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VOL. 130 | NO. 74 | Thursday, April 16, 2015

Heritage Trail Redevelopment Plan Resurfaces

By Amos Maki

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A long-delayed city plan to remake a large swath of Downtown’s southern end appears to be making a comeback.

A long-delayed city plan to remake a large swath of the southern end of Downtown, including replacing the Foote Homes public housing complex, is making a comeback.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Memphis Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said Tuesday that the city expects to receive good news on the Heritage Trail development plan sometime this year.

“We’ll talk about it at the appropriate time, but all the stars are aligning around Heritage Trail,” Lipscomb said Tuesday, April 14. “We’re going to apply for a Choice Neighborhoods grant and we think we’re going to get it.”

Lipscomb shed some light on Heritage Trail while speaking to the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. He was voicing support of the effort by architects Juan Self and Jimmie Tucker to redevelop the Universal Life Building at Danny Thomas Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, which falls within the Heritage Trail development zone.

In addition to Lipscomb’s comments, Rob Norcross, a principal with Memphis-based architecture and planning firm LRK Inc., and Mairi Albertson of Housing and Community Development are giving a presentation Thursday, April 16, on the piece of Heritage Trail that focuses on redeveloping the Foote Homes public housing development. The presentation, which is part of the Third Thursday lecture series held by AIA Memphis, begins at 11:30 a.m. at the University Club of Memphis.

Heritage Trail called for the redevelopment of blighted and underutilized property, including public housing stock, in an area bounded roughly by Beale Street to the north, Crump Boulevard to the south, Manassas Street to the east and Main Street to the west. It also planned to string together Civil Rights locations and other historic sites on the southern end of Downtown.

But the effort, which includes demolishing Foote Homes, has stalled several times over the last six years after it initially launched during the administration of Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and continued under Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who was elected in 2009.

Last year, the city did not receive a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant for Heritage Trail, first dubbed Triangle Noir before being renamed.

Several aspects of the plan drew scrutiny from key stakeholders and some city officials.

Replacing Foote Homes became the most controversial of the federally funded transitions of public housing sites into mixed-use, mixed-income developments.

Ken Reardon, the University of Memphis planner originally hired by the city to oversee a collaborative of neighborhood groups and other area residents and involve them in the planning, eventually spearheaded an effort to save Foote Homes from demolition.

And the city’s proposal of a large district to capture property tax revenue with a tax increment financing zone drew concern from other Downtown stakeholders. Opposition to the large TIF district forced Wharton last year to pull the proposed financing tool for review.

“We’ll talk about it at the appropriate time, but all the stars are aligning around Heritage Trail.”

–Robert Lipscomb
Memphis Housing and Community Development director

But a January 2015 report from LRK and McCormack Baron Salazar, which has redeveloped most of the city’s old public housing developments, was critical of the existing design and conditions at Foote Homes.

In addition to finding what could be considered pressing health and safety issues – visible interior and exterior moisture damage, mold and no fire protection system – the plan makes a case that the design and layout of Foote Homes disconnects its residents from the surrounding neighborhood.

The report said the “overwhelming majority” of buildings at Foote Homes were arranged “without regard” to surrounding streets, leaving blank walls facing city streets and public spaces.

The lack of private or semi-private outdoor space at Foote Homes creates large “no man’s land” areas between buildings that lack security and don’t help foster a sense of ownership or responsibility. Pedestrian access to surrounding streets from inside Foote Homes is blocked to most residents by fencing, preventing residents from walking easily to nearby locations. Front entrances are minimal and uninviting and are crowded by utility closets, grills and satellite television dishes. In addition, the area has several vacant and blighted buildings awaiting rehabilitation.

The report also found that bedrooms and kitchens inside Foote homes were much smaller than comparable development and that units have inadequate space for both washer and dryer units.

The report includes a new development plan for Foote Homes, which is referred to as “South City,” calling for a total of 470 units in a diverse mix of housing types, a 65,000-square-foot grocery and retail space and a 16,000-square-foot early childhood center. The development plan is built around an interconnected network of streets that would create a compact, walkable neighborhood that includes a linear park and trail system.

PROPERTY SALES 0 291 21,272
MORTGAGES 0 160 16,194
BUILDING PERMITS 258 692 41,920
BANKRUPTCIES 1 117 6,579