Bing-Boom I: The consequences of progress in Binghampton

In October, High Ground met with Binghampton community leaders, most of whom are residents, for an editorial advisory. People in current and past On the Ground neighborhoods meet to help generate the section’s coverage, which is a critical part of On the Ground’s community-centered journalism. 

In January 2019, High Ground will move to its 10th On The Ground embedded neighborhood, the University District. Binghampton was the third On The Ground neighborhood and featured focused coverage from September to November 2016. A lot has changed since then — especially around housing availability in the neighborhood. 

On the Ground hopes to act as a partner in creating larger neighborhood narratives that amplify residents’ voices whenever possible. In the October editorial advisory, which included members of Binghampton Development Corporation, Refugee Empowerment Program, Carpenter Art Garden and a fledgling community land trust, the key concern was undeniable  — rising home prices may soon force out current residents, specifically middle and lower-income renters, who want to continue renting or purchase in the neighborhood.

Several stakeholders reported in subsequent interviews that one year ago, they rarely saw houses selling for more than $90,000. Today, they’re regularly seeing similar homes priced from $110,000 to $125,000 and as high as $170,000.

The central question facing these members of our editorial advisory and other neighborhood leaders is how to encourage development without displacement. How can the community continue to improve — increase safety, reduce blighted properties, invest in youth and fill vacant spaces with new businesses, homes and amenities like gardens and greenspaces — while maintaining its accessibility for the residents who’ve worked to make it a great place to live?

High Ground News is launching a multi-part On the Ground series to explore this challenge and its potential solutions. In part one, we’ll outline past influences, the current situation and several big changes in the near future. 

Part two examines the "two Binghamptons" and how development and growing gentrification on the west side between East Parkway and Collins Street may influence development on the east side between Scott Street and Holmes Street. Part three will spotlight community efforts to slow gentrification, including the new land trust.

Related: "Bing-Boom II: A tale of two Binghamptons"
Related: "Bing-Boom II: A land trust seeks to preserve affordability in booming Binghampton"

"For Binghampton, our biggest takeaway is that we're really trying to work hard to preserve the unique diversity of Binghampton," said Kate Kananura, community engagement specialist with the Center for Transforming Communities. "The international community and the people in Binghampton that have lived and worked together and feel they are part of, they should have the sense of knowing that we're working hard to see that this fabric remains."

The Rise and Fall of Binghampton

Binghampton sits at the center of the loop, the ring created by Interstate-240 and Interstate-40, which marks the boundary between the core city and suburbs. Binghampton's current boundaries are East Parkway to Holmes Street and Jackson Avenue to Poplar Avenue.

Until the mid-20th century, Binghampton was divided down racial lines with white residents to the west and Black residents to the east. Eventually, railroad lines, office complexes and light industrial facilities were erected between the two halves from Collins to Scott streets.

The larger east side has roughly a mile of residential zoning and has remained working and lower-class, almost exclusively African-American and relatively stable considering greater Memphis’ steady population decline since at least the 1970s. The west side’s residential area is roughly half the size of the east and experienced heavy white flight and disinvestment beginning in the 1960s and '70s.

With plenty of cheap, vacant homes on the west side, lower-income families, most African-American, began moving in. Immigrants and refugees from more than a dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, South America, Asia and the Pacific Islands relocated to the area, mostly through World Relief or joining family who’d worked with World Relief.

By the 2000s, the neighborhood was arguably the city’s most diverse with many growing and close-knit ethnic, national and religious communities. It also had one of the city’s highest concentrations of poverty, high crime and a particularly bad reputation after the brutal Lester Street Massacre in 2008.

At the same time, a handful of wealthier Memphians — mostly white and motivated by their Christian faith — began investing, working and buying homes in the area, focusing heavily on the west side. They brought with them resources and connections that helped newcomers and existing residents work together to get organized, attract investment, overcome language and cultural barriers and identify and implement needed changes.

Many of Binghampton’s most active and well-known community organizations, like Caritas Village, were founded by these intentional neighbors. Most of these new nonprofits require renters, people of color, low-income and/or long-term residents have representation on boards and priority access to programs and employment. 

The collective effort to stabilize and grow the neighborhood has seen some dramatic results like the Binghampton Gateway Shopping Center that opened its anchor store, Save-A-Lot, in February 2018. There’s also been major redevelopment of Broad Avenue. Lisa and Luis Toro announced this month that they're opening a third business in the area, in addition to City & State and The Liquor Store, and that's just the most recent development in the arts district. Similarly, public spaces have grown with new bike lanes, greenlines and gardens.

Related: "Broad Avenue power couple expand reach with new bar venture"

Combined with its prime location and low housing costs compared to established hot spots like Downtown and Midtown, Binghampton has become attractive again for wealthy, white home buyers who stakeholders say are the majority of new residents.

At the same time, there have been fewer immigrants and refugees moving to the area as national policies and other factors restrict relocation.

Magaly Cruz and Joni Laney of the Binghampton Land Trust pose in front of a house they helped bring into code compliance. The collective looks to purchase and renovate houses in order to save them from increased prices and gentrification. (Ziggy Mack)

Current State

Today, many stakeholders describe Binghampton as perched on, or possibly having just stepped off, a tipping point. For the first time in almost 40 years, stakeholders fear the west side of Binghampton may become majority white and upper-income.

