Herenton off convention committee, but work will continue

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton
Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has stepped away from a committee examining the feasibility of a new convention center in Memphis, but the committee's work will continue.

Thursday, noting the progress downtown Memphis has made during his 17 years in office, Mayor Herenton blamed the media for negative attention the Convention Center Feasibility Committee has received before bowing out of the committee.

The committee, a group of business and community leaders tasked with looking at the possibility of building a new convention center or expanding the current one, has been meeting monthly since January.  Earlier this week, a statement from Herenton's office said the mayor was dissolving the committee altogether.

Thursday, Herenton blamed his departure on the media, saying negative spin and innuendos about the business of the committee tainted the process.

"They think we contrive this from some smoke-filled back room," Herenton said.  "I don't know, but anyway, I just want to extricate Willie Herenton - the lightning rod - from this process."

Once Herenton took himself out of the process, the committee voted to continue their work.

"As a committee, we were not a part of the politics," committee chair Lee Jackson said.  "Our committee met, and we had deliberations, and we discussed the future."

Jackson said members were in strong agreement about their mission, and learning from past convention center expansions.  The Memphis Cook Convention Center, expanded six years ago, was finished late and over budget.

"One of the things we've wanted to do is learn our lesson from the expansion and that has been part of the process," he said.

Committee member Jeff Sanford said there had been no influence from Herenton's office over the project.

"If the outcome is pre-determined, you don't need me on the committee, and I'm sure everyone around this table feels the same way," he said.

Jackson said the committee has not discussed a location, and hasn't met with builders, but will continue to study the idea of a new convention center in Memphis.