Civic Celebration

Frayser Day to showcase area’s unique urban-suburban dynamic

By Bill Dries

Shep Wilbun describes “Frayser Day” as “MEMfix on steroids,” referring to the efforts by the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team to reanimate business districts or blocks in several parts of the city.

Shep Wilbun is the Frayser site director for the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program, seen in his office at Union Grove Baptist Church. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Frayser Day, to be held Saturday, July 26, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Frayser Boulevard between Overton Crossing and Ardmore Street, isn’t a MEMfix event, although it works on some of the same principles and some new ones for neighborhood revitalization.

“This is a quality of life revitalization,” said Wilbun, who is site director for the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program. “It is not a physical revitalization plan, which is what most of the plans that are done are. … This is what is it going to take for folks in Frayser to have the quality of life they’d like to have and begin to see some of that take place in the year 2020. If that means we need some new physical things such as a town center, then we do that.”

The Frayser 2020 plan, put together by the Frayser Neighborhood Council and with a survey of residents, took 18 months to develop. It is the largest neighborhood in the White House neighborhood revitalization effort across the country.

The Frayser Plaza shopping center would become a town center under the plan. But it is not one of the three town centers the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. has proposed recently.

Like them, the plaza, which currently has retail businesses, would include some government functions with a new Frayser library most likely the anchor for the renovated development and a police substation.

“The Frayser library will be the centerpiece probably of the new town center,” Wilbun said.

He points out the 1960s-era Frayser branch library – the smallest in terms of size in the Memphis library system but one of the most used – is being considered already for a move to a new location.

And with the Old Allen police precinct proposed to move to the Raleigh Springs Mall town center proposed by Wharton, Wilbun said police response time to parts of Frayser is likely to be longer without a mini precinct or police substation of some kind.

For Saturday’s event, the shopping center will host a pop-up restaurant that will host a business conference designed to be a first step toward forming a Frayser Chamber of Commerce or business association.

The possible future elements of the town center at Frayser Plaza will be modeled at Union Grove Baptist Church and New Beginning Baptist Church, which are just east of the shopping center and directly across Frayser Boulevard from each other.

That includes a town square-like green space with a farmers market, a performance center in one of the church sanctuaries and a transit hub with shuttles to four locations in the larger Frayser area.

There will also be some changes to Frayser Boulevard along that area taking it from five lanes to two with bike lanes, “which is what we are proposing anyway for the town center at some point,” Wilbun added.

There will be a median in the boulevard and a more prominent and pedestrian friendly crosswalk between the two churches that the group hopes to see at the busier Frayser Boulevard and Overton Crossing intersection.

Those and other physical elements are part of an emphasis on a better education and schools and a better overall environment for academic achievement.

The group’s report counts 14,000 households with 40,000 people in Frayser. And 47 percent, or 24,000, of them are age 24 or under.

The area has a 17 percent unemployment rate with 61 percent of the households earning under 34,000.

Wilbun, a former Memphis City Council member and Shelby County Commissioner, cited Frayser’s roots as a traditional suburb and the shift of that suburban setting into an environment in which the economic mainstays of the Frayser economy – the manufacturing and other factory jobs there and in North Memphis – closed starting in the 1980s.

“It’s a suburban community that is within the city,” Wilbun said, contrasting the lack of density in Frayser to neighboring North Memphis or South Memphis. “What you have is a suburban community that is really part of an urban city that really wasn’t developed to have the kind of urban issues it now has.”

And Frayser isn’t alone in that regard as what Wilbun calls a “first tier suburban” area.

“What do you do when you were a part of sprawl when you started out … and now all of a sudden you’ve got all of the issues of being an urban area?” he asked. “You are still basically laid out in a physical way as a sprawl community.”

The Frayser group suggests a town center that creates what amounts to a “Downtown Frayser.”