The long-neglected Metro Shopping Plaza on East E.H. Crump Blvd will be receiving $3.5 million from Shelby County, money that could serve as the impetus needed to launch a complete revamp of the community anchor that once served as a “center of Black excellence.”
The funding was dedicated to the facility as part of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris’ proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 and approved by the county commission as part of the budget passed late Monday night.
The shopping plaza, which opened in 1970, is included in the designated South Memphis/Soulsville TIF development district and has fallen into decay and blight in recent years. Initially, it was called the “Freedom Center South Shopping Plaza,” a nod to the civil rights movement.
The capital investment dollars, according to the county’s budget proposal, will be used “to purchase and restore the building to functional use to advance private economic investment in the surrounding neighborhood.”
Harris said the shopping plaza has a “deep and rich history,” once the site of a grocery store and pharmacy. It was “the center of Black excellence,” he said.
“It’s not living up to its potential right now,” Harris said. “You can see the divestments from South Memphis. Although there’s some hardworking people who own it, the place could use sprucing up.”
The county needs to take the Metro Shopping Plaza back to the days when it was the center of excellence in the community, Harris said.
The actual renovation project is likely to cost $30-40 million, but the $3.5 million could be the impetus to get the project started, said Jeffrey T. Higgs, executive director of the South Memphis Renewal Community Development Corporation and Lemoyne Owen Community Development Corporation.
“That’s the role of government is to bring boosts to projects like that. It’s exciting,” Higgs said. “It will be the impetus, I think, to bring more development to our neighborhood.”
When it opened in 1970, the plaza was home to 18 stores, creating 160 jobs.
Black Business Association of Memphis President Ernest Strickland said that investment in South Memphis is not only good for the neighborhood, but for the success of the city.
“In order for Memphis to prosper, it doesn’t help when there’s a hole in my end of our boat, right? And so there’s been a hole in the South Memphis end of our boat,” Strickland said. “With investments going into the community, that helps to plug that hole so that the city can float and prosper at a greater rate.”
Previously, owner of Metro Shopping Plaza, J.W. Gibson had announced plans to open a grocery store and expand a resource center at the site.
Gibson could not be immediately reached for comment.
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at [email protected], 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Metro Shopping Plaza gets $3.5 million commitment from Shelby County