Written By: Joe B. Kent
Memphis City Hall construction remains unfinished after 3.5 years., with the Mud Island garage gateway, to City Hall and Mud Island itself closed. The Mud Island gateway is managed by the Memphis River Parks Partnership (MRPP).
When I told a friend and recently retired Federal employee, whose construction fluent, that City Hall remains under construction, he was flabbergasted. He went on to tell me that he could never figure out what was really going on with City Hall construction and was even more disappointed to learn of the Mud Island gateway closure, where he once enjoyed relaxing lunch walks.
The gateway garage should be the most well-kept garage in the City, serving as a gateway to City Hall, Mud Island, The Renasant Convention Center, Federal, and County government, yet MRPP consistently fails at routine garage maintenance. MRPP, a public-private partnership, is a taxpayer albatross like so many Memphis public-private partnerships.
But more to the point, in FY23, the City appropriated $120K for Mud Island garage capital improvements, on top of the $3M MRRP receives annually for overall river park maintenance, which includes the Mud Island gateway. Additionally, MRPP may also be the direct recipient of garage parking revenue. Yet, the Mud Island gateway is closed.
So, the Mud Island gateway is closed, construction at City Hall has been halted and remains unfinished after 3.5 yrs., but construction is booming at the currently legally contested Downtown Brooks Museum? This is insane. Public money is flowing out the door for multiple public-privates and City Hall looks like a construction zone dump after 3.5yrs. Where is the oversight?
Public-private nonprofits are being served, while the public is not, as in the case of the Cossitt Library being closed again for maintenance. Could it be maintenance on the HVAC that MRPP was supposed to replace, with their Cossitt renovation contract? The Cossitt project was funded to honor black people. But in reality, the MRPP project kept the library closed for 5 yrs., while disenfranchising taxpayers of library use, in a majority black community in need.
Could the Cossitt library, through extended closure, really have been a project to cash flow MRPP? Seems that way. After all, MRPP failed to complete the Cossitt project, while leaving the concreate floors unsealed and unappealing.
To name a few besides MRPP, other public privates include: Leftwich Tennis Center, Brooks Museum and Agricenter. The public-private business model works something like this. Mostly taxpayer money funds construction of a facility, along with some private funds. Then the nonprofit private party sets up business operations, while the taxpayer picks up the tab on capital maintenance and improvements, with at times, public grant support and even annual recurring maintenance support, like with the $3M for MRPP and $700K for Brooks operations.
Agricenter International gets free use of a $226M County owned facility, while pocketing all the venue proceeds, where several corporations (BASF, Helena Chemical, CNH Industrial) located on Agricenter grounds pay no real property tax at all. The Leftwich Tennis Center serves as the retail tennis operation headquarters for Tennis Memphis, which pockets the proceeds for tennis lessons and court time, except for the UofM tennis team.
From 2017 to present, the Strickland administration spent $37M on tennis, even though the Memphis Parks survey failed to find significant local demand for tennis. Leftwich construction was justified with providing a home for UofM tennis and again helping black people with teaching poor black kids to play tennis. There was little mention of retail operations for Tennis Memphis.
Keep in mind that these public-private nonprofits are not required to comply with Sunshine laws for their board meetings or answer FOIA requests for public information. The public is in the dark about public money flows with nonprofits, which needs to change.
So back to City Hall. Was the construction project directly ripped off? The public Cobblestone Landing project, across from City Hall, was directly ripped. So, it’s possible the City Hall project too was directly ripped. And if not directly, it can be safely said the public generally and the City Hall project have been indirectly ripped by the local corporate socialist public-private complex.
A legal case currently exists that effectively says that public land, in the Memphis Riverfront Promenade, was stolen from the citizens of Memphis, by the City, for private use. Now, City Hall project construction appears to have been ripped, right before the eyes of local government. What’s next and where is the oversight? There should be no doubt that Memphis ecosystem decline is due to non-transparent public-private partnerships and lacking public oversight.
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