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Back to the Drawing Board

Lehman Brothers purchases a 26-acre site of abandoned properties in Midtown.

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WSG wooed Midtowners with rumors of a Target store and mixed-used commercial and retail space in 2007, but the out-of-town development company missed the bull's-eye thanks to the economic downturn. Now the abandoned development project has taken a new twist, but its future remains uncertain.

Last week, Lehman Brothers Holding Company, Inc. purchased the 26-acre site of vacant single-family homes and apartments located southeast of the Poplar and Cleveland intersection.

The area once housed a mostly low-income immigrant population, but the residents of the 30-plus single-family homes and multi-story apartment buildings were relocated to make way for the proposed WSG development.

The big-box retailers never came. WSG defaulted on its $14 million loan from Lehman Brothers, and in 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Now the buildings remain vacant, their crumbling facades transformed into a vast canvas for gang graffiti.

A representative from Lehman Brothers was vague about the company's plans.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss anything that's going on with that property at this point. These are discussions that are ongoing," said Kim Macleod, a spokesperson for Lehman Brothers.

Mary Baker, deputy director of land use control with the city's Office of Planning and Development, said WSG's plans are still on file with the city. Those plans were approved by the City Council in October 2008. Baker says planned developments with no action typically expire after five years.

If another development company purchases the property from Lehman Brothers with similar mixed-use commercial and residential plans, it might be able to simply modify WSG's original plans. Those plans called for diminished parking, creating a walkable, urban-style development.

"If they came in and said we want to do a suburban-style development and push a big box back and put in a big parking lot, then I think we'd be talking about [starting over]," Baker said.

Though little has been done to tear down the abandoned structures, a chain-link fence was erected around the neighborhood in the late fall. Since then, crime in the area has dropped dramatically.

Major Terry Landrum with the Memphis Police Department's Union Station said the area used to be the highest crime area in Midtown. Vagrants were living in the abandoned properties, and an arsonist struck several buildings.

Landrum has high hopes for future development on the site.

"We were hoping we'd get the Target store there. That would have been nice," Landrum said.

"I don't know what they intend to do with the property now, but I hope someone comes in with some kind of upscale business. If they put in more apartments, you'll have more people. Where there's more people, there's more crime."

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