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VOL. 129 | NO. 58 | Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Heritage Trail Likely to Continue Despite Rejection

By Bill Dries

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The plan to demolish the last large public housing development in Memphis and use the demolition as a catalyst for a larger redevelopment of the surrounding area did not make the final cut with federal housing officials in Washington.

The Wharton administration has demolished Cleaborn Homes as part of the Heritage Trail project but lost a bid to secure a federal grant to demolish neighboring Foote Homes.

(Daily News File Photo)

When the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last week a list of six finalists for the $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant to come, the long-held Memphis plan first known as Triangle Noir and later renamed Heritage Trails wasn’t on the list.

The plans to demolish Foote Homes in South Memphis began during the administration of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and continued under Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who was elected in 2009.

And it easily has been the most controversial of the federally funded transitions of public housing sites into mixed-use, mixed-income developments.

Ken Reardon, the University of Memphis planner hired by the city to oversee a collaborative of neighborhood groups and other area residents and involve them in the planning, spearheaded an effort to save Foote Homes from demolition. And the collaborative became vocal in its criticism of not only the city’s plan there but the transition to mixed-use, mixed-income developments at the other public housing sites.

Meanwhile, the city’s proposal of a large district to capture property tax revenue with a tax increment financing zone drew concern from the groups overseeing smaller zones with the proposed TIF zone that also used incremental property tax revenue funding to finance similar development.

Their concern and, in some cases, opposition forced Wharton to pull the financing proposal for review.

Also part of the Heritage Trail plan is the transition of the neighboring Cleaborn Homes public housing development into the Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing development, which is leasing up.

The city secured federal funding for the demolition of Cleaborn Homes under the old Hope VI federal program that was used in the other transitions of the housing projects.

The Wharton administration probably had some idea that the city wouldn’t make the cut for finalists in the Choice Neighborhoods program, which is the successor to HOPE VI.

In January, Shelby County Schools officials said the city had told them it intends to use some type of tax credit financing in working with private developers to build residential housing on the sites of the former Locke and Georgia Avenue elementary schools. The city’s original plan was to use Choice Neighborhood funding.

The Choice Neighborhood funding was part of the fine print of the option the city had on the Georgia Avenue Elementary property until the school board approved an amendment in January.

Not making the final cut for the $30 million in funding is likely not the end of the Heritage Trail project or of seeking federal funding. Most cities pursuing such federal funding on a continual basis adopt a strategy of consulting with federal decision makers on such grants to examine why their applications fail.

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