Millington looks to solar-powered future

Millington’s future will be shaped by vibrant projects that include a new retail center, solar farm and flood mitigation effort that will bring a while new outdoors feel to the North Shelby County city.

Could Millington be on the cusp of something special?
Dianne Baker certainly thinks so. She’s the executive director of the Millington Area Chamber of Commerce, a group that has seen its membership skyrocket to 229 from 168 over the past year.
One of those recent membership gains is the restaurant chain Buffalo Wild Wings that will open next month in the Shops of Millington Farms center, the first major retail project completed in Millington since the Recession.
Local chain Huey’s will open its ninth Memphis-area restaurant in the Shops of Millington strip next year. Both restaurants will bring nearly 200 jobs to the community, and when the $36 million center is complete, it’s likely to create hundreds more jobs.
“We’re really business friendly in Millington,” Baker said. “We want our people to succeed.”
The retail strip is part of $167 million wave of new development in Millington with projects stretching from a solar power array to the city’s first ADA-accessible park.
Millington, a city of 10,000 people, is showing it should be known as more than a military town.
For decades Millington was home to the Naval Air Station Memphis, but a base realignment in the 1990s saw the base’s role change. The aviation part of the base was moved to Florida, but in its place came the U.S. Navy’s human resources function and some 7,000 jobs. The complex is now known as the Naval Support Activity Mid-South base.

“There’s not as many trainees coming through the base but there still is a ton of people working there in different occupations,” said Millington Alderman Frankie Dakin, who lived on the base as a child. A member of the U.S. Army, Dakin’s father was stationed in Millington beginning in 1995.
The base is set to reposition again with plans to house a portion of the state’s largest solar-generating facility. The Millington solar farm project will transform 402 acres of public and private land with an estimated 580,000 solar panels that will generate 53 megawatts of solar power. The solar farm will contribute to Naval Support Activity Mid-South as well as Tennessee Valley Authority’s efforts to power some 7,500 homes.
Projects like the solar farm can play an important role in attracting future growth, said Charles Gulotta, executive director of the Millington Industrial Development Board. The additional megawatts could offshoot energy costs and help recruit new businesses.
Other resources in Millington’s favor include the Millington Regional Jetport, which features the state’s third-longest runway at 8,000 feet. The Millington Industrial Development Board controls the land adjacent to the airport which opens up more vacant land to industrial growth.
That is thanks to the completion of Veterans Parkway, a $25 million project that provides better access to Millington’s 1,300 acres of industrial-zoned land on the west side of the airport. After parts of the Naval Base were closed to the public following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the industrial park has had limited access.
“The parkway is a transportation hub but it also opens industrial land,” Gulotta said. “We’re aggressive with proposals with the state for potential projects to open on our land. We have 35 to 40 acres we can subdivide. We have industrial and utilities on the parkway. It has a lot of potential. We’re trying to find the right combination.”
A major public project is underway on the north side of the Naval Support base. The $29 million river park and wetlands restoration is part of a $60 million federal resiliency grant for Shelby County that will support flood prevention in Millington. The Big Creek Wetland and Recreation Area will create a new floor pain area that will reduce damage to nearby neighborhoods while creating wetlands, nature wildlife areas and park spaces.
Millington’s Discovery Nature Park and farmers market expansion builds on that momentum. Following a $1.2 million renovation, the farmers market area will be a year-round amenity for residents rather than just operating as a Saturday market. The project will create woodland trails, accessible outdoor fitness equipment, an amphitheater for concerts and education programs and a series of ADA-accessible pedestrians trails across the park’s 12-acre footprint.

Beyond the industrial and commercial possibilities, the outdoors additions that come with the upcoming projects bring new amenities for visitors who can access the community via Highway 385, not to mention homeowners like Dakin.
He chose to buy a home recently at the age of 23, and while it has been great for him he said he understands not everyone his age is ready to settle down in a small-town setting.
“It’s different strokes for different folks,” he said. “It’s a fantastic community for younger families. But will you locate in Millington if you’re 23 and just graduated? I don’t think it’s a target demographic, but I grew up in Millington with a great experience, diverse peers and a small-town feel that was meaningful for me.”
Promoting homeownership is part of a successful future for Millington. Baker said attracting more residents to the community is important for its future growth and potential for commercial development.
“We want homebuilders to come build,” she said, adding that a doctor’s office recently opened to support growing residential demand.
“He was an ER doctor at Methodist North and for four years he said he kept seeing a need of people coming to the Methodist ER. That was an entrepreneur who looked at a need and filled it,” Baker said.
Dakin works in Downtown Memphis and said the drive to and from Millington is an easy commute, one that might be attractive to the growing number of young professionals in the Memphis area.
“My friends that might want a slower pace and still have all the amenities, of course I want them to come and have families in Millington,” Dakin said. “This has been my priority from day one. I’m improving the quality of life for people who live there right now with a future mindset to attract those young families to come home.”
With all of the development underway in Millington, it remains a community close to nature. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park is on the western border of the community, after all.
“There’s very little traffic. It’s a small town that’s much more diverse than most small towns and suburbs around Memphis,” Dakin said. “Our proximity to Downtown is unparalleled. You have all those assets of livability of living in a city with all the amenities from parks and recreation to a local police force and fire force.”
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Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler.