VOL. 11 | NO. 33 | Saturday, August 18, 2018
EMPHASIS Commercial Real Estate Trends
University District Set To Begin 1st Phase Of TIF Fund Improvements
By Patrick Lantrip
It’s been about two years since the Highland Strip TIF was first created by local development officials to improve public infrastructure in the area surrounding the University of Memphis.
But, since a TIF, or tax increment financing, funds work by allocating a portion of new property taxes generated by a development over period of time, it’s taken some time for the money from new developments along the Strip to add up.
Now with the necessary funds in place, the first public enhancements from the Highland Strip TIF are scheduled to begin soon at the intersection of Highland Avenue and Walker Street.
“The crosswalk will be right there at that intersection, and then there will also be several new islands in what's currently the turn lane on Highland, which will feature planters,” University Neighborhoods Development Corp. executive director Cody Fletcher said.
Mark and Charity Siebert enjoy a walk along Highland Street after lunch Monday, Aug. 13. The first pedestrian-friendly projects funded by the Highland Strip TIF are expected to begin later this month. (Memphis News/Patrick Lantrip)
Fletcher said this intersection was chosen as the epicenter of the enhancements to encourage walkability for students and patrons who frequent the Highland Strip by slowing down traffic and improving pedestrian safety.
In addition to the traffic-calming installments around Highland and Walker, the UNDC plans to install a network of SkyCop cameras in the area, with about 30 slated in the first phase.
“Then, as we move forward, we'll just expand from that Highland Strip focus further down Highland and then also into the other neighborhoods surrounding the campus,” Fletcher said.
If everything goes as planned, this first salvo of projects should begin construction within the month and wrap up in October.
Fletcher noted these new installments will only be temporary, as the UNDC has tapped architectural firm LRK to completely redesign the infrastructure around the Highland Strip.
“When I say temporary, I mean two to three years while we prepare designs to really redesign Highland to make it much more walkable and much more friendly to pedestrians,” he said. “That could include something like angled parking instead of that parallel parking and also maybe eliminating a driving lane in one of the directions.”
Though the UNDC has been around since 2003 as an independent nonprofit, the organization got an overhaul in 2016 when it decided to apply for the TIF.
“They did so in close collaboration with the University of Memphis because it's a benefit, not only to the UNDC, but also to the university to have a better environment surrounding its campus,” Fletcher said. “So when the University of Memphis went in on that with UNDC, that sort of created that close tie.”
Fletcher was then brought on in somewhat of a dual role to serve as both the executive director of the UNDC and as a member of the university’s government relations department.
“I see the UNDC as an organization that's similar to the Downtown Memphis Commission or the Medical District Collaborative in that we are the go-to economic development entity in the university district,” he said. “I see myself as leading this organization to the point where we're really making a difference every single day by attracting business, retaining business, and creating a more business-friendly but also resident-friendly environment.”
Ted Townsend, chief economic development and government relations officer with the U of M, said the university sees the TIF as an economic driver to helps unlock projects that enhance the campus experience for the students.
“With Highland being a major artery that our campus resides along, creating traffic-calming is incredibly important to us so that our students, faculty and staff can enjoy the benefits of the renaissance of Highland Strip and get over there safely, first and foremost,” Townsend said.
He said these projects could run the gamut, from those driven by students or researchers to working with small to medium-sized businesses within the footprint of the campus.
“Like the Belltower Artisans guys who are students here at the university,” he said. “They've taken an idea, launched their business there on the Highland Strip and it's successful. We want to see more examples of that.”