City Celebrates Launch of Legends Park

By Tom Wilemon

MORE HOPE: Construction began last week on Legends Park, a Hope VI neighborhood off Poplar Avenue near Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

Memphis continues to benefit from investments that are transforming the city’s public housing at a time when development capital is scarce.

The people behind Legends Park, the latest in a series of Hope VI neighborhoods, didn’t let a pelting rain last week stop them from recognizing this accomplishment as they celebrated the start of construction on the project.

Legends Park is a public/private partnership among McCormack Baron Salazar, Community Capital, the Memphis Housing Authority and the city of Memphis.

Thomas V. Currell, vice president of McCormack Baron Salazar, said the investment in Memphis is occurring at a time when the state of housing in the United States is at a crucial juncture.

“It has not been an easy road to get us here, but it has been an exciting one,” Currell said. “These projects are not for the faint of heart.”

The development is going up on the site of the former Dixie Homes off Poplar Avenue near Downtown. It follows the College Park, Uptown and University Place developments. The developments are made possible with $122 million in seed money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This is a beautiful day; it’s a wonderful day,” said Mayor Willie Herenton. “It represents a continuation of a marvelous renaissance of the great urban city of Memphis.”

Public housing has been a top concern for the mayor, Herenton said.

“One of the first bold decisions I made in 1992 (when first elected) was to fire the entire Memphis Housing Authority board,” Herenton said. “I fired every member of that board, its whole leadership, fired them all, because I was not pleased with the condition of public housing. I said to the God that I serve that, ‘If you make me mayor, I will transform these old dilapidated public housing to dwellings that are fit for human habitation.’”

City Council Chairman Myron Lowery said the $122 million in Hope VI money that Memphis has received puts it among the most successful cities in using the federal grant money.

“We’re putting federal dollars to good work,” Lowery said. “It’s not done simply because we have a good mayor with vision. It’s not done simply because we have a council that shares that vision. It’s done because of people like the religious community, the banking community. It’s done because of people like you.”

He addressed a turnout of federal and local housing officials, representatives of nonprofit organizations, bankers and construction bosses.

Legends Park will consist of 134 units of multifamily housing apartments, a 45,000-square-foot mixed-use building with commercial space and 24 other apartments along Poplar Avenue. The apartments will be ready for occupancy by late 2009.