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VOL. 129 | NO. 21 | Friday, January 31, 2014

Heritage Trail Financing Plans Change

By Bill Dries

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The city of Memphis is making changes in its plans to finance two housing developments that are part of the broader Heritage Trail plan for redevelopment of the area south of FedExForum and into South Memphis.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is preparing to roll out a revamped master plan for Heritage Trail, which connects the National Civil Rights Museum and other historic sites.  

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The changes in options on two pieces of property owned by Shelby County Schools come about a month before the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. plans to take a comprehensive Heritage Trail plan to the Memphis City Council for approval.

The city still intends to build residential housing with private developers on both of the sites – the former Locke and Georgia Avenue elementary schools.

Shelby County Schools administrators told the school board Tuesday that the city no longer intends to finance the projects with a federal Choice Neighborhood grant for which the city has applied. The city will instead use some type of tax credit financing.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are expected to announce in February the cities that will get Choice Neighborhoods grants.

The grant is a large part of the city’s plan for financing Heritage Trail’s connection of historic sites in the 20-block area.

But the city has been retooling other parts of the financing of Heritage Trail. The administration re-evaluated its earlier proposal for a tax increment financing district after Shelby County government leaders expressed concern about the size of the TIF district. Leaders of economic development organizations covering smaller areas within Heritage Trail also expressed concern about the property tax impact on payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements they have in place.

It was a year ago that Wharton announced a re-examination of financing methods for Heritage Trail.

The city, through the Memphis Housing Authority, has an option on Locke Elementary on Vance Avenue in which the city agreed to demolish the school, which was unused for several years after its closing. The city demolished the building at no cost to the school system, and with Tuesday’s school board vote, has the option to take the property.

“They have just been waiting for the funding to do that development, and they have decided to do tax credit financing,” said Sybille Noble, chief contracting officer for Shelby County Schools.

The city has an option on part but not all of the Georgia Avenue Elementary School property. The option did not need to be renewed, but the school board changed one of the financing conditions, which had been Choice Neighborhood financing, to instead allow for tax credit financing.

Both parcels are near the Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing development, which is a mixed-use, mixed-income development that has replaced the old Cleaborn Homes public housing development.

The demolition of Cleaborn Homes leaves neighboring Foote Homes as the last of the city’s large public housing projects still standing. Wharton and Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb have said repeatedly they intend to demolish Foote Homes and redevelop it with the Choice Neighborhood grant.

Tax credit financing could come in one of several forms, including low-income housing tax credits, new market tax credits and renewable energy tax credits.

Low-income housing tax credits are the dominant source of funding nationally for affordable housing.

Memphis City Council members got a brief look at the plans in a Dec. 3 committee session that included lots of technology for attractions, such as a digital image of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and an app that uses GPS coordinates to bring up more information depending on where users are on the trail of historic attractions.

The trail includes the National Civil Rights Museum, which debuts its $27 million renovation in April. It also includes Church Park, which Wharton has long talked of renovating and reconfiguring for more public usage.

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