Memphis Mayor highlights WM Chamber Banquet

Strickland keynote invokes unity for riverside neighbors

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

The new mayor of Memphis Jim Strickland crossed the bridge to make the keynote address at the 69th annual West Memphis Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Just a handful of seats went unoccupied for the buffet proving nearly 350 locals turned out in a cold pouring rain to support the chamber and hear Strickland at the meeting at Southland Park. The mayor brought a two point message. He first touted the assets of the city before providing a candid assessment of its challenges. “What is good for West Memphis is good for us all,” said Strickland. “We are in it together. My administration truly embraces the regional spirit of the mid-south. A vibrant, thriving, healthy Memphis goes a long way toward a thriving West Memphis.” Strickland reminded the audience about the entertainment options, sports, museums, the zoo and shopping unique to Memphis. Strickland said 4.3 billion dollars in current capital projects indicates a rise for the city. “The Brook’s museum is a city owned museum, for its size one of the best in the southeast,” said Strickland. The University of Memphis improves every year. They are one of the two most important entities in the city along with FedEx. Shelby Farms Park just completed a $70 million capital campaign. Its the biggest urban park in America, bigger than Central Park. Strickland labeled the new Bass Pro Pyramid an unprecedented success and pointed to a revitalized Overton Square and the redevelopment of the old Sears building as high water marks. It is the only former sports arena in the country that has been turned into successful business,” said Strickland said of Bass Pro. “The Guest House at Graceland is the largest hotel built in the city since the Peabody in 1925. We are re-doing Elvis Presley Blvd. Graceland is the most visited residence in the country, second only to the White House.” Strickland talked about three challenges facing Memphis, population loss, crime and poverty. While the city annexed 157,000 people over the last 40 years but has 8000 less people residing there. He pointed to recent strides to beat crime while acknowledging its sting. “People have left because of crime, schools and a relatively high property tax,” said Strickland. “The violent crime rate hurts our ability to recruit businesses to Memphis.” The mayor could not make his return trip across the bridge before the subject of the pending closing of Memphis and Arkansas Bridge for a Tennessee project was also bridged. Guaranty Realty’s Duke Clement used humor and a card trick to poke fun at TDOT and remind Strickland how critical the old bridge traffic is to cities on both sides of the River. TDOT has ignored a construction option forwarded through the West Memphis MPO. “The ‘D’ in TDOT stands for dummies,” said Clement. After the meeting West Memphis Mayor Bill Johnson expressed full appreciation for Memphis. He said when tragedy or crisis has struck West Memphis, that the Bluff City helped its Wonder City neighbor. “We had a petroleum fire here one time,” said Johnson. “We don’t have a foam truck. They sent us two foam trucks to help put out the fire. They also patrolled our streets after our officers were shot. We appreciate that.”

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