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Confederate statue ordinance vote on hold; $60 million carrot extended to Amazon

Memphis City Council members have shelved voting on an ordinance that could result in the immediate removal of the Confederacy-saluting statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park and Jefferson Davis from Fourth Bluff Park.

The plan now is to await the outcome of the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) meeting on Friday, Oct. 13.

During a council day noteworthy for consideration given to several other key items, councilmembers also approved a $60 million incentive package crafted to convince online shopping giant Amazon to set up shop in Memphis.

If Amazon finds the Memphis offer to its liking, the company’s presence here is projected to lure numerous other businesses and bring approximately 50,000 jobs into the picture.

“That item passes, Amazon here we come,” Memphis City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd said before banging his gavel and signaling unanimous approval of the incentive package.

If Amazon sets up shop here – which is estimated to be worth $5 billion – Memphis would reimburse the company $5,000 for every new job created after the first 2,500 with a minimum average salary greater than or equal to $60,000 not counting benefits. A maximum cash limit was set of $50 million over 15 years.

“We wanted to make a bold statement,” Memphis Chief Operating Officer Doug McGowen said. “Fifty million dollars here we believe is a bold statement. …$5,000 per job up to 10,000 jobs.”

To sweeten the pot, Memphis is also offering to put a minimum of $10 million into workforce readiness through the WIN program, the Memphis Area Transit Authority and the Airport Authority.

The approved resolution backs a 20-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from EDGE for the proposed Amazon headquarters, which would be the company’s second. That is paired with the opportunity to seek a state extension of the PILOT to 30 years.

About that statue

The move to delay final consideration of the statue-removing ordinance, which was set for a final reading on Tuesday, came at the recommendation of City Council Attorney Alan Wade. The action, said Wade, would give the state historical commission the chance to “do the right thing.”

The proposed ordinance uses language that would declare the statues public nuisances and open the door for them to be removed or covered up.

The THC sent notification last week that the City of Memphis’ waiver request to move the statue of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest would not be heard at the Oct. 13 meeting because it did not making the agenda in time. The earliest the request could be heard is February 2018, the THC wrote.

The commission is expected to approve new guidelines that dictate waiver applications. Until then, the THC is not adding any waiver requests to agenda meetings.

Mayor Jim Strickland, who wants to weigh all legal options before taking action on the statues, said he intends attend the Oct. 13 meeting. The commission’s administration had moved unilaterally to delay the city’s request, said Strickland, who committed to “make a personal request of the 29 commissioners for them to hear our waiver petition.”

No waiver has yet been submitted to the commission to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis, who was the only president of the Confederate States of America.

In other action, the council:

* Gave committee approval to a resolution designed to beef up benefits for part-time workers employed by the city, including sanitation workers.

* Advanced a move for tax increment funding district for the Binghampton community.

* Voted to OK nearly $1 million in improvements to the Orange Mound Community Center.

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