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Soul Stimulation

Soulsville residents take revitalization into their own hands.

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While some Memphis neighborhoods, such as Overton Square, are seeing new life thanks to big developers, the residents of Soulsville in South Memphis are looking to revitalize their area DIY-style.

Last week at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Soulsville, in a public meeting in a series of planning sessions, a handful of residents called out ideas for what they'd like to see in their neighborhood. In the coming months, the Soulsville Neighborhood Association will head up efforts to make those dreams a reality.

Although many ideas came out of the meeting, five priorities were voted as most important: getting a neighborhood grocery store, attracting locally owned restaurants, dealing with blighted properties, building more quality, affordable housing, and attracting jobs.

The neighborhood — bordered by Bellevue, Trigg, Mississippi, and Crump — is fresh off the heels of a successful MEMFix neighborhood festival that was put on last month by the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team.

Soulsville Neighorhood Association president Henry Ford, who is a member of a singing group, led one of the meetings, and he told residents that he'd love to see a coffee shop in the area where he and his group could perform. Currently, they have to go to Cordova to perform in a coffee shop, he said.

Another attendee, resident Cardell Orrin, said a more diverse mix of housing, not strictly affordable units, was a priority.

"We need more market-rate housing so people don't have to move to Cordova to live in a mixed-income neighborhood," Orrin said.

Before the meetings last week, members of the Soulsville Neighborhood Association went door-to-door, handing out surveys that quiz residents on their talents and business experience. The survey asks residents if they have skills in health care, construction, child care, sales, and other areas. It also asks residents if they have any interest in starting a business, and if so, what obstacles have been in their way.

Ford said they're hoping to capitalize on skills within Soulsville to make some of their neighborhood dreams come to life.

"We need goods and services in this community that we currently have to go outside the community to find. If I know there's a licensed electrician down the street, that helps me and the neighborhood," Ford said.

Jeffrey Higgs, president of the LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corporation, said his organization is a partner in the planning process. At the meeting, he emphasized the importance of keeping the development local to avoid gentrification.

"We need to go for businesses by people who live in the neighborhood and keep a strong hand on the grassroots aspect of community development," Higgs said.

Atop Higgs' list of neighborhood needs is a grocery store and a clothing retailer. He said the grocery store is already in the works. Longtime South Memphis convenience store owner Clemmie Lester is working to open a full-size grocery in Towne Center. But Higgs said clothing retailers are badly needed.

"There's not anything like that here," Higgs said. "We have all these young people, about 2,000 college, high school, and middle school students. And they walk up and down these streets five days a week. I think a clothing store would be really successful."

The next planning meeting will focus on identifying tangible projects for Soulsville. It's scheduled for Monday, December 2nd, at the Dr. W.W. Herenton Renaissance Center (807 Walker) at 5:30 p.m.

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