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VOL. 127 | NO. 179 | Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vance Collaborative to Unveil Plan

By Bill Dries

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When the Vance Avenue Collaborative unveils its five-year, six-project plan Thursday, Sept. 13, for revitalizing the area south of FedExForum there will be some differences from what Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration has been thinking.

The collaborative is a group of institutions in the area including St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, several businesses and neighborhood groups as well as planners with the University of Memphis.

The 140-page plan will be unveiled Thursday at 5 p.m. at St. Patrick Community Center, 277 S. Fourth St.

It differs most in what it envisions for Foote Homes, the last big public housing development left in a city that before the late-1990s had seven of the large developments.

“In the city plan, it features … relocation, demolition and the rebuilding of a mixed-income project,” said Kevin Reardon, the director of the University of Memphis graduate program in city and regional planning. “And an emphasis on what they call destination tourism to try to get the Downtown expanded around sites that have to do with the civil rights and human rights history of the neighborhood.”

Five of the six other public housing projects in Memphis have been demolished starting with Le Moyne Gardens in 1997. The latest is Cleaborn Homes, which is directly across Lauderdale Avenue from Foote Homes.

All six have become or, in the case of Cleaborn, will become mixed-use, mixed-income developments with homes and apartments at market rates as well as with public housing subsidies. Private financing has been leveraged with millions of dollars in federal funding through the HOPE VI program of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Wharton administration has recently overhauled and renamed the Triangle Noir plans for development of the same area and beyond, into South Memphis. The decade-long $1 billion plan that began during former Mayor Willie Herenton’s administration is now called “Heritage Trail.”

City Community and Housing Development director Robert Lipscomb said last month the revised plan includes a trail linking historical sights also included in the collaborative plans. But the city plans still call for leaving only the four public housing high rises in the area as the only public housing sites.

Lipscomb indicated last month that the administration is “still trying to learn and see what works” when asked generally about the move away from large housing projects.

“The poverty was concentrated and it’s been proven that didn’t work,” he said. “Is it the right thing to do? I don’t know. But we know what has not worked.”

Reardon has been leading the Vance Avenue Collaborative through more than a year of public hearings and listening sessions. Those resulted in the Vance Avenue Renaissance plan.

“It features at its heart the preservation and enhancement of the 496 remaining units of public housing in the neighborhood,” he said of the “renaissance” plan.

Reardon says the collaborative has the backing of several church congregations in the area as well as numerous neighborhood groups. The collaborative’s survey of the area found two of every three people asked favored keeping Foote Homes instead of demolishing it and building new.

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