South Main Association meeting – once again, incredible progress made

Last night Mike King and I attended the South Main Neighborhood Association as representatives of our brand-new organization, Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis. For the second day in a row we found ourselves getting positive results beyond our wildest expectations. Here are some of the notes I took on the meeting:

– Fresh Air Flicks will be back at the South Main Trolley Tour in June. For those of you not familiar with this, they set up a screen in the empty lot next door to Gestures and show movies outdoors, with popcorn and refreshments available. This month’s movie will be American Graffiti. Afterward, the Minivan Blues Band will be playing at The Warehouse, which is the building behind Earnestine & Hazel’s and across GE Patterson from the Power House.

– This Saturday at the Memphis Farmers’ Market (7 am to 1 pm, corner of Front and GE Patterson) there will be red tomatoes, sweet corn and Japanese eggplant in addition to lots of other produce. The South Main Association will be there selling cookbooks and T-shirts at their booth.

– Soul Knows No Color, a group of Memphis City Schools kids who attend classes at Overton during the summer, will put on a performance at the Orpheum Thursday, June 29. There will be an art auction before the show. I was in the back of the room and couldn’t hear very well, so if anyone has more details on this please let me know. I did hear that there are 165 kids on the waiting list to get into this arts program. When you have kids who WANT to go to school in the summer, that’s a good sign. Kudos to MCS.

– There’s concern that a new development group may be planning to demolish the historic Chisca Hotel at Main and Linden. The Chisca is famous as the location where a DJ first played Elvis’ 1954 hit “That’s All Right Mama” on the radio. A new development group out of Chicago has drawn up a site plan for a Hilton Garden Inn that didn’t have half the Chisca in it. They do have the capability of building their hotel without demolishing the Chisca (they’re being allowed to close off Mulberry to create a continuous piece of land from Main to Second), but we don’t know that they’ve given up on demolition. They’d have to go to the Landmarks Commission to get permission to demolish, but even if they do the City Council could reverse the decision.

– Shelton Clothiers, on the Main Street Mall just north of Peabody Place, will have its first anniversary party from 5-9 pm Friday, June 23. There will be live music, and food from the Majestic. You can sign up at and get an invitation to attend. I’d like to personally ask you all to come out and support Shelton – we talked to the owner for a while last night after the meeting, and he gave Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis his complete support, even offering to set up a meeting for us with Peabody Place security.

– Then my neighbor Paul Morris got up to speak about panhandling. Paul leads the Center City Commission’s Just Say No to Panhandling effort. Below are some notes from his talk.

– The Just Say No effort is divided into three prongs: education, social services, and enforcement. $7000 was raised and half went to education (e.g. the Just Say No signs that are all over downtown), and the other half went to social services.

– The panhandlers and the homeless are two different groups. The true homeless rarely bother anyone and find social services and use them. The people we see panhandling usually have places to live (I heard a great story related to this point that I’ll turn into a separate blog post) and see their panhandling revenue as extra income to spend on drugs and alcohol.

– It takes two to panhandle. If we all say no to panhandlers, they’ll have no reason to be on the streets. You’re saying no to the behavior, not the person. Instead you can redirect your generosity to social services. Social services provide a legitimate reason for us to say no.

– For the third leg, enforcement, Paul’s group has met with Inspector Mhoon of the South Main Substation several times, and has also talked with District Attorney Bill Gibbons about creative ways to enforce laws panhandlers violate (both the panhandling ordinance and other laws).

– One roadblock is that panhandling is a city ordinance. By state law, violations of city ordinances can carry a maximum of a $50 fine and no jail time. Now, there are ways around that. If a panhandler is cited for a $50 violation, he has to show up in court. If he doesn’t, then he can be charged with contempt of court which IS a state charge, and one that can land him in jail. Cops can also look for other state laws to charge panhandlers with – for example, if they touch you, that’s battery, which can send them to jail.

– Paul said that studies in other cities indicate that the #1 solution to the panhandling problem is not arresting people, but a walking police presence. That’s why we MUST push MPD to follow through on their promise from Monday’s meeting to have walking patrols on the streets of downtown.

– Then Paul did something absolutely incredible and fantastic and wonderful. He said, “One thing I’m really excited about is a new organization that just got started to do something positive about crime down here – Paul Ryburn and Mike King are starting a new group called Residents for a Safer Downtown Memphis.” And Mike got to come up and give a 30-second plug for our new organization. THANK YOU PAUL M.! We had no idea he was going to do that.

– Immediately afterward, I saw a woman get Mike’s attention and they went to a back corner of the room to talk. What’s that about, I wondered. Before the end of the meeting, I’d find out.

– Officer James Boyland then took the floor to continue the panhandling discussion. He said that a lot of panhandling violations get dismissed in court – the assistant DA will tell them that those are minor violations that aren’t worth the trouble to prosecute (i.e. they’ll cost more to prosecute than the $50 revenue the fine will bring in). Recently MPD picked up a bum who was cursing at people, disturbing the peace, and generally disturbing the quality of life for residents and tourists downtown – and the DA dropped the charges and he was back on the street. Does anyone know who we should talk to in the DA’s office to complain about the dropping of these charges?

– Someone asked about scalping. Scalping is considered vending inside the downtown historic district, and therefore the scalpers must have a permit if they do business within 300 feet of an area bordered by the river on the west, Third on the east, Mill on the north, and GE Patterson on the south (he wasn’t positive about the south boundary, may be Carolina).

– My good friend Monte Hawes was introduced as the coordinator of South Main’s Neighborhood Watch program. I tracked him down after the meeting and made plans for him to meet with us sometime in the next week.

– Then they announced that next month’s South Main Association meeting will be on July 11, at the Happy Mexican. Margaritas… yum! Then she announced the featured speakers… Kevin Kane of the Convention & Visitors Bureau will be speaking on tourism… and MIKE KING OF RESIDENTS FOR A SAFER DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS will be speaking about community involvement to fight crime! That’s why Mike got pulled aside earlier in the meeting… to get put on next month’s agenda. I was stunned when I heard the news. This organization has been around for less than a week and we already have a speaking engagement in front of one of downtown’s most important groups.

– After the meeting, it took us an hour to get out of there. People kept coming up to us, wanting to talk. Everyone was offering their support. Real estate agents and developers were asking what they could do to help – just having them on board is quite a bit of help, and I’m thrilled that they see that this is to their long-term benefit. Business owners were offering meeting space, contacts – even money. Which brings me to a question… right now, I’m guessing we can’t accept their money, as the IRS would look upon it as personal income. What do we need to do to file for nonprofit status? When I was on Mpact’s board I remember seeing their 501(c)(3) paperwork, but I never actually had to deal with any of it. If you’ve been through this and know what we should do, e-mail us at

– I’m working furiously to pull a website together for the organization, since Mike told everyone it would be up in 48 hours. I have the site’s front page done and at this point am just waiting for the server settings to take effect so I can transfer the files up. As soon as all that’s done, all official communication will go through that site, and this will go back to being my personal blog.

That’s all for now. Look for an official announcement of the new site in the next day or two.