Mayor Jim Strickland

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland unveiled a new community fund for infrastructure improvements in neighborhoods as part of his State of the City address Monday at The Links at Whitehaven.

He also said he will be offering eight properties for investment and that construction on the long-awaited improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard will start this spring.

Strickland, who recently announced he would seek re-election, said the city will begin by putting $2 million in the Memphis Community Catalyst Fund.

“It’s a dedicated, renewing source of money that we’ll use to make infrastructure improvements in key areas of neighborhoods – places we’re calling anchors,” Strickland said. “Here in Whitehaven, anchors include the area in and around the Whitehaven Plaza shopping center.”

Strickland said through the fund city government will work with neighborhoods to identify things that can be improved, “that can jump start private development.

“That can be anything from new sidewalks, new pedestrian crossings, new lighting.”

Strickland said city officials are still finalizing the details but he could say money will be allocated to the fund each year. Details will be formally proposed to the City Council when he presents his budget in April.

Strickland said he was also announcing Monday a group of eight private investment opportunities in properties, “either owned by the city or our partners.

“In the next couple of weeks we’ll launch a website with the details, which will include our call for redevelopment proposals from the private sector,” he said.

The properties include the former Tillman Cove housing complex in Binghampton, nine acres in Midtown near Crosstown Concourse, where Interstate 40 was long ago planned and outparcels on the Raleigh Town Center, where Raleigh Springs Mall used to stand.

The properties also include parts of the Fairgrounds redevelopment, parts of the Pinch District, the Historic Melrose High School building and a block of land in the South City redevelopment, just south of Clayborn Temple, that Strickland calls, “the South City Cultural Block.”

He said a site for residential development on Powers Road in Raleigh is also included in the properties.

About Elvis Presley Boulevard, Strickland said, “you’ve been waiting on this for awhile.

“The council approved it back in 2012, and when we took office, it hadn’t gone very far,” he said.

Strickland said his administration put the contract out to bid last fall. They have selected a contractor, and he added, “I’ll be back here in a few weeks for the groundbreaking.”

The ballroom was packed with public officials and curious citizens as Strickland ticked off what he counted as his administration’s accomplishments, it’s current activities and his future plans.

Strickland said about 18,000 more Memphians are working today than when he took office and poverty is down about 17 percent since 2014, according to the latest census estimates.

The city has hired more police officers in the last 17 months than in the entire six years prior to that, he said, and last year, a little more than 120 officers left the force, “which is much closer to the usual average we lose each year to things like retirement.”

Strickland said prosecution of violent crime is up and that gun crime and violent crime rates are down.

“In 2018, our major violent crime rate dropped by a little over 4 percent, including a 12 percent decrease in robberies,” he said.

Strickland said some $15 billion in development is happening in the Greater Memphis area, and for the first time in decades, “more of that is happening inside our city limits than in the suburbs.”

Strickland said officials are filling potholes faster and greatly increasing the long-term, permanent repair to the city’s streets.

Also, 911 answering times are down from 59.7 seconds when Strickland took office to an average of seven seconds, he said.

Strickland said minority business spending is up from 12 percent when he took office to 24 percent at the close of the most recent fiscal year.

He said the city’s bond rating is up and tax rates are down from $3.40 to $3.19.

“We have momentum in our spirit, momentum in our grind, and momentum with how we’re running an efficient, responsible city government,” the mayor said.

But Strickland described his administration as a “neighborhoods first” administration.

“We’re going to build up, not out,” he said. “We’re going to cast a roadmap to better transit. We’re going to invest in our core and our neighborhoods…”

Strickland said now the emphasis will be on being proactive when it comes to delivering services.

For instance, you now have to call 311 to have limbs picked up.

“By this spring, you’ll no longer have to call,” he said. “And we’ll pick it up twice each month.

“We’re working on getting our response time to reported potholes to under two days,” Strickland said. Strickland said the city is partnering with a major technology company to pilot machine learning that, “could lead to us scanning our own streets for potholes and filling them even faster.”

This would involve a camera on a city owned vehicle, probably a garbage truck, that would detect potholes and then automatically generate a report for the city to fill it.

Keith Williams said he was surprised that Strickland didn’t mention Shelby County Schools.

“He did mention pre-K, but he said nothing about improving schools in Shelby County,” Williams said. “…I think he has some lofty goals but I think he missed the mark when he didn’t mention children in the public school system.”

Claudette Boyd said she thought Strickland said, “everything a politician is supposed to say, but it’s all in what develops from what he said.”