quality of care in its 2010-2011 Best Children's Hospital rankings. "This recognition is an outstanding external acknowledgment for our institution, but more importantly for the dedicated St. Jude faculty and staff who devote their time, talent and lives to the young patients we see every day," said Dr. William E. Evans, St. Jude director and CEO. The rankings were based on reputation, medical outcomes (like cancer survival) and care-related indicators of quality such as the number of patients, nursing staff and other factors.

Johnny Ryall Jun 4, 2010 2:25 AM

Memphis International Airport gets props for tasty eats
By Wayne Risher Photo by Mike Brown

Memphis International Airport has landed among the country's top five airports for fancy fast food. Jaunted, a website affiliated with Condé Nast Traveler magazine, heaped praises on a leading purveyor of Memphis barbecue like smoky sauce on a pile of pulled pork. "...if you're stuck with a connection and an empty belly, there's no better place to turn than Interstate Bar-B-Que within the Concourse B Rotunda at Memphis International Airport," the blog said. "Ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder are just some of the smoky, saucy treats available to enjoy. Make sure you have a decent layover before digging in, because this is a place best enjoyed at a table within the terminal rather than a tray table within the plane," it added.

Also making the cut: Los Angeles International Airport, gourmet hotdogs; Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Texas barbecue and barbecue tacos; Washington Dulles and Reagan airports, Five Guys Burgers and Fries; and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Chick-fil-A. Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority officials shrugged off the favorable review. Vice president of properties and business development Richard White said, "I'm not surprised. We've won several awards."
The most prestigious was a Griesbach Award of Excellence in 2006 from the Airports Council International for top-notch food and beverage concessions and specialty shops.

Interstate owner Jim Neely opened a 190-square-foot outpost near Gate B17 in 1998 and rang up sales of $1 million the first year, White said. Neely later opened the larger outlet in the B rotunda food court. "We're really proud of what he does here," White said. Travelers have been known to book connections through Memphis just to eat at Interstate. "There's no question about it," White said. "There are people who come through here looking for Interstate, because they've seen them on the food programs on TV." Other local favorites among 29 food concessions include Back Yard Burgers, Lenny's Sub Shop, Corky's, Grisanti's Bol A Pasta and Popeyes. White said officials are working on more health-conscious alternatives. Airport Authority president and CEO Larry Cox, who is marking his 25th year at the airport this year, said portion control is key to staying fit with so many temptations nearby. "Eat great tasting food but control how much you eat!"

Johnny Ryall Jun 4, 2010 2:25 AM

Plough Cleanup Reaches Milestone
ERIC SMITH | The Daily News

The trees being planted along Plough Boulevard – the road leading into Memphis International Airport – represent the first tangible signs of the city’s aerotropolis initiative. Crews on Wednesday morning will plant the 300th tree along Plough during a ceremony to commemorate this milestone, dubbed the “greening of the gateways,” giving the public a glimpse at one of the benefits of aerotropolis funding. The event will be held at Signature Flight Support, 2488 Winchester Road, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Plough Boulevard, built in 1974 with millions of cars passing along it each year, serves as the front door to Memphis International and is integral for the aerotropolis initiative. A concept that public and private officials have touted for the past four years, aerotropolis is a civic emphasis on the airport serving as the economic engine for the entire region with other transportation assets complementing it. The Greater Memphis Chamber even trademarked the tagline “Memphis: America’s Aerotropolis. Where Runway, Road, Rail and River Merge.” The bold statement isn’t hyperbole. John Kasarda, the University of North Carolina professor who coined the phrase, said Memphis had the nation’s most developed aerotropolis because of the importance of the airport to the local economy, coupled with other transportation and distribution advantages. While an aerotropolis is anchored on an airport, it also relies on the development of successful businesses – and appealing corridors – surrounding the airport to reach its full potential.

The Plough beautification project was jumpstarted by $1.6 million in funding from the City Council as part of an aerotropolis resolution approved last fall, and the city contracted landscape architecture firm Ritchie Smith Associates to transform Plough. Planting trees is part of the project’s phase one, which calls for new streetscapes and landscapes along the entire stretch of Plough from Interstate 240 to the airport. “The tree-planting initiative on the parkway leading into the airport is consistent with one of the primary tenets of ‘Memphis: America’s Aerotropolis,’ namely the environment and beautification,” said Arnold Perl, chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “It also reflects the successful collaboration between the public-private partnership, evidenced by the decision of the City Council to authorize funding for this significant improvement.”

The aerotropolis concept has been difficult at times to convey, and because of confusion surrounding it the council decreased its allocation of funds from the original request of $2.2 million. But the $1.6 million was something substantial, and aerotropolis proponents quickly saw the need to enhance the entrance to Memphis International because that’s the first thing so many business leaders see when they arrive in town. The project is broken into three phases of landscaping activity. Phase one addresses the front of the airport, namely the Plough-Winchester cloverleaf at the airport’s entrance. Phase two includes the long stretch of Plough to the Airways Road interchange with Interstate 240. And phase three will involve welcome signs along the corridor for anyone arriving at or departing from the airport.

The aerotropolis initiative’s gateways and beautification committee approved the Plough Boulevard Master Plan as one of its first priorities for furthering the aerotropolis initiative. City Councilman Kemp Conrad, who serves as economic development chairman of the council and the council liaison to the airport authority, said he is “keenly aware that our airport is the engine that powers our economy.” “The airport is also the ‘front door’ to our community and the first and last impression for those traveling through our city,” said Conrad, president of Commercial Alliance Management LLC. “I was thrilled to sponsor and gain the support of the administration and my council colleagues so that our formerly shabby front yard will now be a welcoming tree-lined boulevard to greet tourists or executives looking to open or expand a business in Memphis. At the end of the day this is about growing our economy and all about more good-paying jobs for our people.”

