LEFTWICH: “Helping Black People”
Local & National News | February 12, 2024
Local leaders have a ferocious appetite for approving large public-private expenditures, without due diligence and based on PowerPoints delivered by Memphis Tomorrow public-private complex members.

Written By: Joe B Kent

I am for publicly helping the poor and small emerging business, but entirely against helping black people because they are black. Why? “Helping black people” in Memphis can be shown to be one of the greatest municipal public scams in contemporary American history. Besides, the Memphis public can’t afford to adequately serve the Memphis poor with, as one example, adequate public transit. 

Given the former, the $30M Leftwich Tennis Center was sold to the Memphis public based on the community benefits of providing 1) a home for University of Memphis (UofM) Tennis and 2) helping black kids learn tennis. 

Local leaders have a ferocious appetite for approving large public-private expenditures, without due diligence and based on PowerPoints delivered by Memphis Tomorrow public-private complex members. In the case of Leftwich, the University of Memphis led the pitch, along with the Strickland Administration. 

From 2017-23, The City of Memphis, under Strickland, spent $37M on tennis, even though tennis is not exploding in national popularity (City of Memphis Tennis Contracts). At the same time, such an expenditure could be justified if Memphis were clamoring for tennis. 

Memphis Parks Master Plan 2020 and Tennis 

Was Memphis clamoring for tennis? Not at all. One only needs to review the survey results and methodology for deriving facility needs in the Memphis Parks “Master Plan 2020”. The tennis courts facility score, residing in the 66th percentile and study methodology, should have raised questions with local officials (Memphis Parks, pg.9). But local official practice is a refusal to critique actual studies, in their march, to approve lucrative public-private expenditures (Memphis Parks, pg.9). 

The rankings methodology involved: 1) unmet needs reported by the statistically valid community survey, 2) importance rankings reported by the statistically valid community survey and 3) synthesis of trends and anecdotal information derived from the Consultant Team viewpoints (Memphis Parks, pg.9). 

One of the measures to inform the Consultant Team’s work involved ESRI’s location intelligence product in a Market Potential Index (MPI). The MPI shows tennis below the national average, with basketball well above the national average (Memphis Parks, pg.15). 

Even with data to the contrary, #3 involving the Consultant Team, would lend itself to delivering the hyperbole, required to support a local ranking in the top 66th percentile for tennis court facilities but in the 20th percentile for tennis programming (Memphis Parks, pg.9). The Consultant Team consisted of PROS Consulting, INC. (Prime), Barge Design Solutions, Earth Economics, ETC Institute, Self+Tucker Architects and The Carter Malone Group. Strangely, the City of Memphis itself was not represented on the Consultant Team (Memphis Parks, pdf pg. 2). 

So, what did the public survey say? The Memphis Parks public survey revealed tennis facilities and programming residing near the bottom, in the 10th percentile (Memphis Parks, pg. 51). Given the former public survey results, clearly, the Consultant Team wanted to build a large tennis facility, with tennis courts, somehow ending up in the 66th percentile (Memphis Parks, pg.9). This 66th percentile result could only come through the Consultant Team’s exercise of “synthesizing trends and anecdotal information derived from their very own viewpoints”. 

Full Steam Ahead and Conclusion 

The massive Leftwich facility was well on its way when the Memphis Parks Master Plan 2020 was presented to a new Memphis City Council. The previous Council had already approved $4M, with the aid of newly found funds, for what would become a $30M Leftwich tennis facility. 

The new Council at the time, in 2020, could have stopped the project with a careful review of the Memphis Parks Master Plan, when the Strickland administration came before the new Council, asking for millions more. But all it took was pageantry from the UofM and the promise to help black kids learn tennis. 

In the end, the public UofM is paying for court time, while the big winner is Tennis Memphis. Leftwich also serves as the retail tennis headquarters for the public-private nonprofit, Tennis Memphis, who has also received $4.5M in service contracts, in addition to their new Leftwich headquarters. There was little mention of this public-private headquarters when selling the Leftwich project, while Memphis taxpayers are set to capitally maintain Leftwich for years to come. 

Why is this important now? Because, with a new 2024 Council, the same 2020 tactics are underway today. Over time, despite the local pageantry associated with helping black people, public-privates have historically ripped off the taxpayer, in a majority black Memphis community in need. The former needs to change, with better governmental oversight and more public-private nonprofit transparency. Let’s hope such change happens. 

Check The Facts

City of Memphis. Tennis Contracts. Downloaded 2/8/24 from http://morememphis.org - https://1drv.ms/x/s!AiNXRWm6KZQigpwUlgWZ-k2B-nKfjA?e=Xfs8XF

Memphis Parks. Master Plan 2020. Retrieved on 2/8/24 - https://memphisparks.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Memphis-Parks-Master-Plan.pdf


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