Archive for the ‘Pyramid’ Category

MLGW Rate Increases

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

MLGW Rate Increases

 

MLGW has proposed rate increases in gas, electric and water rates over the next few years. MLGW management says that part of the need for increases are related to decreasing sales in product. Well I decided to review the latest annual report available (the year ending December 31st, 2016).

 

The City Charter designates the disposition of revenue from MLGW three divisions, light, gas and water. MLGW is not a profit-making organization but it is required to breakeven and pay it debts and keep a reserve to cover its debts and emergencies with a proper margin. It also pays to the City of Memphis a payment like a for profit business would pay.

 

I have looked at the statements of the three divisions for the year ended 12/31/16 and the electric division lost $12 million dollars after paying $40 million to the City of Memphis. The Gas Division lost $14 million after paying $17.5 million to the City of Memphis. The water division made $9.8 million after paying $4.4 million to the City of Memphis. It is not clear if this includes the 2 million payment for the FedEx arena.

 

It seems clear to me that the MLGW needs a price increase to keep its financial situation secure. It is a well-run organization with well trained employees and with advanced technical knowledge.

 

Now I want to point out that MLGW employees have a much richer health care benefits then the City of Memphis and Shelby County employees. I am gathering current information of these benefits and will be publishing information as soon as I obtain the data.

 

People are becoming energy savers and the combination of advanced energy saving appliances like light bulbs and AC/heating units and smart meters are saving energy and this is a good thing for the ecology. Again this is a well run organization with competitive rates and I hope that whomever replaces Jerry Collins will be as able as he has been.

This and That About The Bicentennial Gateway Project

Monday, November 27th, 2017

This and That About The Bicentennial Gateway Project

 

I recently published the details about this huge proposed project but there were several unanswered questions that needed answers.

 

Here are the points that needed clarification and I pursued and got the answers.

 

On the list for original amounts spent for the presentation of this project was $518,270.97 paid to Stephen Schreiner & Renee Barrett. It turns out that that this amount was for the purchase of two pieces of property close to Bass Pro at 369 and 371 North Main.

Another question concerned the funding for this project which showed Annual Revenues from Land Leases of $297,000 the first year and a total of $3.7 million through 2031. The answer from the City of Memphis was the underlying assumption from the RKG report that the City might lease City-owned land to private entities, the specific land under consideration would be Mud Island. This is only an assumption, as no deal or structure has been developed for a project at this location.

Another question concerned the Brooks Museum of Art and the amount of support that the City of Memphis gives to the Brooks yearly. The City responded that in the FY 2016 net expenditures from the City to the Brooks was $571,448.00. I have attached the latest 990 form detailing the finances of the Brooks Museum. It basically depends on contributions from the City of Memphis and outside donors.

 

The other big factor is the type of bonds that are proposed to finance this and other similar projects like the Fairgrounds project. I am told they will be revenue bonds which generally mean that the City of Memphis, Shelby County and other governmental organizations with tax powers will not be on the hook if the project does not pay for itself on sales tax and property tax increasing revenues. Here is typical revenue bond language.

THE SERIES XXXX BONDS AND THE INTEREST THEREON DO NOT NOW AND SHALL NEVER CONSTITUTE A CHARGE AGAINST THE GENERAL CREDIT OR TAXING POWERS OF THE CITY, THE STATE OF TENNESSEE (THE “STATE”) OR ANY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION THEREOF WITHOUT LIMITATION, THE CITY, SHELBY COUNTY, TENNESSEE (THE “COUNTY”) and so on and so on.

So what this means, if it is revenue bond financing, that the bond buyer is at risk and will take the haircut if the income projections do not meet the projections. Hopefully they will and if so fine. If not, the bond holders suffer. However the reputation of the City will also suffer as it now happening in Puerto Rico and the City of Chicago and the state of Illinois and the City of Detroit in the past.

 

This downtown project and the Fairgrounds proposal needs a lot more discussion and disclosure. What are the risks and what are the rewards?

