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VOL. 130 | NO. 89 | Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Questions About Southbrook Mall Renovation

By Bill Dries

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Late last year, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was pushing a town center-type conversion of Whitehaven’s Southbrook Mall.

But Memphis City Council members questioned Tuesday, May 5, whether the Wharton administration’s plan for a town center at the Southbrook Mall site in Whitehaven was set up to fail once the funding reached the mall’s nonprofit board.

“When we were meeting with them, I informed them the administration was stringing them along and had no intention of funding this project,” said council member Harold Collins, whose district includes the mall property. “All during this process I knew that this project was being strung along for other reasons. Now we are at the pinnacle and they are waiting to get their project funded – the administration knowing full well it had no intention of doing it.”

Memphis City Council members are questioning the Wharton administration’s commitment to a town center plan for the Southbrook Mall site in Whitehaven.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The board members say they can’t meet new loan conditions that include matching funds. And they cited a recent letter from the city indicating they may have lost the funding as of March 4.

Chief administrative officer George Little, who wrote the notice to the mall board, denied the administration was backing off the mall renovation.

“That’s not true. I sat down and met with the team,” he said. “The condition as expressed in the letter I wrote was that the source of funds would be identified, not that they would have to have cash in hand.”

Under Wharton’s plan, the mall would include a significant city infrastructure investment as well as relocation of city government offices and facilities to the aging retail center. Wharton pitched it as the key to reactivating not only Southbrook Mall but also the Raleigh Springs Mall and Soulsville Town Center.

Collins, who is among the candidates challenging Wharton for mayor in the October Memphis elections, said Wharton is putting obstacles and hurdles in the way of a project he touted just months ago.

“With all due respect, no one calls a press conference in October to announce a project to a group to refurbish a mall for $2.1 million and then sets all kinds of hurdles and boundaries for these people to get their funding,” Collins told Little. “At the end of the day your actions speak so loudly on this project alone that I can’t hear anything you say.”

Collins’ frustration boiled over last week with word from the administration of delays in streetscape improvements along Elvis Presley Boulevard. Collins was instrumental in coordinating state and federal funding for the project.

The streetscape improvements now have a 2018 completion date instead of 2017.

Council member Janis Fullilove, who has been the most vocal in pushing for the Southbrook Mall funding, used stronger terms than Collins.

“Our mayor sits up and lies,” she said. “I want to go on record as saying I would like for the mayor to come here and explain himself.”

The frustration of some on the council spilled over into discussion of a $494,000 city grant for the Eden Square project in Hickory Hill to install new sewer lines.

The $40 million development on what was the Marina Cove apartment complex on Winchester Road east of Mendenhall Road will include housing, a performing arts center and a Power Center Academy middle school. It is set to break ground May 16.

The council approved the grant funding for infrastructure after questioning why the administration didn’t have a written resolution for the funding or why there was no presentation on the project.

It was left to Collins, whose district includes the area, to make the case for it.

“I can’t answer to you today why they are not here,” he said. “But I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt this plan is in place.”

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