As discussion continues around building a sustainable future for the Memphis Fairgrounds, with the next public meeting scheduled for November 6, some residents of the neighboring Orange Mound community said they’ve felt largely excluded from the planning process.
For the past two years, groups including the Urban Land Institute, the City of Memphis and resident-led Friends of the Fairgrounds have held public meetings for Memphians to voice their opinions on the site’s future use.
Mary Claire Borys with the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development said the City is doing its best to ensure residents are aware of scheduled public meetings and remain part of the process. She also said the City hopes to make improvements to the public spaces on the Fairgrounds and at Tobey Park, and increase employment opportunities for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Related: "Underutilized Fairgrounds land is reimagined with City-backed partnership"
She said the City has been in communication with the Orange Mound Community Development Corporation and JUICE Orange Mound, a progressive nonprofit that works to fund innovative ideas in the Orange Mound community.
“We’re trying to be transparent and cognizant of all the stakeholders for the Fairgrounds,” she said. “We’ve tried to be deliberate in communications and be sure everyone’s involved.”
Angela Barksdale, a lifelong Orange Mound resident and president of the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment, said neighborhood residents aren’t being included to the extent they should, and she would like to see focus groups and community meetings held within the neighborhood’s boundaries.
The most recent meeting regarding Orange Mound redevelopment was held October 16 at The Kroc Center.
“Orange Mound residents have been left out of the loop in a lot of situations and things that have occurred in Orange Mound,” Barksdale said.
“Meetings are scheduled when people are at work or meetings are scheduled and people know nothing about them, or meetings are scheduled and they’re not within our community. The root of the problem for me is there’s been no inclusion for Orange Mound to have a voice at the table. My hope moving forward that is going to change.”
Plans for the reimagined Fairgrounds include a youth sports complex to host basketball, volleyball, cheer and competitions for each of the sports. Also under consideration are indoor swimming and diving pools as well as outdoor fields for soccer and rugby. The City's proposal for redevelopment of the Fairgrounds can be found here.
Under the City-backed plan, the vacant Mid-South Coliseum could receive a $37 million makeover to host amateur sports, providing space for championship games and opening and closing tournament ceremonies.
Orange Mound, which borders the south side of the Fairgrounds, boasts a rich sports legacy that includes Olympic athletes and NBA players.
Related: "Friends of the Fairgrounds looks to partner with the city on Fairgrounds redevelopment"
Joyce Dorse-Coleman, who has lived in Orange Mound for most of her life, said she’s concerned about whether the neighborhood’s young people will have access to the sports facilities included in the revitalization plan.
“We don’t have too much for our young people to do as it is,” she said. “How are you including our young people?"
The proposed plan does mention free or reduced ticket prices on certain days.
Residents said they’re also concerned about whether the redeveloped Fairgrounds would provide jobs for their neighbors. Libertyland, the amusement park once located on the Fairgrounds before it closed in 2005, once provided jobs for residents. Both Dorse-Coleman and Barksdale worked there at one time.
Living wage jobs and local hiring are stated in the proposed plan as part of its community benefit agreements, or assets potentially produced through economic development that can meet community needs. Neighborhood connectivity, including bike lanes, landscaping, lighting, walkability improvements and safety, would also be part of the package.
Borys said the City has already been looking at sprucing up the area of Orange Mound adjacent to the Fairgrounds by upgrading the underpass at Southern and Boston, which is in need of lighting and repairs. But, she said it’s a challenge to create an attractive entrance way on Fairgrounds’ south side because of the viaduct and the railway that run parallel to the site.
The City of Memphis is considering applying for State of Tennessee approval to create a Tourism Development Zone in Midtown, a geographic area limited by state law to a maximum of three square miles, which would include the Cooper-Young Historic District and Overton Square.
The TDZ would allow for incremental sales tax to be used to fund costs associated with developing a destination facility. State law requires that the TDZ include retailers who would benefit from more customers being drawn to the area and generate increased sales taxes. If parts of Orange Mound were included in the TDZ, it could entice new businesses to set up shop there.
“We’ve had small business in Orange Mound for as long as I can remember – the mom-and-pop shops – that are no longer here,” Dorse-Coleman said. “So, what are we going to do to bring some of those back and bring revenue back into Orange Mound to help build our community back up? We’re the next-door neighbor. We need to work together.”
At an October 16 Orange Mound stakeholder meeting at the Kroc Center, the conversation heavily revolved around potential plans to convert the 40,000-square-foot old Melrose High School at 843 Dallas Street into a mixed-use facility like the celebrated Crosstown model. Ideas for the Melrose facility include space for visual and performing arts, job training, adult education, and a museum emphasizing Orange Mound’s rich history as the city’s first neighborhood built by and for the African American community.
A TDZ allows for incremental sales tax to be used to fund costs associated with a destination facility called a qualified public use facility, so that could possibly benefit Melrose High depending on what shape its revitalization takes.
Borys said the re-use of the old Melrose High School and public infrastructure improvements to the retail area off Airways between Park and Lamar Avenues could spur private revitalization of that area.
She said the goal is to, “create a new vision for the Fairgrounds that works for current stakeholders and new tenants, in addition to being welcoming to neighborhood residents and tourists alike.”