What began as a plan last year for $1.5 million in city funding to fix the roof and make other repairs at Whitehaven’s Southbrook Mall has now become a larger and probably more expensive plan for development in a broad area of Whitehaven.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. plans to unveil the plan at Feb. 18 Memphis City Council committee sessions.
“It’s a fully comprehensive plan,” Wharton told several dozen Whitehaven citizens at the start of a town hall meeting Thursday, Feb. 6, at Middle Baptist Church.
“It covers much more than Southbrook Mall,” he added. “We want to make sure that it’s not just us going in there and fixing a building. We want to make sure that it fits in with the broader plans – the aerotropolis plan, the Whitehaven development plan.”
Like other redevelopment projects in the city’s hopper, beyond the plan unveiling is seeking federal and state government funding, but no general fund city financing for the project.
“We want to be able to say that we are doing this because this is part of an entire plan and not just fixing up one building,” Wharton said.
Meanwhile, the council could get a briefing in the same committee sessions on the Wharton administration’s plan for Raleigh Springs Mall. The administration delayed presenting that mall plan during Feb. 4 committee sessions.
The Raleigh project would be open to private retail and residential development. But it would start with moving the Memphis Police traffic precinct, the police precinct now on Old Allen Road, a library branch and some other city government facilities to the footprint of the mall.
During Mayor Willie Herenton’s tenure, the city bought the site of a supermarket on a different corner of the intersection of Austin Peay Highway and Yale Road. The administration’s original intent was to relocate the city’s information technology functions there. Later, that plan changed to using the site for a new police traffic precinct.
Although Wharton didn’t reveal any details of what is coming in terms of the Southbrook Mall plan, the administration has in the past talked of possibly moving the Whitehaven police precinct on Raines Road there, along with other city government functions in the Whitehaven area, including possibly a library branch.
Whitehaven already has two comprehensive planning efforts and projects underway. The aerotropolis plan would create a hub of commercial and industrial activity and future development with Memphis International Airport at the center.
Also underway is a state and federally funded remake of the Elvis Presley Boulevard streetscape for the retail corridor stretch from Brooks Road on the north to Shelby Drive on the south, and including Graceland. The streetscape also takes in the boulevard that runs by both Southbrook Mall and neighboring Southland Mall.
The council’s original proposal for Southbrook, pursued by council member Janis Fullilove, was to use leftover federal funding from the Elvis Presley Boulevard streetscape project to pay for the Southbrook Mall renovations.
But there were legal barriers to that because the mall renovations would have been considered a private use of the funding. Using it for mall renovations could have endangered not only the $1.5 million, but also millions more in federal funding for the larger streetscape project.
That’s when Wharton weighed in and called for a broader redevelopment plan.
One or both of the mall plans would show up in committee sessions next week as the council and administration continue to discuss hard budget decisions for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 to meet the challenge of the city’s unfunded pension liability – estimated by Wharton’s administration at $700 million.