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VOL. 133 | NO. 170 | Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Chamber Seeks Site Improvement Grants for 9 Sites Including Firestone

By Bill Dries

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The Greater Memphis Chamber has applied for state improvement grants for nine economic development sites in Memphis as the first step in a “Sites and Buildings Plan.”

The list of Memphis sites includes the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. plant site in North Memphis, which is one of eight applying via the chamber to be part of the Tennessee Site Evaluation Program.

“The Firestone site is frequently submitted for projects because of the desirability of the location and its access to rail,” said Adrienne Johnson, vice president of research for the chamber. “But time and again that site is knocked out in the early stages of proposals because of its current environmental condition.”

The site of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. plant in North Memphis is one of nine economic development sites the Greater Memphis Chamber is seeking grant funding for to make them more attractive to site consultants. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

The seven other sites applying for the state improvement grants are Meltech in southeast Memphis, Millington Small Business Park, the U.S. Navy Site on Presidents Island – the navy test facility on the western end of the industrial area -- Distriplex Farms in southeast Memphis, Memphis International Airport property, Northridge manufacturing site in Frayser and Memphis Oaks in southeast Memphis.

The chamber has also applied for a “site development high impact grant” for the Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Area in southwest Memphis.

Chamber senior vice president of economic development Eric Miller said applying for the grants is a “a fundamental step” in the chamber’s emerging new strategy for economic development.

“Available and marketable sites are a cornerstone to any viable economic development initiative,” Miller said in a written statement. “As our economic development strategy shifts toward a more proactive approach, we want to have a cadre of sites across the city that are development-ready and available for investment.”

The chamber is also overhauling its searchable property database and has vowed to work more closely with city and county government leaders on public infrastructure improvements around the properties as it helps to shop them to site consultants.

The Firestone plant closed in 1983 and has been vacant for 35 years. The plant was demolished during that time.

It has received some “brownfields” site funding in the past to remediate hazardous materials used at the site in the days when it was among the city’s top employers – with shifts totaling 7,000 workers at one point in the 1950s. The remediation was supposed to be toward a return of industrial or manufacturing uses to the site. But it left in place the plant’s slab as well as tunnels as the site moved toward use for a youth golf program.

The “First Tee” golf program never got to the nine-hole golf course envisioned before it closed several years ago and the Mid-South Junior Golf Association owes several years of delinquent city and county property taxes.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Monday the city is interested in the future of the site and noted the pending tax sale of the property.

“Whether we buy it or not – that’s the unknown,” he said. “We are very interested in that whole area – not only Firestone property but the properties around it.”

Eric Roberston, president of Community Lift, which works with community development corporations toward a broader economic impact from such development, called the grant application and government interest “a positive move.”

“Three months ago, I don’t even know if we were talking about Firestone,” Robertson said Monday. “It may have been on the minds of people but now it’s in the public realm.”

The chamber says it had been moving toward seeking the grants since earlier this summer and submitted its applications more than a week and a half ago.

Robertson said his hopes are for more comprehensive plans for not only the site but the neighborhood around it. Such an approach would be in partnership with local government, including the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine – or EDGE, developers drawn to the area and the city’s pending Memphis 3.0 plan for comprehensive citywide development neighborhood by neighborhood.

“I think first it’s about what is the right thing to do there,” Robertson said. “It’s not about trying to put another industrial site there just for the sake of it being another industrial site there.

“Not just waiting on the ripple effect, but to carry that planning over into how we can be strategic in those other areas in leveraging the site. This presents a great opportunity with the work of Memphis 3.0 to help the chamber and help EDGE and help the mayor to really leverage our planning staff and come up with an idea that can work and can benefit all.”

PROPERTY SALES 62 288 2,619
MORTGAGES 52 197 1,783