Behind the Headlines – July 19, 2019

Behind the Headlines – July 19, 2019


– (female announcer)
Production Fund for Behind the Headlines
is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – Memphis tourism approaches
a million people per month, tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes with The Daily
Memphian, thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Kevin Kane, President, CEO, Memphis Tourism. Thanks for being here. – I’m glad to be here. – Along with Bill Dries,
reporter with The Daily Memphian. So it did come out recently, I think you guys had
an annual meeting maybe that the average
tourist per month is approaching one million I think it’s right around
one million a month, right at 11.8 million. That’s up a bit from
last year I think. – It’s up 7% over
the last two years. – (Eric)
Why is it increasing? – It’s a great destination,
people wanna come here. Memphis and Shelby County
has a lot to offer, in spite of all our challenges that we deal with
day in day out. – (Eric)
Which we’ll talk about, yeah. – You know, it’s a fun
city, it’s a great place. It’s got a lot of unique,
one of a kind amenities and we’ve invested in
World Class attractions and they pay off, they’re
attracting people literally from all over the world. And of course, our music legacy, you can’t underestimate
the value of that and the draw and the appeal
that that makes to people and give another reason
for people wanna come. – Yeah, I think
you had some stats that 60% or 70% of the
people who are coming, it’s somehow music related. Is that right? – Absolutely. I mean, you have a look at
all of our music attractions from Graceland and Sun Studio,
to STAX, to Beale Street, I mean, you go on and on. There are festivals
that are music centered, and of course, music is
a universal language. You know Elvis, B.B.,
Justin Timberlake, Al Capone it doesn’t matter
pick your poison. They all have an audience
that transcends this region and transcends this country. – There’s been a lot
of controversy around, yeah, I would say a lot for
many people around Graceland and whether or not they
would build this arena and they would get
some city incentives City County incentives for
this next phase of development, which just was settled in
the last couple of weeks. But and we had Joel Weinshanker, the President of
the holding company over Elvis Presley
Holdings on recently. And whatever you think
of Joel and the way maybe he’s handled this or whatever
you think of city incentives, the fact is a whole lot
of money has been invested in that whole Graceland Complex and a whole lot more is
about to be invested. Did you all see that, is that… I mean, if you kinda step
back from the politics of it and the feud between the
Grizzlies in the city and Joel and all the kind
of personal stuff. Their investment
in that area has that driven more
tourism as well? – No doubt about it. Now, their numbers are still
in the 650 to 700,000 range, I think Joel’s goal is to get that up to a million
visitors plus a year. And I think they will get there. And of course, if they
do that’s just music to city of Memphis and
Shelby county’s ears because you had
300,000 pure tourists and yeah, I gotta clarify that. I mean, the zoo attracts
over a million people and the zoo is a world class
zoo and a tremendous amenity, but probably 60 plus percent
of the visitors to the zoo are Memphians, are us,
we go to the zoo, and Graceland about 98%
of the people go out there are from out of town. Those numbers really are
almost all out of town tourists that are gonna
spend money all over the city – (Eric)
Bill. – So, if the
Graceland visitor base starts to grow from
all of this activity, which has happened
really, really rapidly, we should point
out the guest house and the Elvis Presley’s
Memphis Complex. What does tourism
start to look like if Graceland numbers
start to go up and you have a tourism
base that’s going broader in effect, they’re going
to Whitehaven, they’re going to downtown
they’re going to South Memphis. – Well, first of all we
have tourism amenities from Collierville to Millington, throughout all Shelby
County and beyond. Tunica, Mississippi, now
Crittendon County, Arkansas so there’s, there are
reasons for visitors to visit almost every
neighborhood, almost every part of our county and region. What’s happening in Graceland with the beautiful
new larger hotel, and the additional amenities
now that they offer out there, and they really
upped their game too. It’s a much higher quality,
no disrespect to the past, but they’ve really stepped up
and things are nicer, more modern,
more diverse activities to take advantage of. They’re keeping their
customer there longer. Whereas before their customer
would do the mansion tour, they might do a few
things across the street and then they’d head to
other parts of the city. Now they’re still going
other parts of the city but they have done a good job
of adding enough amenities that are keeping the Graceland
visitor on their campus longer, which I think
is good for Whitehaven. It’s good for
obviously for that area and I think you’re
seeing other upgrades to that part of
our city as well. – What about transportation? Is our transportation
for tourists and for us, our public
transportation. Is it in line to meet
the demand that you see? – I would have said for
internationals probably challenged because taxis and
buses were not as easily I think Uber and
Lyft have completely, transformed the
transportation game because what happens now
when you have a lot of people wanting to go from
point A to point B, it’s almost like
