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VOL. 129 | NO. 33 | Tuesday, February 18, 2014

CDC Leaders Have Challenges in Communities

By Bill Dries

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Community development corporations are designed to help create more housing in areas where investors and banks might not normally invest without incentives.

“Tax dead” properties with more back taxes owed than the property could ever be sold for are a problem for CDCs.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But the CDCs, as they are known, are increasingly in the business of adding business development to the housing in a combination of community building.

And it can be challenging to make it work while also finding the necessary resources.

Much of the attention in Binghampton has been on the arts district of businesses along Broad Avenue. But the Binghampton Community Development Corp. is integrally involved in housing, including two apartment complexes near the western end of the Shelby Farms Greenline.

“Still the area is challenged severely for lack of resources,” said Robert Montague, director of the Binghampton Community Development Corp., on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”

“This industry grew up around housing and there was a great deal of resources behind housing development,” he said. “But the economic dollars for neighborhood level community redevelopment are few and far between.”

The program can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Steve Lockwood, of the Frayser Community Development Corp., leads an effort with the same goal for a community that is different than Binghampton. He sees the same challenges.

“We’ve historically had a fair amount of support for the housing work we do,” Lockwood said. “That’s waning at this point, in spite of the fact that we have increasing public support for the work and visibility for the work we do.”

The public support from the city includes some tools that are on a larger scale that matches economic development prospects like Electrolux and Mitsubishi.

“But very few of them make it down to the neighborhood level,” Lockwood said. “I think that’s our real mandate – is to figure out how to take some of the tools that brought Electrolux to town and make that apply to a place like Frayser or Binghampton.”

Working on the adjustment of scale is Community LIFT – Leveraging Investments for Transformation – a two-and-a-half-year-old city government intermediary that works with the CDCs across the city.

LIFT’s director, Eric Robertson, a veteran of the Downtown Memphis Commission and the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corp., is working on growing the combination of resources and financing that CDC directors combine to make smaller projects come together.

“That’s critical,” he said. “What you tend to see in Downtown areas is a multiplier effect where there are a number of projects. In communities like Frayser and Binghampton you are looking at ‘one offs.’ It’s just the ability of that CDC to do what they can do until the next opportunity for funding comes around.”

That means building critical mass, or momentum that attracts further investment, is more difficult. Robertson said one of his goals is to help the community development corporations “break through some barriers and do some significant number of houses.”

Momentum in Binghampton has been aided by the Broad Avenue Arts District, a commercial and retail area in which Montague credits low- to no-cost events like regular art walks and similar events coordinated by the city’s Innovation Delivery Team for helping build momentum.

He described the events as “things that really don’t take a great deal of money but have a great deal of impact.”

“It has really been the catalyst to attract new investment,” Montague said.

As the district has grown and with plans for more growth, Montague has led the CDC into redevelopment of two apartment properties nearby on Tillman Avenue near the western end of the Greenline. And he is working on commercial and retail investment along Tillman as part of the Hampline development of a link between the Greenline and Overton Park.

“They’ve been able to project into a small enterprise situation an architect’s services to help them have a vision of what might make a more successful business,” Montague said of the Innovation Delivery Team.

“A larger corporation might not have need of that service or have it in house.”

Lockwood played a key role in the still-developing anti-blight program for “tax dead” residential properties with much more in back taxes than the property could ever be sold for.

It involves a grant equal to the amount of taxes owed the city and county and it would be open only to CDCs.

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