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VOL. 127 | NO. 121 | Thursday, June 21, 2012

Feds Overlook Elvis Presley Blvd. Work

By Bill Dries

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A few hours after federal officials announced in Washington Tuesday, June 19, that the Harahan Rail Bridge boardwalk project had been awarded $15 million in grant funding, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. asked Memphis City Council member Harold Collins how he was.

Some good news came this week for efforts to convert the Harahan Rail Bridge boardwalk into a bicycle and pedestrian path when federal officials announced $15 million in grant funding.

(Daily News File Photo: Lance Murphey)

“My mama said if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all,” Collins responded not once but twice before adding, “I’m going to stay focused.”

As the Harahan funding was announced through the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, there was no mention in the press release of the city’s other application for TIGER – Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery – funding.

The other application was to provide partial funding for an estimated $43 million in streetscape improvements on Elvis Presley Boulevard in Whitehaven between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive. It is in Collins’ district and he has been the driving force behind the other funding including from the city that has been pushed back several times for other priorities.

“Needless to say I am quite disappointed,” Collins said of the decision. “However, anytime Memphis gets awarded money to redevelop its infrastructure to provide new amenities for the community, I’m happy.”

And he held the disappointment part of the equation in check at a time when it would have been tempting to again complain about civic projects that have pushed the funding for the Whitehaven improvements into other fiscal years.

Wharton was in the council committee room to make the case for the presentation of the Overton Square renovation master plan. The PowerPoint presentation came with a resolution to approve the acquisition and lease of property in the Midtown entertainment district by the city to Loeb Properties and Hattiloo Theater.

Collins was among the “yes” votes to recommend the resolution, which the full council will vote on at its first meeting in July.

The administration initially wanted to push for the item to be added onto the full council’s agenda for a vote later that day. Council chairman Bill Morrison advised against it.

The Wharton administration did what one council member called a “hard sell” of the public financing part of the project, billing it as part of a larger citywide plan for better dealing with flooding. That caused a reaction among some on the council who thought the benefits to the development were too understated.

The 450-space parking garage that is a key part of the plan would have a water detention basin that would help relieve chronic flooding by Lick Creek in the area.

Meanwhile, groundbreaking for a gateway project at one end of the Elvis Presley Boulevard corridor is still scheduled for November.

Collins plans to seek further funding from the Shelby County Commission – possibly $10 million to $12 million – starting in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2013.

Collins also hopes state funding the city recently secured over two fiscal years can come sooner in the renovation instead of later.

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