City Council talks murals, Kroger and Delta Airlines

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A pressing question for many in South Memphis is “What’s next?” after two Kroger stores closed up shop. The path to an answer to that question wound through the Memphis City Council on Tuesday.

Council members took up that the question during a meeting day that also saw them address the moratorium on murals and an invitation to Delta Airlines to consider Memphis as a hub.

Councilman Edmund Ford was able to have his colleagues approve an $18,500 allowance to conduct a study on how to attract potential grocers to fill a now desperate need in South Memphis. The absence of the Kroger stores on South Third St. and Lamar Ave. now forces people who stay within walking distance of the former stores to make extra sacrifices to pick up groceries.

“I’m sure my constituents don’t want citizens to starve,” Ford told The New Tri-State Defender.

Many of the residents in that area rely on public transportation, which has challenges of its own. The nearest Kroger is the newly opened location on Union Ave. in Midtown Memphis – a daunting journey for many.

Rhonnie Brewer, with consulting firm Socially Twisted, will provide market research, such as sales numbers, to grocers to prove to them the savvy business decision of setting up shop in those areas. Brewer, who will be partnering with Uplift Solutions for the survey, said there are local, regional and national chains her firm is targeting – although she was not at liberty to disclose at the time.

The goal is to have a grocer in the vacant buildings by April 1 to meet voucher licensing requirements for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program. The state of Tennessee is switching to an all-electronic system and if the deadline is missed, the city will have to wait another year. That, said Ford, is time that his constituents “can’t afford to lose.”

“This is a need in these two communities, so let’s just go ahead and get it done,” Ford said.

A community meeting hosted by Ford is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday (March 8) at Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Joubert Street. The agenda includes talking about the process of bringing an affordable – and possibly black-owned grocery – to the area.

Back to murals

The issue of unsightly murals, which had been delayed earlier, was next on the council’s agenda. Should they stay or should they go? An ordinance proposed by Chairman Berlin Boyd could give the city the permission it needs to cover more murals, including ones the city deems offensive.

This includes two murals on Lamar and South Willet created by the local group Paint Memphis. One depicts a greyish zombie moving about; the other a giant picture of Elvis, with a snake coming through his nose.

City council members chided Paint Memphis during their Feb. 20 meeting for a perceived lack of honesty by the group as plans were shared with residents, some of whom have expressed considerable displeasure with the artwork.

“We’re first going to have to combat the murals that are city property,” Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen said. “We’re going to do that by having them removed – but in addition to having them removed, we’re going to have an immediate replacement.”

Paint Memphis leader Karen Golightly received heavy criticism from council members, too, with some saying she was out of touch, questioning if she would paint the questionable art in Germantown or Bartlett – both predominantly white neighborhoods.

For now, a 120-day moratorium of public art is in place, meaning no new art can come up or down as the city council hashes this out.

Courting Delta

Finally, there was the issue of bringing in Delta Airlines’ business after the company’s decision to distance itself from the National Rifle Association following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla. (Feb. 14), which left 17 dead.

Delta’s choice pushed Georgia lawmakers to remove a jet fuel tax break from consideration in an income tax bill, costing the company $40 million.

Other cities made an appeal for Delta to relocate, but Delta’s CEO later indicated the company is committed to being headquartered in Atlanta. City council members said they hope the airline will consider setting up a larger presence in Memphis as a symbolic gesture.

“It’s a long shot but we’re just throwing it out there,” Boyd said when questioned by The New Tri-State Defender on the possibility of success.

“Who knows, it’s just like the hot girl you want; you don’t know if you can get her unless you try.”