Downtown Memphis: Slum and Blight?


Community Redevelopment Agency members will vote Thursday morning on whether 1,483 acres of downtown Memphis are a slum constituting a "menace to public health, safety, morals, or welfare." The vote would advance the Heritage Trail Redevelopment Plan, which calls for the use of eminent domain for private development.  

"Stakeholder" Lawrence Migliara tells The Memphis Daily News:

I don't know if you were around in the '50s where Housing Authority came in and used the power of eminent domain to wipe out about half of what was Downtown. A lot of that land is still vacant. It was a very traumatic experience for a lot of people. I was here and I was involved in that at the time. Housing Authority just ran right over people.

Some 200 vacant lots and dilapidated buildings are on the acquisition list—but all of the 4,000-plus private properties in the redevelopment area will be subject to condemnation. From page 71 of the redevelopment plan:

There is not an intention to acquire properties by eminent domain unless a redevelopment opportunity arises that is currently unanticipated and is deemed vital to the overall effort… It is anticipated that no homeowner will be unwillingly displaced from their home as the residential program is intended to be focused on infill and vacant property. If relocation were unavoidable, appropriate measures will be undertaken to ensure that it be handled in an equitable and fair way.

The plan, if passed by the City Council and Shelby County Board of Commissioners, would envelope the central business district, the Beale Street Entertainment District, the South Main District, the South End, Victorian Village (pictured), and the Edge Neighborhood in addition to the downtown core. The project area is an expansion of the Triangle Noir Community Redevelopment Area, which the city unveiled in 2008.

Tennessee legislators passed eminent domain reform in the wake of the Kelo v. New London decision, in which the Supreme Court held that seizing property for private development is a public use, but did not tighten the definition of blight, which could apply to virtually any neighborhood. The designation allows officials to seize properties that are manifestly non-blighted for private development if surrounding properties—public and private—exhibit "improper subdivisions, outmoded street patterns, unsuitable topography or faulty lot layouts."

Heritage Trails would abut the 1,833-acre Uptown Community Redevelopment Area, which was approved in 2001 and has seen some eminent domain abuse of its own.

Click here for more Reason coverage of eminent domain abuse in Tennessee.