After years of bits and pieces being amputated from the Raleigh Springs Mall, the formerly thriving mall has been declared a "slum and blighted area," according to a proposed plan to renovate the entire property.
The Raleigh Springs Urban Renewal plan, if approved by the Memphis City Council, would turn the lot into a multi-use property with coexisting public and retail space. The plan features a recreational lake and public skate park, as well as a walking trail. It also calls for the relocation of the Raleigh branch library and the Old Allen Road traffic precinct into the property. Both projects have funds set aside for that purpose.
"I think it will give residents of this area a stronger sense of security and safety knowing that a police precinct is a few blocks away," Councilman Myron Lowery said.
The mall opened in 1971, but the plan surmises that when the Wolfchase Galleria mall opened in 1997, the Raleigh Springs Mall began to decline. When the mall was renovated for the first time in the early 2000s, businesses along Austin Peay Highway had already begun a perceived downturn.
"Several businesses such as check cashing and pawn shops opened on the street giving the impression of a depressed area," the plan reads.
According to Councilman Bill Morrison, who represents the Raleigh area, the mall will eventually be torn down, but the demolition will occur in phases. He said if everything goes well, construction might start in late 2014.
The current proposed plan would be "pretty close" to the final product, Morrison said. The private section of the property might change, depending on what retailers decide to build, but the public portion will be within the parameters of the current plan.
"Either I will be the person who had a great idea or [I'll be] the guy who screwed up the traffic precinct for Raleigh," Morrison said.
At a joint committee meeting on February 18th between the council's Economic Development and the Housing and Community Development committees, Mayor A C Wharton said funding for the new police precinct was already approved by the city council in 2010. Councilwoman Wanda Halbert sits as the chairman and vice-chairman of the two committees, respectively.
Halbert expressed concerns about the specifics of the plan to Robert Lipscomb, director of the Division of Housing and Community Development. She says the project is needed, but she wants to know the details on all long-term plans for anti-blight projects that have been proposed all over the city.
"I just wish I could see that five-year strategic and operations plan with all of these projects included in it," she said. "Somehow there's a cherry-picking process — what project comes first, what project doesn't come at all — none of that is really making sense when you look at the big picture. Having some type of strategic direction is critical."
Lowery does not share her concerns.
"[Lipscomb] refers to 'connecting the dots' around the city with a wide variety of projects," Lowery said. "I don't think any community has been ignored or left to suffer. I think our challenge is to treat every area equally, and I think that we've done that."
The Flyer spoke to some business owners in the Raleigh Springs Mall, but many were unaware of the renewal plan.