a instant lever, all of a sudden there’s more
ways to get them there and very efficient, very economical
ways to get them there. So, we don’t hear
transportation as a problem, as much as we might have
had complaints in the past. Usually the complaints were
not from domestic tourists, they were from
international tourists. They couldn’t walk there then
how are they gonna get there because most of them
didn’t rent cars. It’s just a different world now, the same thing with
the hotel industry with AirBnBs and we get
close to 1000 AirBnB, rooms in the market now, so you know that
there’s never a reason for Memphis to be sold out. – For AirBnBs a lot of
the tourists are spending the promotion that
you all done comes off I’m right in saying a portion
of the hotel/motel tax, right, a portion
of the hotel/motel tax– – Don’t worry they’re
paying the tax. [Kevin laughs] – I gonna ask exactly
where it’s going, they are? – Yeah, they are. AirBnB is a company. They wanted to be part of
the hospitality industry and I was at a national
conference where their CEO spoke two years ago and he said,
Listen, we’re all for paying the lodging
fees and the taxes that hotels are
required to charge. We’re not fighting that at
all and they don’t fight they make it very
easy to collect that and they make it very easy
for their AirBnB host. It’s effortless on a host part. They don’t have to sit there
and calculate taxes and fees, it’s all done, it’s
all done by AirBnB. – Wait, wait, we
mentioned hotels. There’s a whole ton of
hotel development going on. – Is there ever.
– Yeah, and so everything from and I remember actually
you being on the show, one of the last times
you’re on the show, but a couple years ago, you
had expressed some concern you said there’s
publicly about, elsewhere about too many small hotels. Small hotels are great,
boutique hotels are great, but we need another big
Convention Center Hotel 400, 500, 600 room. Now we’ve got what I
mean five or six or seven boutique small to
medium sized hotels at least under construction
I think right now. – Right. – A number that have been built since the last time
you’re on the show. And this proposal and
a letter of intent signed with Loews,
to do a 450 room massive Convention Center hotel. Do you all take and there’s
a political fight there and there’s a lawsuit there and with the other owner who
had the 100 North Main Building and people have
probably read about that hopefully in our paper, where do you Where
do you all stand on what’s best from a pure
tourism point of view? – Well, the Loews has
signed a letter of intent. We are moving forward with them we we meet with them
on a regular basis. They are spending real money they’re well into probably over
a million and a half dollars of their own cash doing
their you know, their surveys and their architectural, and their site borings
and things like that on the location that
we’re looking at there and Government Plaza
as you all know. We desperately need another
big full service hotel a lots of meeting space
to complement the Peabody. And in the Hilton out east, and I think in now the
guest house at Graceland and we need one near
the Convention Center. And I think the Loews
is the answer to that. I feel that it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be, the biggest
beneficiary of the Loews will be the Sheraton
and the Peabody, because I think big
hotels help big hotels. – Why is that? – Well, because it allows us to go after bigger
pieces of business, that require room
blocks in fewer hotels. So we will instead of
being able to go after– – Break that way down. ‘Cause for people who don’t
maybe go to convention, I’m in, you know,
Press Association, I’ll go to, lots of people do a
lot of people don’t. So when you talk about
a room block, what– – Well, a room block is, let’s say there’s 500
people going to Memphis, coming to Memphis
for a convention. And typically, if
there’s 500 people, we may get 300 rooms or
400 rooms out of Sheraton, and we may get 30 or 40
rooms out of the Peabody because they have their own
large amount of meeting space, so they’re kind of
their own in house group group business facility
in their own right. And then we’re getting
20 here and 15 there because all these hotels
are only 100, 150, 180 rooms in size, so for a meeting
planner, they wanna go where they can have most of
their people in one hotel or two hotels or in as few
properties as possible. So for large groups 1000,
1500 that’s why we lost COGIC. We lost COGIC years ago, I mean,they didn’t really
outgrow the Convention Center. They outgrew the hotel capacity, their folks were
scattered in hotels, all throughout Shelby County. Now they also outgrew
the Convention Center and they needed an indoor
place that could hold 30-plus thousand people. And when you get
to that situation, you almost got to be in a place that has a dome football
stadium or dome baseball stadium and get those those
kind of seats. So a room block
usually is a challenge and is the more people
more demand you have and people want to be in
as few hotels as possible, it just becomes a challenge if you don’t have a large hotel, so Loews is gonna
help remedy that. – Is there room in the city for a second new large
convention center? – I think so, I think so. – You would say let’s
get one 450, one done– – It would be fine with
me, if Loews built 550 rooms and 100 North Main
built 400 rooms or 450. I mean, I think we could, I think obviously those things
will cause short-term pain for hotel occupancies,
but long-term it will help grow the market. – Because of that scattering
