If anyone thinks there is a cabal in local government, Alan Crone tells this story on himself.
He had been asked about updating the Convention Center. “I had said I didn’t much happening. I didn’t see the political will for getting it fixed,” Crone told members of the Midtown Republican Club at Tuesday’s meeting. “I got back in my office and Kevin Kane (president and CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau) called me and said he was looking at $60 million for the Convention Center. So there you go,” he said.
As a temporary member of the Memphis City Council, Crone said he knew the Convention Center was in disrepair and that we had lost conventions such as COGIC to other cities. Even Fed Ex, he said, had to pour in $100,000 just to make it acceptable to have their meeting here. “We need to get in the ball game,” Crone said. “Nashville spent at least a half a billion on their new center. As a city, we want to be compared to Nashville and Jackson, not Tupelo.
“Tiles are falling off our Convention Center and we’re in danger of losing more conventions. The hotel and restaurant association has been talking about this for 9 months. Kevin Kane said a tax on hotel rooms won’t scare business away. Our hotel rates are cheap. We’re not looking at gold plating the convention center, but fixing it. Taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill either.”
Crone cautioned that whatever comes about, “be careful in your math at looking at it.”
As for other issues the city faces, “there are simple solutions, but how we get there isn’t. We’ve got to arrest the declining population in the city. People have gone to north Mississippi and Fayette County. Our young people are leaving, too,” he said.
The solution lies in more citizens. “We have to have more people. We have to hold the line on taxes. I don’t see a tax cut coming.” Surprisingly, he said that “Everybody on the City Council would like to reduce taxes. That’s why they chose to make the cuts in benefits instead. It would be disastrous to raise the property tax one penny,” he added.
One thing he’s discovered from being on the Council is “I’ve been amazed at how impenetrable the city government is to the City Council.” Crone said it is hard to get information from anyone. “We need a new mayor,” he said. “Jim Strickland and Harold Collins have been on the Council and they would provide the most transparent government of all the candidates,” he thinks. Crone added he is supporting Strickland.
“The current administration is very reactionary. They wait for you to come to them” before doing anything. Crone finds there is a lack of leadership and vision. “We need to look at other cities and find out what they are doing right.”
One encouraging sign Crone has seen is the business community has begun to be “less parochial in politics and started planning things together.” He took, for example, the Roo bus that connects visitors to Cooper Young and Overton Square. “It’s been very successful. If we waited for the city to do something about it rides would be $10, they would start at the river before going to Overton Square. That model of businesses getting together to solve a problem is the solution to get us out of our problems,” Crone said.
Crone doesn’t feel that the City Council has much power. He referred to the Crump years when the mayor was boss. It set a precedent. Under Herenton, the bureaucracy grew tremendously; something Wharton has followed, too. “We need leadership to hold feet to the fire when a project comes up and to make sure the economic impact is worthwhile.
“We also have to get hold of crime and blight. We have to start building a perception – and reality – that it’s safe to live here.”