 

 

 

 

 

 

$281M Downtown Cultural Center And Now $160 M For The Fairgrounds

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

$281M Downtown Cultural Center And Now $160 M For The Fairgrounds

 

I have to give the administration credit for thinking big. And it all will be paid, we hope, with money generated by tax incremental financing due to increased tourism sales taxes and state economic development funds.

The presentation on the downtown cultural center by the administration was well done and presented. I looked at the plan and wondered what had been spent so far for the well done concept work. So I asked the City to tell me what has been spent so far for this work. Here is their answer.

 

Original amounts for the Bicentennial Gateway development project.

# Vendor Original Amount

 33400 RKG Associates $40,000 and another $40,000 for Amendment #1

 33401 SR Consulting $250,000 and another $150,000 for Amendment #1

 33413 Bass, Berry and Sims $250,000

 33885 CH Johnson Consulting $20,000 and another $18,000 for Amendment #1

 34548 Glankler Brown $25,000

 34607 Archimania $128,325

 34619 Stephen Schreiner & Renee Barrett $518,270.97

That is a total so far that they have admitted to of $1.439 million.

I will pursue this further as we need to know what has been spent in addition to the above plus what has been spent on the fairgrounds planning so far. If you have additional questions and want further information let me know.

$281 Million For A Freshwater Aquarium And Downtown Cultural Center!!

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

$281 Million For A Freshwater Aquarium And Downtown Cultural Center!!

 

Talk about an ambitious plan, this one takes the cake. Here are the details in a well presented and concise exhibit. The major elements of the proposed plan are as shown below.

  • Close Monroe between Front Street and Riverside Drive.
  • Create a new cultural center bounded by Union Avenue on the south, Front Street on the east, Riverside drive on west and the Cossitt Library on the north. This cultural center may become the relocation building for the Brooks Museum.
  • Build a pedestrian bridge going across Wolf River to Mud Island.
  • On Mud Island build a new 250 foot tall fresh water aquarium.
  • Upgrade the mosquito infested Mud Island Amphitheatre to something better suited to the outdoor concert business.

I must say I am impressed with the whole concept and plan. The Mud Island investment has been a failure as it never developed continuing attractions to draw people to come. It should have had bars and restaurants along the west side overlooking the river. I believe this was never done because it was opposed by the Beale Street interests. Also access to the island was limited to the north entrance.

Now as to the Brooks Museum. This is not mentioned in the plan but the CA article of October 18th said that this was a possibility. The Brooks Museum has a fine collection of art and much of it cannot be displayed as they do not have the space. Also there is a possibility this cultural center being the site for the William Eggleston collection, a world famous collection of photographs.

Now as to paying for this plan! The exhibit shows the cost and how it would be financed. Excluding the Pinch District Development and the Convention Center Renovation, the document projects a cost of $282 million.

  • Aquarium Museum $121 Million
  • River Park & Pedestrian Bridge $35 million
  • Cultural Center and Monroe Terrace $84 million
  • Fourth Bluff and Civic Commons $21 million
  • Riverfront Improvement $20 Million

For a total of about $282 million.

Basically they claim that it would be financed with the following items.

  • $100 million paid for by increases every year in incremental sales tax revenues in the expanded TDZ zone.
  • $74 million in net new sales taxes from sales of consumer goods.
  • $30 million in new aquarium sales taxes.
  • $7.3 million in sales taxes from the cultural center attendance and purchases.

 

  • $2.3 million from hospitality contribution (convention center hotels)
  • $3.7 million from land leases

The questionable items appear to be the projected growth of TDZ sales tax revenue and the amount of private equity and philanthropy that will be pledged to the project. The other item that occurs to me is the question of philanthropy. What will Bass Pro contribute to this project as Bass Pro seems to have a great upside when we are talking about a fresh water aquarium. After all they are in the business of fishing and hunting and if you look at what they spent on their Big Cedar Lodge near Branson Missouri, they certainly have a great upside in seeing this downtown Memphis project succeed.

