When fund-raising consultant Melvin Shaw lived in Dixie Homes during the late '40s/early '50s, it had a "great sense of community."
There was a pool, an elementary school, and a plethora of black-owned businesses, all within walking distance.
"Everybody knew everybody in Dixie Homes," Shaw said. "We never looked at it as low-income [housing]. It was a great place to live."
Local leaders are hoping that the $14 million Legends Park, a 28-acre Hope VI development located at the former site of Dixie Homes, will foster that same sense of community.
"This is not merely building buildings. This is about building homes," said Memphis mayor A C Wharton at a ribbon cutting for the first phase of the mixed-use development. "There's a difference between a house and a home."
Located in the shadow of the new Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center building, the development includes 134 units of multi-family housing at Legends Park East, the 24-family FedEx Family House, and a 9,000-square-foot pediatric rehabilitation facility.
The Women's Foundation of Greater Memphis also has pledged more than $7 million in job training and social services for residents.
Dixie Homes was Memphis' first public housing project for African Americans. The so-called Legends Park, named after the many residents of Dixie Homes who became prominent Memphians, is the city's sixth Hope VI project. The federal Hope VI program was created to revitizalize public housing.
The first "legend," honored last week, was Dorothy Butler Gilliam, the first African-American female reporter at The Washington Post. Gilliam said family members remembered Dixie Homes' hardwood floors and marble windowsills.
"My sister kept talking about how nice it was," she said. "It was a great place to come from."
Though Shaw and Gilliam remember a vibrant community, Memphis Housing Authority chair Ricky Wilkins cited the deplorable living conditions in public housing when he joined the board.
"The board members in 1992 made a pact that we were going to transform public housing in Memphis, Wilkins said. "We were going to leave it better than we found it.
"This looks as good as any development you'll find anywhere in the city."