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VOL. 130 | NO. 82 | Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Foote Homes Effort Gets Rebrand, New Details

By Bill Dries

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With Bass Pro Shops formally opening this week, the next big project on City Hall’s drawing board is a remake of Foote Homes.

The ambitious plan to demolish and rebuild the city’s last large public housing project, using it as a catalyst for redevelopment of the much larger south Downtown into South Memphis area, has been on the books longer than The Pyramid. That’s if you start the timeline with the demolition of the first large housing project, LeMoyne Gardens, in the late 1990s.

During Wharton’s tenure as Memphis Mayor, what has recently been rebranded as “South City” began as a plan first called Triangle Noir, then Heritage Trail.

The Foote Homes public housing development opened in 1940. The city of Memphis hopes to demolish it and rebuild a mixed-use, mixed-income community.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

The city has submitted its South City application for the latest cycle of federal grants in the Choice Neighborhoods program that would allow it to proceed with the Foote Homes demolition.

Officials with the federal department of Housing and Urban Development should announce a short list of finalists in July and then announce grant recipients in September.

While a federal grant to demolish and rebuild mixed-use, mixed-income housing has eluded Wharton’s administration, the transformation of the neighboring Cleaborn Homes public housing project is entering its last phase with a dramatic landscape change.

What is now Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing doesn’t bear any resemblance to the housing project it replaced. But one only has to look on the west side of Lauderdale Street – to in present-day Foote Homes – to see a mirror image of what Cleaborn was.

If the Wharton administration gets the federal grant this fall, the new Foote Homes would be a carbon copy of Cleaborn Pointe in its design.

The tentative plans include five different types of two-story residential buildings including two-story townhouses as well as two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Rob Norcross, an architect and principal at Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, told an American Institute of Architects Memphis chapter meeting this month that the housing prototypes were drawn by hand without using computer models. Norcross said computer models can lead to designs that don’t incorporate unique architectural elements.

And he said HUD officials want to see a design that looks like Memphis and “work in a Memphis context.”

“Choice Neighborhoods is looking for buildings that are in our city that represent our city,” he said. “We can do select buildings that are contemporary. But the majority of the buildings need to feel like a neighborhood in Memphis and work with the character of the city.”

The site also would include a 110-unit high rise for senior citizens.

The city is seeking a federal designation for the much larger South City area as a “Promise Zone.” The zone status doesn’t come with any additional federal funding. But it does allow the city to apply for federal grants and also includes federal tax incentives for developers.

The latest plans for Foote Homes include keeping a creek, which was discovered running under the neighboring Cleaborn site during its redevelopment, Norcross said.

“What we’re trying to do is either open it up or make it an amenity or keep it closed to make it a green amenity,” he said.

“Even if we open the stream up we’re going to have green on either side of it,” Norcross added. “The question isn’t whether we have the green. The question is do we have the stream open or closed. That will depend on safety issues and design issues for the site. We will bury it certainly as we go under the roads.”

Critics of the city’s plan led by University of Memphis urban planner Ken Reardon have also proposed restoring what was originally a bayou in Foote Homes.

Their plan would keep Foote Homes intact as a public housing development with some structural upgrades.

But the city administration is the only entity that can submit a proposal for federal funding and the Wharton administration has rejected the alternative plan that Reardon and his students developed.

PROPERTY SALES 88 88 7,923
MORTGAGES 119 119 8,904
BUILDING PERMITS 253 253 17,320
BANKRUPTCIES 42 42 5,201