The real big question is what has plagued past public projects. PROJECT PRICE CREEP!! As with other public projects (think Beale Street Landing) and with the difficulty of construction on the unstable riverfront and the necessity of building in an earthquake zone) can it be done at the projected cost?

What do you think about this big idea for downtown and Mud Island?

Where Does The Increased Downtown Tax Revenue Come From?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

March 22, 2016

Where Does The Increased Downtown Tax Revenue Come From?

I read with interest the March 20th Sunday article in the Commercial Appeal entitled Bass Pro sales near $45M in nine months. This would be from May 2015 thru January 2016. This is indeed good news for cash strapped Memphis but the question still remains in my mind, what downtown sales tax businesses are responsible for an increase of over $7 million in Tourist Development Zone sales taxes returned to Memphis in the fiscal year from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Read the article at http://www.memphisshelbyinform.com/2016/02/16/tdz-tourist-development-zone-revenue-review/

 

Now the CA article claimed that the Bass Pro Pyramid sales for June 2015 were $7.1 million. So let us assume that May 2015 (the opening month) was $6 million or a total for the first two months of $13 million. This would account for about $1.17 million in additional sales tax returns to the downtown TDZ. But there was over $7 million extra TDZ returns in the year ending June 30, 2015.  This is the question I asked the Downtown Memphis Commission? They said they would investigate and let me know. To date I have heard nothing from them.

In any event, considering that Memphis is in such desperate need of additional income, it is good news to hear that the incremental sales taxes for 2015 over and above 2014 are up over $7 million. Let us hope that this trend continues.

Can any of you readers tell me what downtown businesses in the downtown TDZ zone, other than Bass Pro, could be responsible for the big increase in TDZ incremental sales taxes? Let me know at memphisshelbyinform@gmail.com.

 

TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) Revenue Review

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

February 16, 2016

TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) Revenue Review

I have been investigating the revenue flowing to the City of Memphis for the downtown TDZ zone which includes Bass Pro. This has been quite interesting and informative.

First I went to the State of Tennessee and got on their website that shows sales tax revenue sent to the City of Memphis for various items like state sales tax (the 7% sales tax), mixed drink tax and particularly the TDZ tax for the downtown tourist development zone. Here is the result of my investigation for the fiscal years ending June 30 of the years shown.

TDZ Zone, 7% state sales tax receipts TDZ Zone, 2-1/4% sales tax receipts Total sales tax receipts for year
2012 $12.1 million $1.1 million $13.2 million
2013 $12.7 million $1.6 million $14.3 million
2014 $12 million $1 million $13.1 million
2015 $16.8 million $3.6 million $20.5 million

 

Therefore 2015 shows an increase of over $7 million from 2014. This is indeed good news but where does it come from in the downtown TDZ? Bass Pro did not open its doors until May 2015 so it is not likely to account for the increase in sales taxes in 2 months of operation.

I asked the state of Tennessee about what businesses the sales taxes come from in the TDZ. They replied that state law does not allow them to give out that information as that would allow competitors to know the amount of sales from the various tax collecting businesses This restriction is reasonable.  Does the City of Memphis know or have a right to audit the sales figures? I do not know but I am sure the State of Tennessee has that right.  I called the Downtown Memphis Commission office and asked them where they thought the extra sales tax revenue was coming from. I have yet to receive their answer.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. There is a question about the Bass Pro contract concerning the rent which is based on 2% of sales. However there are questions about the 2% rent formula that will possibly not apply to leased facilities in Bass Pro. Also questions about the income from the elevator ride to the top being reduced by costs of employees and other restaurant and elevator expenses. This would reduce the 2% rent payment amount.

In any event, the news of the increase in TDZ revenue in the year ending June 30, 2015 is good news if correct. What are your thoughts?

ROI (Return On Investment)

Monday, February 8th, 2016

February 8, 2016

 

ROI (Return On Investment)

 

Recently I asked for the following information from the Riverfront Development Corporation.

 

I would like to know the final cost for the Beale Street Landing

 

I would like to have the most recent financial statement concerning the income and expense of the Landing operation showing income and expenses.