of all those people, they’ll all get concentrated
into the Loews building. – Now let me say, right now we got 2000 hotel
rooms under development, the Carlisle project just
they got their financing, just finalized here
recently so the Hyatt Centric it’s gonna go on, it’s
gonna absolutely happen at the foot of Beale
Street and Riverside Drive. You’ve got the Wilson property,
the other Hilton product is gonna be at
the train station. You got the old
benchmark that eyesore that you know, at
Third and Union now that is now a
beautiful new hotel is going up there,
the Hilton Garden Inn just recently opened. The old Howard Johnson’s
on Third Street which was very
tired and depressed has now been totally gutted out and just reopened as
a Holiday Inn Indigo a very nice boutique products. And then you got the Napoleon with the old
Scimitar building, and it’s 54 rooms,
but we have basically and even the Holiday Inn
across in the Peabody has had a total, total floor
to ceiling renovation. So, we have transposed
our product, the Madison now is the Hu, they completely
renovated that property. So the Peabody is constantly
doing things to their hotel. So you know our hotel product
has never been stronger. And even though yes,
we still have a lot of what I would call
boutique or smaller, limited service hotels,
they’re all nice. And that’s a real
advantage for us. – Bill. – So the convention
center hotel question is in litigation on
several levels here. But is there a possibility
that out of this does come a hotel development
plan for 100 North Main, as well as the Loews? – I think that’s certainly in the realm of possibility. I think that and I think, I think eventually you’ll
see the Sheraton Hotel, those owners will invest
and make their hotel even nicer and more competitive. I think as I look into
the hotel stratosphere, I think Memphis’ future,
whether it’s downtown or even other parts
of the cities, Joel was talking about
Joel and Graceland. He’s wanting to add another
150 rooms to their hotel and take that property
up to 600 rooms. So, I think our hotel future
is very bright right now. And I think that, you know,
the lawsuits, all these things I think they’ll all
sort themselves out. – And as this is
happening in court, there is construction
underway in the area. Convention center renovation
is underway as we speak. And there have been several
tours through the area. Any surprises? They’re always surprises
on construction projects but any surprises or was
everything pretty mapped out in the long road to get there? – There was a lot
of pre-planning a lot of great work
went on the front end. As you know, our first
set of plans came back we put it out for bid the numbers were more
than what we could digest we had to put it,
we had to kinda I don’t want to
say value engineer but we did have
to value engineer and put it out
for re-bid again. We’re gonna get a first class transformative
Convention Center. We are now 35%
into this project, and we’re 14 months away
from having it complete, and it’s a total inside
and out transformation. I don’t even call
it a renovation, I call it transformation
most Memphians will not even recognize the building
even when they drive by it when this is finished. – Most Memphians
will probably be glad because when you drive by
that really tired, yellow. – Tired municipal building.
– Yeah, right. – And the Cannon Center, which is a much nicer
looking building, this is gonna look great,
like the Cannon Center. So, yeah, we’re really excited. We’re on time and
we’re on budget and it’s very important for us
to be on time and on budget. But the on time part because we have not
closed the building, there are still groups
are meeting there. So certain things have to
be done at certain times to make sure that we are able to accommodate people
that are meeting there. – And it’s, you may have said
this, $200 million and I think we showed some
renderings of where it’s going. It is not the, the
Convention Center at Nashville that some people have
either seen or maybe they’ve
just read about, that was about a billion
dollar convention. – It was $685 million not counting the hotel next door and obviously if you
rebuilt that facility today, it would be over well
over a billion dollars. – This is, the Memphis
one does not put it in that class or
all these sort of tiers– – It doesn’t put it
in that size. I think as far as being nice, this building is
gonna be just as nice, it won’t be as large. I mean when they built their new
Convention Center, it’s four times the size of the
Cook Convention Center and– – Did you all
contemplate that, do studies– – We did contemplate, we contemplated tearing
the whole thing down and starting over. And what we when we did
the research what we found that the convention
center built 1974, had great bones and had
great big open spans, you have, you know, have
column free exhibit hall, which is kind of unusual
hundred 25,000 square feet of column free space
on the second floor, which is very unusual. We just had a lot of
deficiencies in the market that the industry had changed. We didn’t have a lot of
breakout meeting rooms our meeting room’s ceilings
were low and columns in there, which most meeting rooms today
need a lot of audio visual technology capabilities
that we didn’t have. So, in Convention Centers
of the 21st century are hotel quality and that
building was not hotel quality, nice hotel quality. – Again, for people
who don’t necessarily go to a whole lot of conventions
you might sort of picture there’s a car
convention or something you need a big open space with a bunch of cars
and that’s a convention. – Yes.
