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Airing out Aerotropolis Master Plan

    Aerotropolis: A city or an economic hub that extends out from a large airport into a surrounding area that consists mostly of distribution centers, office buildings, light manufacturing firms, convention centers, and hotels, all linked to the airport via roads, expressways, and rail lines.

    – Greater Memphis Chamber

    Arvin W. Glass has lived in Whitehaven since the '70s and has seen businesses come and go. There once was a thriving Red Lobster restaurant, but the doors closed, he used as an example. Other businesses would follow, including the box stores.

    "It's still a good community," said Glass, a proud resident of Bluebird Estates. "But I never understood why Red Lobster moved. It wasn't that they weren't making money. It's just hard to believe it was an economic move."

    Whitehaven has had its share of business closings and other travails. It's a pre-dominantly African-American community nestled inside a 50 square-mile perimeter around the Memphis International Airport that's part of a Master Plan and Real Estate Market Analysis that will be useful in the redevelopment of Memphis Aerotropolis.

    Glass wants to see Whitehaven prosper. After attending the groundbreaking of the community's new Welcome Center on Nov. 15, he invited former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon to an Aerotropolis meeting that evening at the Airways Professional Center, which he manages.

    Dixon arrived 30 minutes early. He wasted no time quick-studying the project, pointing to historic neighborhoods and communities that interested him on an aerial map of the Aerotropolis. Soon, nearly two dozen people had gathered to hear about Memphis Aerotropolis. It was the last of three public meetings during the second phase of a listening tour that began in August.

    "We're hosting listening tours to get your response, opinions and thoughts," Chad Bowman, the Memphis Aerotropolis manager, explained to the group. "We want you to be enthusiastic about the process."

    Nate Cherry, the Aerotropolis project manager from RTKL in Los Angeles, followed Bowman with a PowerPoint presentation that included data, graphics, maps, photographs, and aerial views of neighborhoods based upon input from people who live and work in those areas.

    Nine major topics were gleaned from prior stakeholders' input and discussed: site condition, taxes and development financing, infrastructure and industry, housing, crime, workforce education, retail and commercial amenities, green space, and supply/demand and economic development summary.

    "These nine strategies are important," said Cherry, whose firm was hired by the City of Memphis and the Division of Planning and Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create the master plan for Memphis Aerotropolis. MXD Strategists of British Columbia, Canada, was hired to create the Real Estate Market Analysis.

    "I'm looking for a plan for the growth and development of the airport area. It's a depressed area," said Dixon, who lives in the Old Hickory community in Whitehaven. "And looks like they're gonna develop a plan."

    "This area has not suffered from a lack of planning, but there's nothing to show for it," said Cherry. "Frankly, I think this is the most important planning process in America."

    Barbara Becton, a member of the Oakhaven Community Association, community organizer and neighborhood watch coordinator, came armed with questions and comments.

    "I want to see Oakhaven, Hickory Hill and Whitehaven communities come together," said Becton. "I want to see an alliance. I want to see things for youth and businesses, how to make businesses grow and how to get out of poverty."

    "Hopefully, this is a concrete program that involves the whole community," said businessman M. LaTroy Williams, expressing some skepticism. "A lot of programs over the past 15 or 20 years, when they say they're gonna build, politics play a role."

    Eugene Eddins, a member of the Airways Business District Association, said some of the work that the CDC has done already overlaps some things being proposed in the Aerotropolis master plan.

    "We're working on code enforcement and partnering with Smith & Nephew and others to train people for jobs," said Eddins, who retired from Memphis Light Gas & Water. "We're fighting crime and blight, too."

    Cherry said creating jobs are ultimately what Memphis Aerotropolis is all about. He also said the city should take advantage of its amenities, such as manufacturing, various modes of transportation, tourism, parks and green spaces.

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