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Disheartened Southbrook Mall developers mull next move

  • Written by Tony Jones

mall 600The Southbrook Mall's future as part of a viable Whitehaven business community is still uncertain following the City Council's meeting on Tuesday (April 15th).

Cherry Davis, spokesperson for Southbrook Properties, the non-profit pushing the remodeling, termed the latest delay "disheartening" and said the development group would decide later what is the next step.

For more than two years, Southbrook Properties has sought $1.5 million in taxpayer funding to repair the mall's roof and for ventilation and infrastructure needs.

With strong recommendations from the council's economic development committee and the council having voted twice to provide funding, Tuesday's meeting had been envisioned as the session for a final vote on whether the city is going to invest the money.

"I feel like we got bounced around like a ping-pong ball," said Davis. "It was our understanding that the council was to either vote our resolution up or down, but when it came to the floor all kinds of other things happened. Maybe we shouldn't pursue city support.

"We have followed their instructions," said Davis. "When it comes right down to it, it just seems that when it comes to African-American led projects or investments within African-American communities, strong support from the city is not there. It's just very disturbing."

Davis and her cohorts are convinced the project warrants the same level of public-private partnership as Overton Square, the Sears Building in Crosstown and the refreshing of the Graceland strip of Elvis Presley Boulevard, also a Whitehaven location. They invited the Baptist Ministerial Alliance, the National Action Now network and SCLC Memphis to speak on their behalf.

On Wednesday, Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb said, "I don't know why this has become so complicated. They have been informed that the request cannot be approved because the CIP (Community Investment Project) funding cannot be provided for what they want to do. I was instructed by the council in November (2013) to find alternative sources for funding, and that is all that I have been trying to do. But the sources have certain stipulations that must be met and the plan I presented was designed to do that."

Lipscomb's presentation outlined a $6 million project plan to be funded via federal Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECB).

According to a 2012 report by National Association of State Energy Officials, QECB's are for "projects that can modernize aging infrastructure while promoting economic development and job creation."

Lipscomb said the QECB funds would not only pay for the roof, but other improvements as well.
"At the end of the day, if we are to go after that funding, let's do something that will make Southbrook great, because at the end of the day it's not about the mall. It's about what's best for the Whitehaven community," said Lipscomb.

"We are also looking for Community Development Block Grant funds for this project. You've got to deal with the hand that's been dealt you."

As for Lipscomb's presentation, Davis said that is "ground we've already been over, so we really don't understand what's going on at the core of this."

Lipscomb said the next step is to set a meeting so all get on the same page.

"We've gone above the call of duty in trying to locate funding for the project, but the money has to be used as outlined by the funders."

Michael Rixter, manager for the Southland Mall across the street from Southbrook, wishes the developers good luck.

"If it's remodeled it can only make the area better and bring in more consumers," said Rixter. "The more the better for both properties."


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