VOL. 130 | NO. 204 | Tuesday, October 20, 2015
EDGE Still Explaining Itself To Memphis, Shelby County Elected Leaders
By Bill Dries
Four years into its existence, Reid Dulberger is still explaining the basics of a group created by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to streamline local economic development efforts.
Dulberger, Economic Development Growth Engine’s president and chief executive officer, tried again Monday, Oct. 19, at a joint meeting with Memphis City Council member Wanda Halbert and Shelby County Commissioners Steve Basar, Justin Ford, Van Turner and Eddie Jones.
“There’s been a lot of confusion,” Halbert began.
Dulberger gave a familiar talk about EDGE’s origins and an accurate count of active payments-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements across Memphis and Shelby County.
The property tax abatements are the chief source of the group’s political controversy.
By Dulberger’s count, EDGE has 75 active PILOTs. The Center City Revenue Finance Corp. has 101, and the Health Education and Housing Facilities board has 60, for a total of 236.
As Dulberger touted nearly 20,000 jobs created, Halbert wanted to know how many of the jobs have gone to Memphians. Dulberger said EDGE doesn’t track that information.
“Do we not think that would be critical?” she asked.
“We don’t believe that a residency requirement is enforceable. We do not believe it’s legal,” Dulberger said. “We also strongly believe that it will hurt our ability to retain and create jobs here in the city and throughout the county.”
“How do you justify asking Memphians to make this kind of investment ... if they are not reaping a great benefit from being able to get the jobs?” she asked.
EDGE’s outside financial analysis of the tax abatements shows Memphians are getting the jobs, Dulberger countered.
Basar urged caution as EDGE moves into other areas of redevelopment, short of residential but on a smaller scale like the two retail centers in Binghampton and Uptown to be anchored by supermarkets. Developers of the retail centers are the first two applicants for the new Community Builder PILOTs.
“I do not think government bodies should be in the development business,” Basar said. “To me that’s a risk of some of these things that are being proposed. … I think we ought to be very cautious about this. I think private industry is what’s driving this community. I think we ought to reserve any fiscal stimulus for when we need it. And it’s not today.”
Basar also didn’t like the idea of EDGE taking in the Community Redevelopment Agency, the group overseeing incentives in both Binghampton and Uptown.
EDGE board chairman Al Bright replied that the merger of CRA wasn’t EDGE’s idea; the city-county Office of Planning and Development proposed it.
That proposal was delayed this month in city council committee sessions.
When Jones questioned the input from residents of high-poverty areas, Dulberger said both supermarkets would be built in areas that are “food deserts.” EDGE relies on community development corporations in those areas to gather information.
But Halbert questioned whether Uptown was a typical impoverished neighborhood in need of such help.
“How is this Community Builder (PILOT) working in a regular non-Downtown-connected neighborhood?” she questioned. “Every neighborhood is not going to be Uptown. Who is keeping up with the demographics of those neighborhoods?”
Uptown is an area that includes two one-time public housing projects – Lauderdale Courts and Hurt Village – that were converted to mixed-use, mixed-income developments. In the case of Hurt Village, the public housing project was demolished.
Critics contend the public housing residents in both projects were dispersed to private subsidized rental housing in other parts of the city with few returning to live in Uptown, amounting to gentrification.
Absent from the Monday session was Shelby County Commission chairman Terry Roland, who has talked of abolishing EDGE and called for the joint discussion.
Some commissioners disagree with the call to consider abolishing EDGE and have defended the use of the PILOTs as necessary to compete for economic development.
Other commissioners agree with a review of EDGE but questioned whether a joint meeting should have waited until the new Memphis City Council takes office in January.