Another benefit of the beautification of Plough is it will be completed by the time hundreds of airport leaders from around the world descend on Memphis next spring for the Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition. The conference, which wrapped this year in Beijing, will mean all eyes are on Memphis for the next 10 months. “The timing is fortuitous in that Memphis, in April 2011, will host the Airport Cities World Conference & Exhibition,” Perl said. “What better time to make a strong statement on beautification and the environment for world leaders to observe than that.”

Johnny Ryall Jun 4, 2010 11:18 PM

City Wins Federal Funding For Demolition Of Cleaborn Homes
HOPE VI Money Signals Start of Triangle Noir Plan
BILL DRIES | The Daily News

The city of Memphis will be getting $22 million in federal funding from the department of Housing and Urban Development to kick off an ambitious 10 year $1 billion plan to transform the Downtown area south of FedExForum and parts of South Memphis. The Triangle Noir project was a plan that surfaced toward the end of the Herenton administration. During the change in administrations at the White House in 2009, the funding necessary to kick off the multi part plan was in doubt. Wednesday’s announcement in Memphis by assistant HUD secretary Dr. Raphael Bostic is the first definitive step toward beginning Triangle Noir.

The money will be used for the demolition of the Cleaborn Homes public housing project and a rebuilding of a mixed use, mixed income development on the site. The city’s other large public housing projects with the exception of Cleaborn and Foote Homes have undergone or are undergoing a similar transformation. The city hopes to win federal funding to demolish Foote Homes as well. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. endorsed a continuation of efforts on the Triangle Noir project shortly after taking office in October. The federal money to demolish the housing project is intended to be a catalyst for leveraging private investment in other areas outside the development.

Johnny Ryall Jun 4, 2010 11:19 PM

Memphis to open first dog park
Memphis Business Journal

Memphis’ Division of Park Services is opening the city’s first dog park this Saturday at 2599 Avery Ave., behind the Board of Education offices. Located just north of Tobey Park, it will serve as a test site for future dog parks. Park Services will monitor it so that when permanent dog parks are constructed, it will have a better idea of what amenities and services to provide, as well as identify any potential safety issues.

The park has two fenced-in areas for dogs to run off-leash: one for dogs weighing less than 25 pounds and one for those weighing more. It has biodegradable doggie waste bags available for waste clean-up and benches where pet owners can sit. All dogs must be licensed and vaccinated. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. from March 15 to Oct. 31, and from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Nov. 15 to March 14.

“More and more urban cities are incorporating dog parks as a progressive component of their park system,” Cindy Buchanan, director of park services, said in a statement. “The Memphis Dog Park is something we have been wanting to provide to the citizens of Memphis for some time.

Johnny Ryall Jun 4, 2010 11:19 PM

New hotel brand, Country Hearth Inns, occupies familiar spot in Midtown
The Commercial Appeal | By Tom Bailey Jr. Photo by Kyle Kurlick

A Midtown hotel site with a history of struggling is getting a new franchise, new name, new facelift and new management. What was the Artisan Hotel in the heart of Midtown -- near the southwest corner of Union and McLean -- is now the Country Hearth Inns and Suites. What tried, unsuccessfully, to be a cosmopolitan, boutique hotel is now part of a franchise that offers what its website describes as a "family-oriented lodging choice at a reasonable price."

The Las Vegas ownership group that owned the Artisan has reorganized under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It removed the minority partners who molded the Artisan, and in January hired Memphis-based Pride Hospitality to manage the new enterprise, said Mark Zipperer, president of Pride Hospitality. The hotel's two, new brown-and-blue signs were erected this week along Union and McLean. "We went through and have been doing some work in the public spaces," Zipperer said. "We totally redid the meeting space, cleaned up the lobby. The ownership renovated three of the eight floors, so there are 76 brand-new rooms in the hotel." Rates for rooms that aren't under contract range from $69 to $129.

Renovation work continued Thursday. Crews were putting the finishing touches on the two meeting rooms, called "Central" and "Union." Just off the lobby, workers hauled in a truckload of furnishings for the Mexican restaurant that will reopen. "I'm not expecting somebody to go, 'Oh my gosh, there's a new Country Hearth Inns in Memphis. I've got to go!' " said Zipperer, who owns four hotels himself and whose company operates hotels from Wisconsin to Louisiana. But the Country Hearth franchise connects the Midtown hotel to travel reservation websites and other services that can bring in guests. "We already got a reservation from the Country Hearth organization. We'll have some reservations we've never had before," Zipperer said.

The eight-story building was erected as a Holiday Inn in 1968, and has seen hotel brands come and go over the years. More recently, it was an America's Best Inn & Suites before being converted into the Artisan Hotel in 2006. The hotel site is what Chuck Pinkowsky calls a "tweener." "It's convenient to the medical center, but it's not in the medical center," said Pinkowsky, an independent consultant in the hospitality industry. "It's close to Overton Square, but not in Overton Square. It's five minutes from Downtown, but not in Downtown. It's not far from Christian Brothers University or University of Memphis, but it's not next to them."

Country Hearth hotels typically are smaller, with 30 to 50 rooms, and often inhabit older buildings that had past lives, Pinkowski said. "Country Hearth is a national brand and has a reservation system," he said. "But it appeals to a pretty price-conscious economy market." The previous management allowed the building to slide. It wasn't a good sign in November 2008 when police charged a habitual squatter on the seventh floor with vandalism and criminal trespass. The hotel's biggest challenge will be overcoming its past reputation, Zipperer said. "It can be a success because of the neighborhood it's in and all the businesses around it. "They just need a stable operator and somebody committed to quality."

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