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VOL. 129 | NO. 106 | Monday, June 2, 2014

Southbrook Mall Concept Goes to Public Hearings

By Bill Dries

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As city Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb began talking in the gym of the Whitehaven Community Center last week, he could see the Pepper Tree Apartments on the other side of Graceland Drive.

The Wharton administration is seeking public input on an economic development plan for Whitehaven that includes, but is not limited to, a renovation of Southbrook Mall.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“I’m not picking on anybody or anything, but this street is a symbol of what’s gone wrong in Whitehaven,” he said after mentioning he had once lived in the apartment complex, which is now fenced off to control access in and out. “This street is symbolic of the challenges in Whitehaven. Just look around. When I lived in Pepper Tree – it’s just different, and that symbolizes the challenges we’ve got in Whitehaven. We’ve got to increase the disposable income. We have got to better the housing. We’ve got to deal with some of this blight.”

Lipscomb’s preliminary remarks to a group of around 100 Whitehaven residents in the gym kicked off hearings by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration designed to come up with an economic development plan for Whitehaven. The plan, Lipscomb emphasized, would be a companion to $43 million in streetscape improvements underway on Elvis Presley Boulevard and the aerotropolis concept that encompasses development across a broad radius centered around Memphis International Airport.

But the brand name Lipscomb used the most often was “Southbrook” – as in Southbrook Mall, the younger, less-maintained sister property to Southland Mall on the other side of Shelby Drive. Southland, the city’s first shopping mall, is nearing its 30th anniversary with 90 percent or better occupancy.

Southbrook’s owners want $1.5 million in city funding to repair the roof and heating and air conditioning system. Wharton has in mind locating city services and offices into Southbrook as part of a larger makeover that includes the mall.

Wharton’s administration has also advocated the town-center approach for Raleigh Springs Mall and the Towne Center at Soulsville.

Raleigh Springs Mall’s owners have been critical of the approach, saying the administration hasn’t been in contact with them recently and the city’s efforts are conflicting with their attempts to sign tenants to the mall.

Earlier this year, Southbrook’s owners told the Memphis City Council they want the $1.5 million and not the larger plan.

The administration’s pledge to develop a larger economic development plan was a response to the request for $1.5 million. City attorneys said the city could not use Elvis Presley Boulevard streetscape funds for the repairs because it would be a use of public funding for a private purpose and could endanger all of the streetscape funding.

Lipscomb said at the Thursday, May 29, town hall meeting that city leaders and the Southbrook team are now working together.

“Southbrook Mall cannot be disconnected from the airport, Graceland and everything else. They have to support each other. … We cannot look at Southbrook in isolation,” Lipscomb said. “What you’ve heard over the last few months – this fight between us and them – we cannot have that. … Everything must be connected and the fight needs to be together.”

Lipscomb emphasized the ideas presented by the administration at the meeting are “only concepts,” with the administration seeking input from residents.

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