 

I would like to have the most recent annual financial statement for the RDC.

 

I received a prompt answer to these questions (with some delay due to my fault). You can look at the attached results.

 

They say the cost was $43.5 million with the Feds and State kicking $11.8 million, Housing and Community $1 million and the City $30.6 million. All of this is taxpayer money. Now we all recognize that parks, playgrounds, running and biking trails and other civic amenities do not pay a return on investment in a true business sense. However this restaurant/souvenir shop and boat landing should pay a better return than is shown by the landing operation income and expense sheet shown above. Except for the Foundation Corporate Grant of $75,000, it is losing money each month. Maybe the additional income generated by river boat tourists landings make up for some of this but could the landings have been done without this $43 million dollar project? Virginia McLean certainly thinks so. Here is what she told me recently.

 

Our new $43M taxpayer funded boat dock probably might make it easier (at the right water-levels) for passengers to board and has probably led to more business for our local daily excursion boat company, but I’m not absolutely certain about either of those points, and I can’t imagine that Beale Street Landing has had a serious impact on multi-state-city riverboat cruises.  The boat companies appear to be promoting Southern history, food, and music as draws for cruises on the Mississippi River. They dock at Natchez, Vicksburg, Helena, Paducah, to name a few, and those cities/towns don’t have expensive new boat docks. The boats appear to just tie up at the shore (like they still do here at Greenbelt Park when water levels are low ) or dock at historic landings like in St. Louis on the old landing which is adjacent & beneath the plaza the Arch sits on or at basic, simple open-air ticket-sale type places like in New Orleans’s Woldenberg Park. Personally I think Mud Island River Park’s landing would probably beat out anything, including Beale Street Landing. When the boats docked over there and if it was being run properly visitors would have had access to restaurants, a music, pretty park, amphitheater, and via monorail or skywalk downtown city by foot. 

 

I’ll stick with the idea that we didn’t really need it, couldn’t afford it, and now what do we do about running and maintaining it?  

 

The Mississippi River is our greatest asset but it is huge and powerful and maintaining anything on the river always ends up costing more than expected. The Beale Street Landing will continue to cost us in the future to maintain it. We do not need the Riverfront Development Corporation to guide and lead changes to Mud Island River Park considering their past history. What do you think?

Bass Pro Fudge Sales

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

December 21, 2015

There was an interesting article in the CA on December 18, reporting on a large number of visitors to the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. According to the article there were 2 million customers in the first 7-1/2 months. I am hopeful that this report will translate into enough sales taxes that will pay off the millions of dollars that we borrowed to pay for this development. Bass Pro officials didn’t say how the store is performing financially, but an official said the general store has sold 27 tons of fudge. “That’s a lot of fudge,” he said. Let us hope all that fudge will translate into revenue and not a bellyache.

$197 million in taxable and tax exempt bonds were issued for this project. These TDZ revenues to pay off these bonds are received in one lump sum payments from the state in September of each year based on incremental state and local sales tax collections in the TDZ zone by the state as of June 30 of that same year. The TDZ revenues in 2011 shows $12 million none of which came from Bass Pro.

The initial projected TDZ revenue for June 2015 was $20.2 million, an increase of about $8 million due to the Bass Pro Pyramid project. Obviously the delay in the construction of the project will probably cut that figure but I would like to know what the actual figure is for the year ending June 2015. I have asked for this information from the City of Memphis but to date I have not received an answer. Let us hope that that the fudge and moon pie sales and hopefully more expensive items will indicate that we have a bright future for this huge project. Believe me, I want it to succeed.

Bass Pro Pyramid Review

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

November 13, 2015

Bass Pro Pyramid Review

Local ABC 24 called and asked me to comment on Bass Pro after 6 months from opening. http://www.localmemphis.com/news/local-news/final-hurdle-remains-for-bass-pro-and-pinch-district

It so happened that I had just spent all day several days previously touring Rhodes College, St Jude and Bass Pro so naturally I am an expert. It was a Wednesday when my wife and I and several out of town visitors did this tour. I must say that Rhodes was outstanding and beautiful. My visitor was a retired orthopedic surgeon and his wife a retired nurse. (He is on the board of Westminster College in Missouri (the site of the famous Winston Churchill speech on the iron curtain). This was before the disastrous University of Missouri incident.)

