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VOL. 10 | NO. 14 | Saturday, April 1, 2017

Community Groups Working to Bridge Economic Development Gaps


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When a $1 million award for North Memphis was announced recently, it signaled an opportunity to bring change to those communities.

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative showcased the Pinch District and other areas during the first season of Freewheel bike rides. It's part of a “multidimensional approach” to tackling issues in and around the medical district.

(Memphis News File/Andrew J. Breig)

North Memphis received a $1 million award through the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) that went to the Memphis Partners for Resilient Communities. But in the Klondike and Smokey City neighborhoods of North Memphis, work has been underway for years to support the people who live and work there in the form of the Klondike Smokey City Community Development Corp.

In fact, while that SPARCC award signals a major investment in North Memphis, it’s the work of community organizations like the Klondike Smokey City CDC and others that are grinding away in the city’s neighborhoods to bring long-lasting change to residents.

“We do things differently and that’s good,” said Quincey Morris, executive director of the Klondike Smokey City CDC. “Our theory is how can we build a house but if you can’t help them get a good job, help them plan a budget, help them plan some meals, then building a house won’t do a man any good. You put me in it and then six months later it’s vacant. Our goal is once we start building houses we want our residents equipped to live in them and maintain them.”

Across Memphis, community development corporations work to improve the city’s neighborhoods. That work comes in a variety of ways with multiple focuses. The Frayser Community Development Corp., for example, works to improve housing and provide residents with counseling on homeownership. The Binghampton CDC renovates and builds houses in that neighborhood, but it also recently helped bring construction of a Save-A-Lot grocery to an area that suffers with food access.

It might seem piecemeal, but CDCs, neighborhood associations and other organizations work to uplift specific communities that in turn unite the city in a larger way. Crosstown Concourse is seen as a major catalyst for that immediate neighborhood as well as nearby communities as the massive former Sears Crosstown building opens this year as a vertical urban village.

And in the Memphis Medical District, the past year has seen the sparks of change with the work of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative. It’s an example of how stakeholders in a larger neighborhood work together to bring change.

Tommy Pacello is president of the MMDC, which consists of executives and leaders of the various health care and higher education institutions in the district with the mission to direct its future. That includes making it more livable, economically prosperous, clean and safe.

“We’re trying to find that multidimensional approach to addressing challenges,” Pacello said.

That approach occurs through projects such as the Freewheel program, where a group participates in a weekly slow bike ride around the medical district to gain a better understanding of the physical neighborhood while also building community with others.

A side note to the Freewheel program was when it rescued 30 bicycles and worked with the Carpenter Street Community Bike Shop in Binghampton to rehab them, bringing some connection to the two neighborhoods. It also played a small role in the job creation mission in Binghampton.

Another MMDC project is the Emerging Developer Boot Camp, which cultivates an ecosystem of small developers. The focus is on individuals who only want to do a few smaller developments per year or even just do a project or two on the side of a day job.

“Our neighborhoods in Memphis are filled with 100-by-50-foot lots and odd-sized dimensions, boarded-up muffler shops,” Pacello said. “I hate to say it, but no developer is coming for those. We can build a small developer ecosystem and have more feet on the ground. That, to me, is a powerful secondary effect of the tactic.

“This is not a slight to big developers. This is how do you fill the cracks around them in other neighborhoods. You have to demystify the development process.”

The collaborative hosted and recorded a lecture in March to provide more details about the process and serve as a tool to cultivate developers on a neighborhood level in the future. It’s something Pacello said he believes can be replicated across the city.

“There are a lot of opportunities in the medical district and neighborhoods surrounding it but the same principles apply just as well in Whitehaven, South Memphis and North Memphis,” he said.

The SPARCC effort represents an opportunity for the various North Memphis communities – New Chicago, Speedway Terrace, Hyde Park and Hollywood, among others – to plan for a brighter future that hopefully sees investment without gentrification.

In the coming months, the Memphis Partners for Resilient Communities – the coalition of groups that represent those neighborhoods – as well as local government and philanthropy organizations will work to find a way to best use the SPARCC funding to direct growth and change there. What comes from the effort will be decided in those neighborhoods, not by a single government body or entity.

“To me it’s a great opportunity to get out in front of that,” said Emily Trenholm, executive director of the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, which supports the revitalization of the city’s neighborhoods through capacity building and community engagement.

“It’s changing. You’re seeing it in Uptown and Binghampton. But the horse isn’t out of the barn yet. It’s a great opportunity to make the systemic policy changes to stabilize and protect neighborhoods so people in the neighborhoods can benefit from huge investments and not have to move out.”

PROPERTY SALES 101 603 9,602
MORTGAGES 92 538 10,616
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,282 20,958
BANKRUPTCIES 51 408 6,108