by Toby Sells
City money will be found to fund a $1.5 million project to revitalize Whitehaven’s Southbrook Mall, Memphis City Council members said Tuesday, after a legal opinion last week stopped the original funding stream.
Council members voted last month to approve $1.5 million in city capital funds, some of which were to be used to for the revitalization of the Elvis Presley Boulevard corridor, for the project. But city council attorney Allan Wade issued an opinion that said the funding mechanism was illegal.
Some council members said Tuesday the opinion came as a way to stop the project. Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said the project “was doomed from the onset” and that while Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said he was in favor of the project, his administration was silent even though they likely knew the funding mechanism was illegal. She said the mayor’s office has a bias on what projects get funded.
“I get the feeling you don’t want to do this little black project for $1.5 million,” Fullilove said. “But we’ll probably be asked soon to support the $15 million for Crosstown and then the Raleigh Springs Mall and other projects with money we don’t have.”
The issue came before the council’s economic development and tourism committee Tuesday. Committee chairwoman Wanda Halbert said the Southbrook Mall project was orchestrated by some council members and administration staffers away from Memphis City Hall. She reminded officials that the only two places to get city business done is around the council’s committee room conference table or in the city council chambers.
“The council’s role is to put the issues on the table, and it’s the administration’s job to bring forth recommendations,” she said.
Council member Harold Collins said Southbrook Mall is in his district and wanted to help get the project started. He said he met with Wharton and others to discuss funding sources for the project and that everyone in the meetings thought using city capital funds was appropriate. Wade’s opinion on the matter, Collins said, was out of their hands.
But council members vowed to find the funds to at least get the Southbrook renovation project started. Fullilove suggested finding the money to get a new roof on the building before the winter and then find the rest of the money later.
“I’m sure there’s $400,000 here or $400,000 there or $300,000 over here [in the city’s budget], and we can get our finance director [Brian Collins] to find it for us,” Collins said.
Halbert also wanted to know how the administration picks the private projects it selects to invest in each year. Chief administrative officer George Little said determinations are made based on job creation and overall economic impact to the city.