This is a #JustMyOpinion feature from the community and written by Joe B Kent!
What’s going on with the publicly County owned $226M Agricenter (Shelby County)? Nobody seems to want taxpayers to know, and that includes the Agricenter Commission Chairman, Bill Gillion, and Agricenter International’s President, John Butler.
Concerns over Agricenter surfaced when Agricenter asked, starting in FY23, for $20M for Agricenter renovations. This is in addition to the $3.5M Agricenter received for Showplace Arena back in 2017 and comes after the Agricenter gets free annual use of a $226M facility for which they rent out and pocket all the proceeds. The estimated annual subsidy, by County taxpayers to Agricenter International, is at a minimum what the property taxes would be on a $226M facility and around $2.5M per year.
Taxpayers’ duly elected representative, on the Agricenter Commission, is County District 5 Commissioner Shante Avant. Does Avant want taxpayers to know about Agricenter? The Agricenter Commission is supposed to oversee Agricenter International operations on behalf of state and local taxpayers.
On Wednesday, July 26th, Avant was asked during public comment, to compel Agricenter Commission Chairman Bill Gillion to answer public information requests regarding Agricenter operations, which Gillion like John Butler of Agricenter International has chosen not to answer.
Among other items, both Agricenter Commission and International have been asked to publish their public minutes and to provide a copy of their historic contracts. And both have refused. This comes as Agricenter International invites the public’s questions in their published financials, with the following statement (Agricenter):
“This financial report is designed to provide citizens, taxpayers, exhibitors, contributors, and creditors with a general overview of the Agricenter’s finances and to show the organization’s management philosophy toward financial stability. Questions concerning any of the information provided in this report or requests for additional information may be addressed to the management of Agricenter International, Inc. at 7777 Walnut Grove Road, Memphis, TN 38120”
Meanwhile, there are a number of corporations, located on Agricenter premises that lack any accurate property records that would support payment of real property taxes. Those corporations include BASF, CNH Industrial, and Helena Chemical.
In fact, in Shelby County Commission testimony on November 9, 2022, Agricenter’s John Butler stated that BASF had a $40M greenhouse located on Agricenter premises (Shelby County Commission). That would equate to $540K in annual forgone County real property taxes just for BASF and not including CNH Industrial and Helena Chemical. There could be more.
Butler also testified, in County Commission, that the Agricenter public-private partnership is not widely understood. Well, Agricenter will never be understood if they refuse to publish their minutes and answer public information requests.
Questions surround Agricenter after an estimated $2.5M annual County recurring subsidy in the form of free use of a $226M publicly owned facility and claims by Agricenter of $524M in economic impact and 1.3M visitors per year that supports their efforts. Is $2.5M per year, not enough? If not, why not?
Does Agricenter want the public to know what is going on at a publicly owned $226M County owned facility and does the public’s representative, on the Agricenter Commission, in duly elected Commissioner Avant want the public to know? We will soon find out….
Agricenter. Financial Statement, June 30, 2022, Pg 9. Retrieved on 7/3/23 from https://comptroller.tn.gov/content/dam/cot/la/advanced-search/2022/other/1180-2022-cn-agricenter-rpt-cpa273-12-28-22.pdf
Shelby County Commission. John Butler Agricenter Testimony 11/9/22 @19:00. Retrieved on 7/3/23 from https://shelby.granicus.com/player/clip/2255?view_id=4&meta_id=428282&redirect=true&h=6b5267880aa0bbaf9fd9b783d77fe4eb
Shelby County Government. 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. Pg B-1. Retrieved on 7/1/23 – https://shelbycountytn.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/12685
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