$210M South City construction delayed but now underway

Construction is underway on the $210 million mixed-use redevelopment project at the former site of Foote Homes, the city’s last traditional public housing complex.

Site work is underway and vertical construction will get started in the next couple of months on the northeastern corner of the development on Lauderdale Street.

Phase I was originally slated to be done by the end of 2018, but now families will not move back to the site until closer to the end of 2019. The original intention was for the more than 700 families from the 420-unit Foote Homes and from the nearby Warren and Tulane apartment communities to be relocated by the beginning of 2017.

“With all of those families hitting the market at the exact same time, it took longer to get them relocated. So that held up a little bit of progress,” said Paul Young, City of Memphis director of the Department of Housing and Community Development. “We have reformatted the schedule so that we can still meet our benchmarks.”

Now both Phase I and Phase II will be built out at the same time. The city closed on funding for Phase I in March and the goal is to close on Phase II by June. The funding for each phase has been secured from the City and Federal government, but the development team must apply for and secure tax credits through THDA to fund each phase annually.

Overall, the project will be built in six phases of construction consisting of approximately 110 to 120 units apiece between now and 2022. Of the 712 total units, 480 will be placement units for public housing,

The city’s Housing and Community Development department is partnering with Community Capital on the potential adaptive reuse of nearby school facilities like Martin Luther King Transitional Center and Georgia Avenue Elementary School to potentially serve as mixed-use facilities.

“We as a team have gotten options to acquire both [schools],” said Young. “Both of those are projects that we are looking to identify uses for. With Georgia Elementary, our idea is to locate Girls Inc., which has already expressed interest in having a presence in that facility, and we’re looking at having an early childhood center in one of the buildings."

Related: "Girls Inc. plans to add a massive center in former South Memphis school"

Plans are still in process for MLK Transitional School.

“We believe that there are opportunities for commercial or nonprofit spaces on lower floors, with offices or residential units on the upper floors,” said Young.

“The idea was always that the Foote Homes site would also be redeveloped to really give a new image to that area, get rid of the gates and make it much more attractive and walkable, with a mixed-income community,” Young said.

Nearby businesses, which have missed the traffic from the residents who moved away, are looking forward to the fact that residents will be returning by late next year.

“We are also looking at small business loans for businesses that want to open up or existing businesses who want to improve their façade, and we will soon be moving forward with a home repair program,” said Young. “We have committed to trying to find a grocery store to move into the area.”

The Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis (WFGM) and Urban Strategies are working with all of the families who have relocated to ensure that as they live in different parts of the city they are still able to meet their goals.

“The most important thing for us is not just the economic well-being, but the whole well-being of family and community,” said WFGM CEO Ruby Bright. “Our focus is making sure these families have access to the services and support that they need.”

WFGM was instrumental in supporting the Choice Neighborhoods grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development for the redevelopment of Foote Homes.

Related: "South City: Housing a neighborhood in transition"

“For this community, and particularly Foote Homes families, the majority of single female-headed households are single mothers, so we’re working with the mothers and the children,” said Bright.

In 2015, the nonprofit made a commitment to put its grant-making focus on leadership engagement, wraparound support services, job creation, and youth development in the South City's 38126 ZIP code. To date, more than $2.4 million has been allocated towards those areas. In April, WFGM announced that it will award another $1.2 million to support 30 grantees in ZIP 38126.

“We made a conscious effort to do that with the hope that we would be able to demonstrate a reduction in the poverty rate for the people who are currently living at or below at or below the poverty level in the zip code by 2020,” said Bright.

Important next steps will be identifying early childhood development and childcare options for the community, as well as better transportation options.

“My hope at the end of the day is that the community feels as if it’s better off because of the opportunities that have been created through this injection of capital,” said Young. “Hopefully the redevelopment of this area is going to continue down Mississippi [Avenue] and connect with efforts down in the Soulsville area.”

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.