Heritage Trail Plan Raises Concerns

By Sarah Baker

While the focus of the Heritage Trail Community Redevelopment Plan is on public housing projects Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing and Foote Homes, the 20-year plan has far reaching implications for Downtown stakeholders, especially real estate developers.

The Memphis and Shelby County Community Redevelopment Agency is considering a master plan from the South Downtown area into South Memphis, including the entire Downtown core, the Beale Street Entertainment District, the South Main Historic Arts District, the South End, Victorian Village, the Edge Neighborhood and part of the Memphis Medical Center.

Developed by the Memphis Housing Authority and the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development, the 227-page plan is controversial because the Community Redevelopment Agency is considering declaring Downtown Memphis to be a slum, blighted and growing menace.

After that, the next step would be implementing a tax increment financing district throughout the entire area – that overlaps with tax incentives used by the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. – to collect the taxes from the area and use most of the money on the redevelopment of Cleaborn and Foote homes.

It’s projected that over the next 20 years, the TIF would redirect $102.7 million of city and county property taxes to the agency, including $45 million in revenue from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements in the overlapping area that are scheduled to roll off and flow into city coffers once they expire.

Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission, said at the Thursday, Nov. 15, Community Redevelopment Agency meeting that the proposed TIF zoning carries heavy weight regarding the future of investment Downtown because past practice with PILOTs is not necessarily a good indicator of what will transpire moving forward.

“I would just be very cautious about relying too much on what’s happened over the last 10 years to predict what’s going to happen over the next 20 years,” Morris said. “We certainly hope that a lot of new investment will be coming Downtown. We’ve worked with a lot of property owners in the last couple of years and a lot of potential projects that are confidential at this point that are on the brink. If we can get a lot more investment Downtown that will mean a lot more projects going forward that we could potentially give PILOTs to and that would mean more tax revenue for both the city and county.”

The Heritage Trail Community Redevelopment Plan proposes acquiring as many as 200 vacant, tax delinquent or underutilized units/lots for CRA acquisition by purchase of, or possibly, eminent domain.

It’s that last phrase that has Downtown stakeholder Lawrence Migliara troubled. He is currently trying to develop and seek financing for several pieces of real estate that he owns on South Main and in the Uptown district.

“Quite frankly, I would probably just put everything on hold,” Migliara said. “I don’t know if you were around in the ’50s where Housing Authority came in and used the power of eminent domain to wipe out about half of what was Downtown. A lot of that land is still vacant. It was a very traumatic experience for a lot of people. I was here and I was involved in that at the time. Housing Authority just ran right over people.

“I’m all in favor of trying to do something for the Foote Homes and those things, but I’m not so sure this is the way to it.”

Sharon Leicham, president-elect of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and resident near Front Street and South Main, said she had just heard about the plan a day before the Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.

“I urge you to take time to hear from the stakeholders in this proposed area, the blighted area, to hear what their concerns are, not to rush into making a decision without full knowledge,” Leicham said. “And I think in a way that’s doing the City Council a favor as well so that they know what the stakeholders’ feelings are about this, what their concerns are about this.”

Meanwhile, Ken Reardon of the Vance Avenue Collaborative made numerous points in opposition of the plan. Among them was the conflict of interest related to the team that’s been put together to review the project.

“In general, you don’t have planners end up being the developers end up being the profit (winners) directly across the major investment sites, and that’s what we have in this situation,” Reardon said.

The agency meets again Dec. 6 at 8:30 a.m. in the Memphis City Council Chambers of City Hall, 125 N. Main St. The full plan is available at http://goo.gl/gQXW1.