Restoring Orange Mound requires difficult conversations: Inaugural Economic Empowerment Summit

Local News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( – Orange Mound is nearing “a point of no return”, according to city leaders that are hoping to bring a renaissance to the struggling community.

The day-long inaugural Economic Empowerment Summit was held Tuesday to discuss how the community can reshape and restore the historic neighborhood.

Everyone that gathered in the full room at the Teaching and Learning Academy in Midtown hope to see struggling and devalued historically black neighborhoods, like Orange Mound, return to their former glory.

“I hope to find some ideas on how to develop Orange Mound. What can we do to make it better? How can we improve it? Rather than piecemeal. We get a grocery store here. We get a building here. What can we do as a unit?” said retired educator Calvin Lacy, who came to the summit.

Shelby County Assessor Melvin Burgess has put the blight issues surrounding The Mound in the spotlight. Three weeks ago, he held a press conference to deliver the findings of his office that showed the spiral of the community.

In Orange Mound, Burgess said, home values sunk nearly 30% in the last decade. Vacant properties also line the streets despite being surrounded by thriving communities like Cooper-Young, Binghampton, and the University of Memphis.

“The question is why are those homes continuing to go up in value but the homes in that little zone are strictly devalued? So, we just want to bring some equity to it and make sure that it can survive because it is a great historic neighborhood,” Burgess said.

The summer featured dozens of local readers and representatives from housing and development organizations. It featured speakers and discussions designed to open up a community conversation.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris told the crowd it’s not an easy fix. He said it’ll require having difficult conversations about adding community amenities and addressing the fact that people are moving out of Shelby County.

“The kinds of people that are looking to move are young families and millennials, so to a certain extent, we have to make sure that our communities are attractive to the people that are actually looking to move,” Mayor Harris said.

While the summit conversation surrounds Orange Mound, Burgess said it doesn’t end there.

“We ought to start saying ‘hey, what can we do to help these intercity issues?’ And I think this is a good start and hopefully we can take this model with everyone’s help here in Memphis, Shelby County and make this be a worldwide model,” he said.

Burgess said they’ll compile the information discussed at the summit and then the next step will be to create a task force to develop a step-by-step plan. He plans to announce the group that will make up the task force at the next Shelby County Commission meeting.

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