City Officials Eye New Sites for Redevelopment

By Andy Meek

GETTING ATTENTION: Various groups have their eyes on the East-
view neighborhood as an area for potential redevelopment. -- Photograph By Andy Meek

Following the decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last month in property rights case Kelo v. City of New London, speculation in Memphis quickly turned to the decision's impact on riverfront development and other targeted areas Downtown.

But Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton recently suggested the court's ruling has added a device to the city's redevelopment toolbox that can be used in other areas. The Memphis City Council already has discussed one of them: Uptown, a redevelopment project on the north end of Downtown where property owners have lately pleaded with council members to step in, saying they've felt pressure to sell their property.

Redevelopment potential. At the council's last Housing & Community Development committee meeting, HCD director Robert Lipscomb said about 176 properties in the Uptown area are slated to be acquired by the Memphis Housing Authority, and 66 have already been obtained or will be soon. He said the city often has to use condemnation and eminent domain to encourage development in blighted areas - but he added the city isn't taking any properties that are currently occupied.

Lipscomb also noted that Uptown is far from the only area of focus in the city's redevelopment program.

"Most cities never tackle inner-city redevelopment for a reason," Lipscomb said. "We're also dealing with other neighborhoods, and Uptown is only a small part of what we're trying to do with all of the inner city."

Eastview. Council members gave a brief mention to Eastview, a blighted neighborhood located across from East High School that is bounded roughly by Holmes Road to the east, Walnut Grove Road to the south and Tillman Street to the west. The community is dominated by single-family housing sprinkled with abandoned homes and trash-strewn lots - and it could soon see the same level of attention as Uptown because of its place in the city's redevelopment program and its potential for use of eminent domain.

Age of Eastview buildings:
Built 1946: 9 buildings
Built 1948: 55 buildings
Built 1949: 2 buildings
Built 1950: 31 buildings
Unknown: 14 buildings
Source: Shelby County Assessor's 2000 roll

In Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that governments can use eminent domain to seize property to make room for private development. Jim Latta, president of the Waynoka Area Neighborhood Association, said eminent domain is among the legal issues that remain to be discussed prior to redevelopment of Eastview, which is located near Latta's neighborhood.

Dealing with blight. Latta said he is in the process of meeting with reps from a Binghamton neighborhood association to promote bringing much-needed help to Eastview.

"I'm in the process of contacting them to see what we can do to make an impact there," he said. "I think that blight, crime and safety issues and the well-being of people that are housed there are all causes for concern. In Eastview, some of the homes are in complete abandonment, some occupied, some worked on, so it's a very mixed bag. There's trash, garbage and refuse thrown out of some of the homes and plastic over some of the windows. So that's where the concern has come from."

Mairi Albertson, HCD administrator of planning and development, said the city is working on an acquisition strategy for the neighborhood.

"And it's to see how feasible it would be for us to acquire everything there in Eastview," she said. "Our plan, I believe, would be to issue a request for proposals for redevelopment on the site."

Prime location. Planning officials have cast a watchful eye to Eastview for several years. Gene Pearson, director of the University of Memphis graduate program in city and regional planning, said various developers have wanted to tear down and remake the neighborhood.

He said its prime location - across from East High School and near the Central Library - is the reason for the city's strong interest in the property.

"The city has had an interest in seeing that area revitalized, partly because those duplexes in Eastview had declined somewhat in recent years," Pearson said. "So the city has had an interest, the private sector has had an interest, but it is a situation where to assemble the land is a difficult thing. That's why there has been some discussion about the use of eminent domain by the city.

"Now I've noticed in just riding by Eastview that some of the units are being improved, with paint and repairs and so forth. And this is often a sign of a property owner trying to jack up the price if he thinks that the city is going to want to buy it from him."

On the agenda. The City Council's Housing and Community Development committee meeting ended with a handshake between Lipscomb and James Sneed, a Millington resident who is refusing to sell the Uptown property he is renovating for his son. But Latta said a resolution for Eastview would be a little more complex.

He is planning to discuss redevelopment of the neighborhood at a fall meeting and is working to bring other partners on board.

"I'm going to hold a meeting this fall and it will be on the agenda, so we can see what the common view we might have is," Latta said. "I'm also going to talk to the principal at East High School and sit down with (city library system director) Judith Drescher and talk about her view. There are also business owners in the area I need to meet with.

"Really, any project and redevelopment like this needs to be a community effort. It needs to be cooperation between the government and the public."