After visiting Rhodes we went to St. Jude and it was wonderful. Very heartwarming to see the work that they do. Then we went to Bass Pro. As I said it was on a Wednesday at about 2 PM, not exactly prime time.

We toured the ground floor and I was very impressed with the multiple selections of Moon Pies. Also I shopped for camouflaged underwear and pajamas. My wife told me that there was a good selection of women’s clothing (groan). We paid $10 each to ride the elevator to the top and had a good view of the river. We had already had lunch earlier elsewhere but we looked over the menu and it was the typical selection of sandwiches and salads that you could get at dozens of places all over Memphis. The food selection definitely did not match the view.

Now to the financial details. The City of Memphis, through the Memphis Center City Revenue Finance Corporation  issued bonds to the tune of $192 million dollars for Warm Lit Shell ($20M) Seismic Retrofit ($25M), Landlord Contribution ($33M), Convention Center Acquisition ($67 M) Pyramid Acquisition ($3.2 M), Lonestar Acquisition ($15 M) and debt reserve and transaction cost of $$28.8 M).

This is to be paid back by increased sales tax revenue over and above a base which will be paid from the State of Tennessee’s sales tax collections for principal and interest. See a distribution report that I obtained from the state of Tennessee on past TDZ zones. Then look at the RKG Associates financial analysis and you will see that they are projectioning an increase in the first full year of $8.1 million more over and above the current level. Keep in mind that each year a new base is set. Also note that ½% of the sales tax goes to the School system.

I sincerely hope that the projections are correct or even underestimated but it will be several years before we know for sure. In the meantime Mayor elect Jim Strickland should publish information on existing City of Memphis financial obligations to the bonds issued by the Memphis Center City Revenue Finance Corporation showing the amount of the outstanding loans and the payment history of each of the obligations. The public has a right to transparency on this financial obligation. The taxpayers are on the hook for these debts even if ad valoren taxes are not. All other taxes collected by the City are obligated.

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

June 22, 2015

Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important

You may have read a front page article last Saturday in the Commercial Appeal by education reporter Jane Roberts. The article announced the creation of an open records reading room (Room 121) in the SCS Coe building at 160 S. Hollywood St. here in Memphis.

I have been working to open local public records since 2004 and have been greatly aided by many local citizens, particularly John Malmo, Eddie and Eve Settles (backinrivercity.com) and Ken Welch. I want to thank these people and many others who have contributed to this effort.

As Ken Welch has said many times, all public records are technically open to the public unless specifically named and restricted by state law. Then why can’t we get all this information easily? The answer is that public bodies and the leaders (Presidents, appointees, Governors, Mayors, Superintendents, etc) can make life difficult and expensive if they want to. The Tennessee open records law clearly states the following. However the particular public organization can drag their feet, threaten big charges paid in advance, refuse you entrances to offices without an appointment and then refuse to make an appointment. What has happened at the SCS system offices is different and significant.

Therefore this is why our agreement with Supt. Hopson and Chris Caldwell is so important. They have shown that they are open to making all legally open records actually open to the public. After all, we (the taxpayers) paid for all this bureaucracy and we are the employers. We recognize that we need good education, good fire and police services, good roads, efficient water, gas and electric services and many other public facilities. However we paid for them and we expect answers to all our reasonable and legally available questions.

Open Records is so important because without transparency there is often corruption, favoritism, waste and inefficiency. The sunshine of OPEN RECORDS and vigilant citizen can prevent this. There are many details to work out and our open records group is willing to work with the Shelby County System to make access easy and convenient. If we can make this work efficiently, we would look forward to using this as a template for other public bodies. Any suggestions from the you, the public, would be welcomed. We need to join together for full open records access.