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As opportunity knocks in South Memphis, a community weighs in

by Florence Howard —

In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of private, public and community leaders are coming together – and standing apart – in an effort to break the cycle of historic disinvestment in South Memphis.

During a recent press conference where social distancing was practiced, real estate developer J.W. Gibson II announced that the Southeast Regional Development Corporation (SRDC), with the support from the Shelby County Mayor’s Office, intends to submit a development plan and application for a community-driven Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in South Memphis.

It’s an effort to attack blight and improve the overall quality of life. South Memphis currently has over 5,800 vacant lots and buildings, and even more substandard housing that is still occupied, according to a SRDC news release.

As a TIF district, tax revenue generated by residents in the area will be reinvested in South Memphis to address crumbling infrastructure, depreciating neighborhood values, and educational supports for youth, Gibson explained.

“The disinvestment that is taking place in Black neighborhoods is destroying families and keeping residents anchored to poverty,” the SRDC press release asserted. “This ends today.”

Held in the lobby of the Vasco A. Smith, Jr. County Administration Building, the press conference was attended by a contingent of elected officials lending support for the new, minority-led development plan.

South Memphis is one of eight “blighted” areas in designated communities called Opportunity Zones (OZs), which seek to encourage investments in housing, neighborhood infrastructures such as retail centers, and more. Other OZs include ZIP codes in Binghampton and the Poplar Corridor, Downtown and the Medical District, North Memphis and Uptown, Orange Mound and the Fairgrounds, the University of Memphis, Whitehaven and Millington.

At a press conference described as “the first step in a process, developer and former Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson II shares the goal of seeking a community-driven tax increment financing (TIF) district in South Memphis. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Residents in South Memphis have long advocated for better housing, according to Greater White Stone Baptist Church Pastor Roger Brown, who opened the gathering with a prayer. His church has a community development corporation, The Stone CDC, and has already purchased lots for affordable senior housing.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris made note of the community efforts underway. He also expressed confidence that the minority-led development team will take the right approach and that they will be open to community feedback.

“This community has organized and advocated for investment for decades,” Harris said in a statement in the SRDC press release.

“It’s time for South Memphis residents to see serious, long-term investment in the neighborhood that they love.”


1992 – James Worley (JW) Gibson II establishes Gibson Companies, Inc.

1995 – JW Gibson establishes nonprofit – Southeast Regional Development Corporation (SRDC).

1998 – Tennessee Legislature approves Community Redevelopment Act.

2011 – Lee A. Harris begins term on Memphis City Council.

2015 – Lee Harris resigns City Council. Begins term in Tennessee Senate, elected minority leader.

2017 – U.S. Senator Tim Scott authors Opportunity Zone bill, which is signed into law under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Trump in order to stimulate economic development and job creation, by incentivizing investments, in low-income neighborhoods.

2018 – Lee Harris resigns state senate and begins term as Shelby County Mayor.

2020 – Mayor Harris and JW Gibson announce Shelby County and SRDC partnership which plans to use TIF (tax increment funding) agreement to redevelop sections of South Memphis during special meeting held September 24.

A former Shelby County commissioner who worked on the Memphis 3.0 strategic plan, Gibson grew up in Dixie Homes. He said that his involvement in that plan “planted a seed” and fueled his involvement in other redevelopment initiatives.

He called the press conference on the TIF “the first step in the process” in bringing those with a similar interest together with community leaders.

“It is high time the Black community receives the commitment seen by Downtown and Midtown to bring South Memphis back. There is a plethora of needs,” Gibson said.

Then he asked, “How do we engage the community?”

That is where some area residents want the next conversation to begin.

Attendees such as community organizers Linda Williams of the Rozelle-Annesdale Neighborhood Association, Marty Lipinski of the Annesdale-Snowden Neighborhood Association, and Rebecca Hutchinson of the Soulsville USA Neighborhoods Development District (SNDD) wondered how this new partnership might affect neighborhood revitalization plans for their organization and others that have been working to bring better housing and employment opportunities to the community.

“It was not very clear,” Williams said of the plan’s impact. She noted that there are many institutions, including the Church of God in Christ, already working to revitalize and rebuild the community.

Hutchinson, board president of SNDD and executive director of SCORE CDC, stressed that people in the community must have a say.

“All I can say is, it was a top-down presentation,” she said, adding that “people are being empowered in my district. We have been working so hard on our own neighborhood development plan. We need investment and jobs.”

SNDD plans to submit its own redevelopment proposal, which was in the works before the September 24th announcement. Only one TIF can be granted in each Opportunity Zone, which is part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Trump. The goal is to stimulate economic development and job creation by incentivizing investments, in low-income neighborhoods.

The Memphis and Shelby County Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which works with communities to address blight and provide affordable housing using the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) tool, is responsible for reviewing and approving TIF applications before presenting those applications to the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission.

Elected officials on hand included State Reps. Larry Miller and G.A. Hardaway Sr., Memphis City Council members Martavius Jones and J.B. Smiley Jr., and Shelby County Commissioners Mickell Lowery and Tami Sawyer.

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