– But that’s not really it. A lot of times there’s
a big meeting space and the breakouts,
you’re talking about might be size rooms
for 20 to 100 people. – Breakout rooms
are in some cases more important than the big
open space in the main hall. – And one of the things
you’ve talked about and I think people could
see it in the renderings is y’all are wrapping the
existing building in a way with glassed-in spaces. So there will be actual views– – In the ’70s and ’80s,
in the past municipal buildings like
that were dark, enclosed, they didn’t really take in the
ambiance of the surroundings. We have completely
flipped that script. And now it’s all glass
on the whole Western side beautiful floor-to-ceiling, 25 foot concourses that
overlooked the bridge, the mighty bridge lights,
the Bass Pro pyramid, the Mississippi River part
of the downtown skyline, it’s transformative and
it’s gonna make the building much more enjoyable and most certainly
much more aesthetically pleasing to be inside. – And quickly,
it is paid for how, and then we’ll go
back to Bill. – Tourism Development Zone
and hotel/motel taxes. Not one penny, of citizens of
Memphis and Shelby County’s property tax dollars are
going into this facility. And that’s a real
bonus for all of us. – Bill. – So how does the northern end of the convention center segue
into that nine block area that’s also under redevelopment between the pyramid and
the St. Jude campus? – Well, you know, obviously there’s some very
ambitious plans about what’s gonna happen in
the Pinch district and as you go towards
the east toward St. Jude once you get into the
Pinch district. First of all we are, if
you look at the underpass coming under Front Street, that the convention center
now spans over there that gets completely reworked. The expressway overpasses there, coming off the
Hernando de Soto Bridge, the downtown commission
and urban art is gonna completely
enhance and beautify and make that much more inviting
to even walk under those those overpasses as a gateway into the Pinch and
over towards St. Jude. And some of the Pinch
stuff is still obviously there’s a new developer that has bought a
lot of real estate. He’s got some very
ambitious plans. I have not seen all of the plans of what he plans to do there but rest assured it’s
gonna be greatly improved and greatly enhanced and we’re gonna have more
people in the building that’s gonna be able to serve whatever amenities
go over there. So I think it’s all
gonna work together. – Number of small but… Well, one thing
equally as important that’s going on right now. You are a board member of the Memphis River Parks
Partnership, formerly the RDC. You’re also a former board
member of Memphis in May. – Yes. – Memphis in May huge
driver of tourism. – No question. – Where do you
stand in this fight? There’s no other
way to talk about it about the future
of Tom Lee Park. And can, I guess the
fundamental question, can the Music Fest the BBQ fest
and a redesign park coexist? – I think that both sides will have to
compromise obviously. Judge Holder has been
brought in as a mediator. There’s rumors that she’s
not a mediator anymore that is not true she is still
involved in this process. I think that both sides
will come to agreements that will be a win win. You know we met with Pitt
Hyde and Theresa Sloyan from the Hyde Foundation who
obviously are big supporters of improving Tom Lee Park and you know Pitt has
saved Memphis in May from bankruptcy twice
in the last 30 years or in the early years. I mean, through AutoZone
and the Hyde Foundation. There’s nobody wants to see
Memphis in May diminish. I certainly don’t want to
see Memphis in May diminish because the month of the month
of May is our busiest month. – What about moving it though,
which has been floated? – I don’t think it’ll be moved. I think that, I’m
hoping even that when they’re in heavy construction, which certainly doesn’t
look like they’re gonna things have kind of
dragged along now where I don’t even
think next summer is gonna be a problem
from Memphis in May, now the summer after that, could be some challenges
depending on they are in the construction or
whatever improvements that are gonna ultimately
happen at Tom Lee park. But I’m very optimistic for
a win win for everybody. I think everybody wants to see all of our parks, all of
our green spaces enhanced as much as they possibly can be. But in the case of Tom Lee
Park, it does provide a critical venue site for a festival
that brings people here from all over the world and
has a tremendous amount of impact in our community. And I don’t think anybody
wants to see that damaged. – You mentioned parks
and green spaces over the last 10, 15 years