“We moved in because of our faith and to be neighbors with people who were different than we are, but we’ve become a beast. We’ve become the problem by doing that,” said Joni Laney, a resident since 2002 and member of the Binghampton land trust planning committee.

Stakeholders foresee that as demand increases, home values and property taxes will continue to rise and rental rates will follow suit. Residents say the boom has been especially noticeable in the last two years and is picking up speed. They worry it will soon move to the east side of the neighborhood.

“I would always say when I first moved in that it felt like I was on the edge of the whole Midtown concept. Now it feels more like being engulfed by it. It’s pushing upwards,” said Magaly Cruz, a member of the land trust planning committee and recent college graduate who moved to the neighborhood with her family during high school.

The stakeholders aren’t opposed to development, just development with no mechanisms to ensure equitable access once the area has the safety and amenities every community deserves.

The Broad Avenue water tower stands behind what will soon be apartment buildings developed by James Maclin and Bob Loeb. (Ziggy Mack)

Recent Changes

In addition to a general trend of rising rental rates and property values, there have been a few major developments in recent years that have and will continue to impact future development.
  • New Homes on Autumn: New homes constructed by Durbin Diversified Builders on Autumn and Circle Avenue off East Parkway are some of the most expensive in Binghampton. According to Chandler Reports, eight properties were sold on Autumn between December 2017 and June 2018 at an average price of $371,544 or $153.46 per square foot. They also sold quickly, spending an average of 3.8 months on the market. Comparatively, houses sold across the area from 2011 to 2017 took an average 8.8 months to sell.
  • The Rise of Broad Avenue: In 2003, the Sam Cooper Extension cut off Broad Avenue from residential Binghampton and the commuters that sustained its businesses. In 2007, business leaders began working to reimagine the area as an arts and entertainment district. Today, Broad is thriving and will soon get its first major residential development. Stakeholders still lament that it’s inaccessible to residents — both physically and often in its price points — but the Historic Broad Avenue Arts Alliance is working to address connectivity, and the district is a vital part of the new Binghampton TIF district, or tax increment financing district, which will impact infrastructure updates and affordability in the neighborhood. 
  • Binghampton TIF District Designation: In September 2017 a partnership led by the Binghampton Development Corporation applied for and was granted a Binghampton TIF district designation by the Memphis and Shelby County Community Redevelopment Agency. Under the TIF, property tax revenues are capped at current levels and any revenue earned above that is diverted to physical improvement efforts in the area like land development, blight mitigation and infrastructure improvements. The Binghampton TIF focuses heavily on the development of new affordable housing and supporting current low-income residents. The TIF is expected to generate $26 million over the next 30 years. Growth in commercial areas like Broad Avenue and the new Gateway Center are major contributors to the fund.
  • Binghampton Gateway Center: The Gateway Center opened this year and was the first large commercial construction in Binghampton in decades. The $7 million project brought a much-needed grocery store, a large Dollar Tree and 7,240 square feet of additional retail space. In 2015, the Memphis-Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine granted the project a 15-year PILOT, or payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentive. 

A view of the unoccupied Tillman Cove Apartments in east Binghampton. (Ziggy Mack)

Coming Soon

There are several other major changes planned for the neighborhood, some that may help stabilize it. For each of these, there is a community concern around the number of units that will be available at accessible rates to lower and middle-class residents.
  • Tillman Cove Development: Planned redevelopment on the site of the former Tillman Cove Apartments located on Tillman Street one block north of the Shelby Farms Greenline. According to Mairi Albertson with the City of Memphis’ Department of Housing, HCD acquired the property in July 2018 using a Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Program provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HCD will issue a request for proposals in early 2019. The developer will be required to designate a certain percentage of new housing as accessible to low-income residents. 
  • Broad Avenue Development: Eight and a half acres adjacent to the Broad Avenue water tower owned by 3D Reality, a partnership between James Maclin and Bob Loeb of Loeb Properties. The development will cost an estimated $50 million and will feature roughly 414 apartment units and 10,000 square feet of retail space. In a March 2018 interview with WREG, Maclin said the development aligns with the Memphis 3.0 plan’s goal to increase density in the center city and will commit 83 units for low-income housing. The primary concern from community members and businesses on Broad is the proposal’s inadequate parking plan. 
  • Community Land Trust: The land trust’s primary goal is twofold — help current renters who want to stay in Binghampton transition to homeownership and stabilize property values by acquiring land which is then locked into an affordable sales prices that any subsequent buyers must agree to uphold. Facilitated by the Center for Transforming Communities, the community land trust is still forming but includes African American, African, white and Spanish-speaking neighbors, as well as residents from east and west Binghampton, renters and homeowners, businesses and nonprofits, and supporters from outside the neighborhood. 
  • Sam Cooper Development: Around seven acres on the southeast and northeast corners of East Parkway and Sam Cooper Boulevard purchased in 2015 by Makowsky Ringel Greenberg LLC and awarded a 15-year PILOT in June 2018 for 176 housing units. The development met with strong community opposition, particularly from neighbors in nearby Lea’s Woods who expressed concerns about parking and failure to meet area design standards.
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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.