Committee recommends TIF for $950 million Union Row development

By Published: December 13, 2018 12:11 AM CT

A Shelby County Commission committee is recommending the creation of a tax increment financing district to fund public infrastructure for the $950 million Union Row project, though two commissioners expressed concerns about minority- and women-owned business involvement and gentrification.

The recommendation from the economic development and tourism committee Wednesday, Dec. 12, is not binding on the full commission, which still must vote on the creation of the TIF district.

County Commissioner Tami Sawyer raised concerns about the involvement of minority and women business enterprises (MWBEs) involved in the development and accessibility to Union Row for Memphians of all incomes, specifically people of color.

“This is one of the largest TIFs the city and county have ever seen, and there is only at this point a soft commitment to the MWBE goal,” Sawyer said. “When we first got this presentation, we were told an announcement wasn’t ready about who the partners would be (on the project). In a county that is 70 percent people of color, that doesn’t meet the smell test at all.”

Project developer Kevin Adams said he hopes to have at least 28 percent MWBE participation on the project, but argued it’s too early to know how it will play out.

“Anything that’s worth doing is tough to do,” Adams said. “But it doesn’t mean it isn’t gonna happen. I’m determined we’re going to hit those numbers.”

Sawyer wanted to defer recommending the resolution until the commission’s next committee meeting Jan. 9 to allow for further conversations regarding minority involvement, but the motion failed.

Phase I of the Union Row project is a $511 million plan that includes a 30,000-square-foot market, 793 apartments, a 200-key hotel, 350,000 square feet of office space, multiple retail spots and 2,664 parking spaces.

Commission chairman Van Turner raised concerns that rental costs at Union Row – where apartments are expected to average $1,400 a month – could potentially cause gentrification in the area.

“We want Memphians who are already within this community to continue to be part of this community,” Turner said. “You don’t want to push them out into never-never land and just allow people who had historically been in the community, but are the only ones who can’t afford it.”

Adams said the $1,400 cost represents only an average and  that units are available in the $700 range.

The Union Row economic impact plan estimates phase I will generate more than $100 million in TIF proceeds, Downtown Memphis Commission President Jennifer Oswalt told commissioners. 

Oswalt previously said the TIF revenue will be used to pay for things needed to be prepare the site, including architecture, engineering, erosion, grading and utilities.

She said the TIF also will pay for a new road that will cut through the site and a pedestrian promenade that will pass by the market.

MICHELLE CORBETUnion Row project clears initial 30-year TIF approval

Commissioner Mark Billingsley said he’s excited about Union Row and was satisfied by Adams’ answer on potential MWBE involvement.

“I believe this is good for Downtown," Billingsley said. "I really believe you have made the case in previous presentations with the quality of your partners, which speaks a lot to how successful this group will be.”

The commission will vote on approving the TIF Monday, and the Memphis City Council will vote on the TIF the following day.

Because it’s a 30-year TIF, the state will also have to approve it before the project can move forward.

In other business, the commission’s general government committee deferred on a resolution that would begin the process of appointing an interim state senator for District 32. It is the second consecutive meeting at which the measure has been deferred.

Turner, who sponsored the resolution, requested the deferral and said unless the will of the body changes over the next few weeks, the commission likely will let the special election play out without appointing an interim state senator.

The seat was vacated by Mark Norris, who recently was confirmed as a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee.

The County Commission also held a brief special-called meeting Wednesday morning to approve changes to the county’s MWBE ordinance on third reading. The main change approved was eliminating a clause that allowed the winning bid of the inmate health services contract – one worth $100 million over five years – to avoid having an MWBE requirement.  

The commission will vote on a fourth reading of the ordinance Monday, and Turner said more changes to the ordinance are expected in the coming months.

<strong>Van Turner</strong>

Van Turner


Shelby County Commission Union Row Tami Sawyer Van Turner Tax Increment Financing
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf is the county government reporter for The Daily Memphian. Omer was previously a reporter at The Jackson Sun and is a University of Memphis graduate.

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