Sometimes you can't put a dollar value on your community, on your neighborhood, or on your home, but Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW) has been asking residents in the Hollywood community to do just that.
The utility is buying huge blocks of land there to expand its North Service Center, located in the 1100 and 1000 blocks of Tupelo Street. The station is home to the company's automotive shops, where over 1,000 service vehicles are repaired and stored.
MLGW needs more property to meet its goal of expanding the body, heavy equipment, paint, and transformer shop, all located at the North Service Center, according to Gale Carson, MLGW's director of corporate communications.
"We just need more space," Carson said. "It's a business plan. I'm sure every progressive company has plans for growth. It's just strategic planning."
Carson says these plans are part of a long-term project and have been in the works for a while. But some in the community said they had no idea what was going on until this year, when they were approached by MLGW officials looking to buy their homes.
MLGW buys the houses at fair market value and gives residents up to 60 days to move. The majority of residents, many of them elderly, on Bingham, Houck, the eastern side of Shasta, and the northeast side of Dexter, have already been uprooted. According to company officials, most residents were happy to sell their homes.
However, residents who remain in the area wonder what the station expansion will mean for the aesthetics of the neighborhood and worry about the added noise and air pollution.
"If it's going to look anything like it currently looks — industrial — it will further add to the decline of the Hollywood community and North Memphis in general," said a resident who wished to remain anonymous.
Jim Kovarik, a staffer at the Community Development Council and Livable Memphis, said he has been working on projects in the area and is not happy with what MLGW is doing. He questioned the utility's intentions and said it should also invest in those neighborhoods.
"How will MLGW prove itself to be a good neighbor?" Kovarik asked. "They have a public charge to do good, and I'm not seeing that. To make this right, they have to contribute back to the community in some way."
In the past, MLGW has bought out land in areas like Binghampton and Raleigh and recently proposed using emminent domain to acquire three acres owned by Loeb Realty Co. near Overton Park to build a pay station. But the utility dropped the plan after receiving a negative public response.
Kovarik said he sees a stark contrast in how MLGW conducts business in "rich white neighborhoods versus poor black neighborhoods." He said MLGW continues to take advantage of lower income communities, targeting the property of those who are not equipped to fight back.
"MLGW is just another public entity running roughshod on a poorly organized and battered community," Kovarik said. "They should step up to the plate and say, 'How can we make this neighborhood better than it was when we came, not worse?'"