MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Could there finally be some development on the side of the Old Firestone Plant? The Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County certainly hopes so but the chance for another building to sit on the spot is likely years down the road.
“Well, for a long time it was one of the places where a lot of people around here actually worked and actually made a living,” Patrick White, who grew up in the new Chicago neighborhood said.
At one time, the Firestone Plant employed thousands. It’s been closed for decades, even some of the last video we have in our archives shows shows a crumbling building standing and that was from more than 20 years ago.
That building is long gone. Now more than 70 acres of main site is overgrown with greenery, but there’s still a massive concrete slab.
“It’s a big piece of property. Good things can happen if we collectively get behind it,” EDGE President Reid Duhlberger said.
He has a plan, and that includes putting the once iconic piece of property up for auction, a tax auction.
Years ago, part of the property was a golf course that was designed for children and was owned by the Mid-South Junior Golf Association. But that didn’t work. Now, with Mid-South Junior Golf as the owner, it’s going to a tax auction soon.
EDGE’s board signed off for them to bid up to $300,000 for the property.
The plan isn’t to develop the property, it’s to get it ready for a developer.
Duhlberger says there’s major issues with the land, including deed restrictions on the property. Bridgestone and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conversation have a say in what happens at the spot.
There’s also major land use restrictions. We uncovered documents saying the site must remain industrial, commercial or recreational. No homes can be built there and “no use of surface water or groundwater in the uppermost aquifer system will occur.”
Duhlberger says the key is to get the land in public control, so they can work with the state to get the grants necessary to make changes to the property. Then they can attract a company that probably wouldn’t come unless some land renovations were done.
“This is what we call brownfield sites, former manufacturing sites exist throughout our community, they exist throughout our country. If the public sector doesn’t take the lead in revitalizing these manufacturing sites more often then not they just sit and they become a blighted influence on their neighborhoods,” he said.
But Dr. Carnita Atwater, Executive Director New Chicago Community Partnership Revitalization CDC, is against the deal. She’s tried herself to find ways to develop the spot.
“We don’t want them to dictate the jobs that goes in our community. They want to purchase the land and then be vague about what’s coming there,” she said.
Duhlberger says purchasing the land would be a small step in a much bigger plan down the road. There isn’t a plan for what would be there yet.
White just wants his neighborhood to once again thrive.
“It’s very well respected. It’s very well known and there’s a lot of loving, caring people out here.”
The auction is set for Tuesday, July 30.
A spokesperson with TDEC says they have had preliminary discussions with EDGE and the City of Memphis about how redevelopment on the site may proceed.