Thursday, December 6, 2012

Downtown Heritage Trail Gets a Hearing

Posted By on Thu, Dec 6, 2012 at 10:58 AM

Robert Lipscomb
  • Robert Lipscomb
Downtown residents and activists — sometimes one and the same — are a savvy lot. They like to be in the loop. So about 25 of them turned out Thursday for a meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency to see what's up with the blockbuster 20-year plan called Heritage Trail.

I told a curious colleague that "nothing happened" at the meeting, but on second thought that is not exactly right. The fact that these people came to the meeting of an agency that fills its meeting room about as often as the 100-year flood is significant in itself.

Heritage Trail, previously called Triangle Noir, has been around for years. The target area is south of FedEx Forum, but the potential funding area is a much bigger chunk of downtown. Its author is Robert Lipscomb, head of the Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority. Downtowners have learned to pay attention to anything that has his fingerprints on it.

As well they should. Many a grand plan starts out as a consultant's report loaded with jargon and details about monster economic impact and possible creative funding sources such as PILOTs and TIFs that mean little to the average person. They go to second-tier agencies such as the CRA for original endorsement, then to the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission. Depending on who wants to do the deal and how badly they want to do it, the proposal can suddenly move from the drawing board to the fast track. Then the argument will be made that so-and-so has already signed off on this, studies have been done, state and federal funds hang in the balance (or a small amount has already been appropriated as bait), and elected officials must act NOW.

At the meeting Thursday, the CRA board chairman, Michael Frick of Memphis Bank of America, repeatedly assured the small crowd of people opposed to Lipscomb's Heritage Trail plans that "this is still early in its development," that "the plan has not emerged from our committee yet" and "at the end of the day everything we do here has to approved by the City Council and County Commission."

"I hate for everybody to spend a lot of time on something that is not going to happen," he said, adding that a vote might not come until February.

If and when that happens, Heritage Trail is in for some tough sledding because downtowners have learned to pay attention and get involved early and often when something comes out of HCD.

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