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VOL. 131 | NO. 91 | Friday, May 6, 2016

Raleigh Mall Demolition Begins Saturday

By Bill Dries

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The city begins demolition of the Sears Auto Center Saturday, May 7, at the Raleigh Springs Mall even though the city is still in court with the owners of the main mall building itself in eminent domain proceedings.

Memphis City Council member Bill Morrison announced the demolition Thursday, May 5, at a Raleigh Community Council meeting.

“I want all of you to join me at the Raleigh Springs site because we are going to tear down the Sears building,” Morrison said to cheers from a group of 100 people at Raleigh United Methodist Church. “Saturday we are going to start taking down the auto center. … That’s going to expand and get a little bigger. We’re also going to tear down shortly thereafter the main Sears building. We’re then going to go ahead and tear down the bank.”

The out parcels are part of the mall site footprint that the city owns or has reached an agreement with other owners on the plan to create a “town center” on the acreage including a new library, a new police precinct and a new traffic precinct headquarters.

“When the auto center comes down and the Sears building comes down, the Memphis Police Department area – we can choose to start such as we want to,” Morrison said later. “That’s something we’ll discuss as we get the buildings down.”

The city’s hope is that with the government offices, the area will draw some retail development. Campus plans include a one-mile walking trail, a skatepark and an 11-acre lake.

The city plans hit a hitch in court when the owners of the mall itself, Raleigh Mall RPS LLC, contested the city’s attempt to take their property through eminent domain proceedings.

Circuit Court Judge James Russell ruled in August that the city didn’t provide adequate public notice and the city is doing new public notices to be followed by another public hearing on the $23.7 million project by the Memphis Housing Authority and another council vote on the project the council had previously approved.

At the end of that process, Morrison said he hopes the city can formally break ground on the project in September with all of the mall structure being demolished.

Morrison said the LLC wants $6 million from the city for its two parcels. The city has offered $2.5 million as recently as Thursday which the owners rejected.

Morrison opposes going beyond $2.5 million because he said any increase would come out of funding for the project itself.

Morrison will be driving one of the bulldozers to be used in Saturday’s demolition and billed it as a “celebration.”

“It’s also time that we sent a message to out-of-state and out-of-country landlords who come into our city, buy up stuff and think they can hold us hostage and turn our neighborhoods into slum and blight,” he said. “I want this project, with all of you, to show this city what happens when a community stands together with one goal in mind – which is to make this community the best in the city.”

The mall owners were early critics of Wharton’s plans for their property saying the city didn’t tell them of the plans and that publicity about the city plans was making it difficult for them to sign tenants for the mall.

Raleigh Springs Mall is one of three proposed town centers proposed during the administration of Mayor A C Wharton.

Like the mall property, all three plans relied on local government facilities as an anchor.

The Soulsville Town Center went into foreclosure last year and was bought by Tom Shadyac, a filmmaker-turned-University of Memphis professor who wants to convert it into a community-center concept called One Family Memphis.

The Southbrook Mall town center was to be part of a larger plan Wharton’s administration said it would develop for Whitehaven. The nonprofit that owns the mall wanted city funding for roof and HVAC repairs and at one point opposed the larger town center plans.

Wharton left office at the end of 2015 with no further movement on the Southbrook idea.

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