Midtown Market Project Headed for Council Vote



New details emerged on the project to transform the blighted corner of Union and McLean into an apartment building, shops, and, perhaps, an upscale grocery store Tuesday during a meeting at Memphis City Hall.

Developer Ron Belz, CEO and president of Belz Enterprises, asked the Memphis City Council Tuesday to borrow $4 million from the federal government that the city would loan to his company so it can build the $43.5 million project. The project already got a $10.5 million in tax breaks from the Center City Revenue Finance Committee in October.

Debbie Singleton, interim director of the city’s office of Housing and Community Development, said the developers need the money to attract more private investment into the project. It’s a good deal for the city, she said.

“This project makes money for the city,” Singleton said. “This investment will bring in money that does not exist today. It’s money that (city council members) don’t have in the budget today and will not have in the budget until the project is completed.”

How much money for the city? It depends on what version of the project is actually built.

The first version includes a “gourmet” or “boutique” grocery store, the identity of which Belz says he cannot divulge. But he did liken the store to a Sprouts or a Whole Foods store, both of which are in the Memphis market. Though, he did say his company may also be in talks with a company not yet in the Memphis market.

Council member Wanda Halbert said the store sounded “highfaluting.”

With the grocery store, Memphis puts about $9.3 million in new dollars in its its coffers over the 20-year course of the loan.

Without the grocery store, Memphis puts about $3 million in new dollars in its coffers over the 20-year course of the loan.

Belz said his company can’t force a grocer into the project. If his company cannot secure a store, more apartments and smaller shops would be added to the project instead. This lowered the sales tax projections for the project and for the city.

Council members liked the project overall, giving it a favorable vote in committee before it’s voted on in the full council meeting this afternoon. They liked the 482 permanent jobs Belz said it would bring. They liked the fact the project would remove the blight from the prominent Midtown corner.

Belz said the site is an “albatross” and that the existing parking garage goes three stories into the ground and was recently filled with 18 feet of water. He said the cost to demolish the existing structures is about $4.8 million, which is in excess of the $4 million he’s asking for.

Halbert wondered if allowing the blighted structures - a former Holiday Inn and an office building - was the fault of code enforcement officials in the city or the county.

“If the county is, then we need to hold them accountable for it and if it’s the city, then we need to do our job,” she said.

Council member Joe Brown said projects like Midtown Market - with “living quarters so close to retail” - is “the future of where Memphis is going.”

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