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VOL. 132 | NO. 95 | Friday, May 12, 2017

Blight Summit to Mark Progress, Challenges

By Bill Dries

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When the leaders of the city’s anti-blight effort gather at Clayborn Temple for their second annual summit Wednesday, May 17, on the next block south of the church will be an example of work still to be done.

Leaders of the local anti-blight effort say they’ve made some progress but have work ahead as they prepare for their second annual summit next week. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

A six-unit, circa-1957 apartment building owned by BPAM LLC, the real estate arm of Boshwit Brothers, which is also a mortgage and real estate management company, has drawn the recent attention of city officials.

The city is about to start work on “I Am a Man Plaza” in the gravel lot next to the apartment building – a $1.7 million tribute to the striking city sanitation workers in 1968 whose daily marches to City Hall often began at Clayborn Temple.

The plaza is one of several efforts by the city in preparation for next year’s 50th anniversary of the strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis in 1968 in behalf of the sanitation workers.

City Councilman Martavius Jones, whose office is on the other side of the church, has expressed some alarm about visitors to the city and specifically the plaza seeing the building.

“Are we trying to acquire that?” he asked administration officials in council committee sessions last month. “I’ve had people to tell me it is not fit for human life. … I’ve been there for 13 years and it doesn’t look like they’ve made any improvement at all. I think we have to put all options on the table.”

Jones renewed his point earlier this week. City chief operating officer Doug McGowen said the property is on the administration’s radar.

Neighborhood Preservation Inc., a privately funded nonprofit organization that is the tip of the spear in coordinated public and private anti-blight efforts and among the organizers of the summit, is more than an interested onlooker. NPI owns Clayborn Temple as a way of facilitating its restoration and some public usage of the historic site.

The summit, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will include awards for some restorations and renovations of blighted commercial and residential properties, as well as progress reports.

“We’re trying as an organization to raise the awareness of these very important issues in the community through a collaborative approach,” said NPI co-founder Steve Barlow. “We haven’t done everything we said we would do. But we’ve done a lot of what we said we would do and we are ahead of schedule on some things.”

That is the case with a boot camp for emerging developers that wasn’t due to start until later this year by the timeline set out during last year’s inaugural summit.

The change in the one-year redemption period for a property owner to pay back taxes on property sold to someone else at a tax sale is now on a shorter sliding scale with stage legislation. But George Cates, another NPI co-founder, says it’s still too early to see any results from that change.

“We haven’t found anyone who is in favor of blight,” Cates said in a recent editorial board session with The Daily News. “We have helpers everywhere, but the coordination of that has often been lacking.”

And barriers to that coordination and to action on long-neglected or abandoned properties are still the struggle-before-the-struggle for the groups represented at the summit.

“What we’re doing is we’re identifying barriers to revitalization,” Barlow said. “And those barriers are very often policy barriers – very often in the field of code enforcement and property maintenance laws or practices of enforcing them or in the tax foreclosure setting.”

That means changing state laws and local ordinances and regulations.

“What we want to do is remove the legal and systemic barriers that are holding back neighborhoods so that it’s easier for anyone to do more in the neighborhood,” Barlow said.

There is work underway with developers in some areas.

Archie Willis of Community Capital, which works in real estate development, has talked to some of the out-of-town investors drawn to Memphis properties simply because of their low price.

He talked recently with a Florida investor who bought a 500-unit apartment complex on Getwell Road and a 92-unit vacant apartment complex in Frayser without knowing too much about them beyond their price.

“And really, in my opinion, he didn’t have a clue about what it is going to take to bring them on line,” Willis said.

In other cases, the investors have been willing and able to invest in renovation and rehabilitation, even if they are initially overwhelmed and unfamiliar with local rules and regulations.

“We’re going to go into that briar patch with you because we will find answers,” Cates said of the process of working with investors and owners.

MORTGAGES 54 374 1,120
BUILDING PERMITS 177 767 2,425