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VOL. 116 | NO. 185 | Tuesday, September 24, 2002

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By Stacey Wiedower

Home, business owners give new Sam Cooper mixed reviews


The Daily News

With businesses experiencing a downturn and traffic patterns changing since the Sam Cooper Boulevard extension opened several weeks ago, home and business owners in the area nervously await the long-range effects of the new thoroughfare.

So far, expectations are varied. But, some inhabitants of the area are taking a proactive approach to ensure the changes have a positive effect on the neighborhood.

Were trying to stabilize the neighborhood, said homeowner Gray Clawson, who is leading an effort to have the area bordered roughly by Poplar Avenue, East Parkway, Collins Street and the Sam Cooper extension designated as a conservation district.

With all these major roads coming through here, it needs to become more stable. This conservation district would not only give us the chance to stabilize the area, but also give us a say when all of this land is sold as to whats built here.

The land Clawson refers to is a tract at the corner of the Sam Cooper Boulevard extension and East Parkway. The section marks the last bit of land in the area surrounding Overton Park available for development.

Theres enough room to probably get 60 to 70 normal size homes in there with the size yards we have (in the area) now, Clawson said. Weve heard all kinds of proposals for what will be put there. Were keeping our fingers crossed wed like it to be a neighborhood.

The group of about 12 homeowners leading this effort has been working to collect signatures for an official petition, which will go before the Memphis Landmarks Commission when complete. The group needs 62 percent of residents in the area to sign the petition; right now, about 50 percent have signed, Clawson said. The area includes about 225 homes.

Getting the designation as a conservation, or landmarks, district would ensure any new construction in the area meets specified guidelines set by Clawsons group, said MLC manager Nancy Jane Baker.

It means that any demolition, new construction, habitable additions or garages would have to come through the landmarks office for review, she said. It helps to stabilize the area and raise the property values.

It might also help stabilize businesses in the area, though Clawson said his group tried to include businesses on Broad Avenue in the petition for the conservation district and did not garner much interest.

So, they were not included, but hopefully they will do something, because thats a great area and they need to protect those buildings.

Tom Sanders, owner of Sanders Silk-Screening at 2595 Broad, agrees something must be done to help the area continue to thrive now that traffic has been diverted from Broad to Sam Cooper.

Its like a ghost town over here, Sanders said. Theres very little traffic on Broad anymore, which is good and bad, because parking was always a problem for customers.

In the 26 years Sanders has owned his business, the area has undergone numerous changes, but the Sam Cooper extension marks the biggest transformation, he said.

If the city doesnt do something quickly to address this problem, the area is going to go downhill quickly, he said. Thats my main concern.

Some considerations discussed for Broad include adding flowering trees and lampposts to soften the industrial character of the area, he said. The area also is ripe for revitalization, he added, and several students from Memphis College of Art have opened galleries and studios in the neighborhood.

The Midtown Corridor East Redevelopment Plan, which included the rerouting of Sam Cooper and brought a new school to the neighborhood, has city officials interested in Broads potential, as well. Meetings have included talk of turning the Binghamton neighborhood into everything from an arts district to an open market cul-de-sac.

Were hoping there will be some revitalization to the businesses in here to attract new investors for restaurants or art galleries, Sanders said. The idea is to make the area into an arts and crafts center, which would be great.

But so far, very little is actually being planned for Broad.

Dewana Ishee, operator of Broadway Pizza at 2581 Broad, said she is disappointed that so far, the only change Broad has seen is reduced traffic.

She said business at the restaurant which fronts Broad, with the Sam Cooper extension now running behind it has been dramatically affected by the change in traffic patterns.

Most of the businesses in this area dont advertise our advertising was from people driving to work Downtown, Ishee said. And now with so many people staying on the new Sam Cooper, all thats been eliminated.

To address the problem, Ishees parents who own Broadway Pizza have placed a flashing sign in their front yard, which faces the Sam Cooper extension.

A lot of people have mentioned the sign, so I know people are seeing it, Ishee said. But we are usually packed in here, and its just not now. Business is hurt a lot.

Sanders, who actually placed his property on the market last year and considered relocating, said he now plans to wait and see how the changes will affect the area in the long run.

Im optimistic about it, because were just two or three blocks from Overton Park and the parkway, but we just dont know what the future holds, he said.

Its like weve just been capped off over here. At one time, this was a very vital area. Its this quaint little section of Memphis that could be really nice.

One concern home and business owners have about the area is increased crime now that traffic flow is lighter on several streets. A new $3.3 million police precinct at 426 Tillman St. will open soon, which residents and business owners hope will counter the potential problem.

Although no one knows for certain how the changes ultimately will affect the neighborhood, Clawson said his outlook is positive, especially if his groups request for the conservation district is approved.

Were working hard to make the area livable, and I think three to four years from now, were going to be sitting in a completely different neighborhood, he said.

MORTGAGES 80 320 1,066
BUILDING PERMITS 120 590 2,248