started with the green line and then the massive
redevelopment Shelby Farms and the Wolf River Greenway. Do these parks, I think people in Memphis like, love
totally love what’s happened but do they also drive tourism? – Absolutely. We are a huge outdoor
recreational destination now and I don’t think we
had that reputation, 5, 10, 15 years ago. The 130-plus miles
of biking and jogging and walking trails
with the green line and of course
through downtown now and of course the
great river crossing over the bridge
over to Arkansas. I mean, it’s transformative. I think RCAA which is an
acronym for some runners, Club of America
Association of America. They just named Memphis
as one of the, Memphis and Shelby County as one of
the top places in the country to cycle and to run. In addition to that– – 5 years ago, we
were one of the worst. – Possibly. Coincidentally, we’re
working very close with Iron Man and I think
we’re gonna have some type of an Iron Man presence,
which is very, they only go to destinations–
– (Eric) Triathlons, yeah. – Yeah, great triathlons,
biking, swimming, running. And so, I think our
future is very bright with outdoor recreation and outdoor recreation
means more tourists because it does attract
a visitor economy. – Bill. – Kevin and in the long time
that you’ve been doing this are tourist different
than they were when you started this job? And are Memphians different
about our attitude toward tourism, because I think
when I was growing up, and the idea of people
coming here to visit was kind of an alien
notion to them. It’s like why would
you want to do that? So are we different and
and are tourists different than when you started? – Well, tourism is a
huge economic engine for Memphis and Shelby County. It supports over 50,000 jobs, provides hundreds of
millions of dollars of outside tax revenue that helps our roads,
our schools, everything. So tourism is
important, number one. Number two, as we said at
the beginning of the show, we’re now at close to 12 million or basically about a
million visitors a month. They come here for
all types of reasons. I think Memphians
attitudes towards tourism is very positive, obviously
because everybody knows somebody who works
in the industry. And so, and I think
that tourism amenities help the quality of life aspects
of all of us as Memphians. A lot of these tourism assets, whereas a lot of Memphians may
say I never go to Graceland. But you know, a lot of
Memphians go to Shelby Farms and Shelby Farms is a great
attractor for our community. And the Brooks Museum
that’s gonna be relocated to Downtown Memphis on on the
banks of the Mississippi River at Union and Front Street,
gonna be a tremendous tourism amenity, but also
a great local amenity for our citizens. And you could go on and on
with all of our amenities. I think Memphians are very
positive about tourism. And I think most
Memphians recognize that it is something that
really drives our economy. – Let me go just
we could talk about a number of these things, but
just a minute and a half left. How much does the crime
problem hurt tourism? And people go to the web,
if you search Memphis, you search Memphis,
you get a lot of– – We don’t sugarcoat it. I mean, obviously
every tragic situation is something that we
take very seriously and we work very closely
with our elected officials and our law
enforcement officials, both Police Department
Sheriff’s Department. You know, from a
tourism perspective, people have to be
careful wherever they go, they have to be looking
over their shoulder, they just need to be aware. And we we certainly talk
about that at hotels and our visitors that come here. But if you look at
the zip code analysis, most of our highly
visited tourism areas are pretty safe areas. And that’s not to say that bad things don’t
happen to good people in traditionally safe places because we all
know that they do. But, you know, we
take it serious. It is something that we monitor but, you know, on
a national level, we don’t really seem to
be getting a lot of hits where people are saying, I’m not going there
because of that. – Very briefly, fairgrounds
project is moving, we had Paul Young from
the city on last week, that part of that is it is
a youth sports facility– – Be a great
addition to the city. You know, that complex will
a lot of those activities that are taking place
in the Convention Center and other places. It will give us a central
location for that. We’re very excited about that. – All right.
We will leave it there. Thank you for being here Kevin.
– Thank you. – Thank you, Bill.
Thank you all for joining us. Join us again, next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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