A resolution seeking $3.5 million for the purchase of the Metro Shopping Plaza on E.H. Crump Boulevard, just west of Danny Thomas, was tossed back to the committee level on Monday (March 20) after supporters couldn’t close the deal with the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.
The move came after a team of stakeholders and community leaders, including representatives of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Memphis City Council member JB Smiley Jr., supported the purchase during Monday’s commission meeting.
One of the key sticking points was that $3.5 million was significantly higher than the appraised value of about $900,000.
“Mayor Harris decided he wanted to present in his proposed budget $3.5 million for Shelby County government to enter the development space and take an opportunity to give something back to a community that’s largely underserved,” said Danielle Inez, director of Innovation and Performance Analysis for Shelby County.
If eventually approved, the resolution would put the county’s bid second in line for the purchase.
Another offer, also for $3.5 million, has been in the works for more than two years. However, a Phase I study conducted by the Memphis Downtown Commission “uncovered a few things,” including the need for remediation to clean up coal ash.
“We have been working to get a Phase II done. That’s where we are now. The Phase II, it’s currently been completed. It’s in review, which will take about another two weeks. We have our financing in place to purchase the property,” said Jeffrey T. Higgs, executive director/president of the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corporation.
The offer for the shopping center, which has seen better days, has received two extensions since June from the property’s owners, Don & Ron Corp. If the deal falls through, the county’s offer would immediately close on the property.
“When you all approved the TIF last year…When the TIF was approved, it was always intended that this property would be a significant project as a part of it,” said Paul Young, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission.
The $3.5 million Memphis/Soulsville TIF passed during the late-night wrangling over of Harris’ 2023 budget in July.
In 2020, the Memphis City Council passed a resolution naming the neighborhood in immediate need of blight reduction for the purpose of investing in the shopping center.
It was followed by a $1.5 million allotment to the Downtown Memphis Commission to address those concerns. Of the funds, $1.2-$1.3 million remain.
“The City Council stands ready to support this,” said Memphis City Council Vice Chair Smiley.
Located at 432 East E.H. Crump Blvd., the plaza was once home to numerous shops, meeting places and eateries catering to Soulsville residents and surrounding neighborhoods during the 1970s and 1980s.
Originally named the “Freedom Center South Shopping Plaza,” it opened in 1968, just months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Among its first occupants were a Mahalia Jackson’s Fried Chicken franchise, supermarket, clothing stores and a Harlem House restaurant.
Today, few tenants remain. It is currently anchored by a beauty supply store, which also is owned by Don & Ron Corp.
“This property…has sat underutilized for many, many years in that community. Across the street from the property, the City of Memphis made a $4 million investment in a $12 million project, which is Mason Village,” said Young.
Meanwhile, other landmarks in the surrounding area, such as the STAX Museum of American Soul Music and the ongoing South City development project have seen multi-million-dollar redevelopments, revitalizations, or improvements.
“We want to create some sustained development. I’m just going to call it out. That property, if not properly developed, will really begin to gentrify,” said Higgs.
Although the proposal was praised for its need, particularly in an underserved community, commissioners were left with lingering questions. For instance, an earlier appraisal priced the property at under $900,000.
“Despite the appraised value, the owner has stood firm on the amount. In fact, I think they actually wanted more than $3.5 million…There have been instances where we have paid more than the value of the property…100 North Main is an example,” explained Young.
However, the next time the resolution comes up in committee, an appraisal will likely be one of the first topics of discussion.
“The 2022 appraisal is $899,700…My recommendation is for us to have our own appraisal of the property, so we can make the best decision there is. I don’t want to go by what I heard on this, that or the other,” said commissioner Edmund Ford Jr.
“We don’t have anybody that said they had a certified appraisal for the property.”