The Memphis Czar

December 17, 2012

I went to a Community Redevelopment Agency meeting recently at City Hall and about 50 members of the public were present prepared to discuss and protest the Heritage Trails redevelopment proposal put forth by Robert Lipscomb. He failed to show up. You ask yourself, who is Robert Lipscomb? Good question.

Robert Lipscomb is currently!

  • Director of Housing and Community Development
  • Executive Director of Memphis Housing Authority
  • City of Memphis Chief Financial Officer
  • SuperCzar able to lease tall buildings in a single bond, more powerful than a mayor or city council, faster than a protest group of citizens.

He is responsible for various local housing developments and is currently trying to designate most of downtown Memphis as a slum so that he can get control of downtown tax receipts for many future years. It is time that the local Mayors, the City Council, the County Commission and the tax paying citizens of Memphis take back control from Mr. Lipscomb and get a more balanced approach to local development plans. No one local bureaucrat should have such a large influence. Mr. Lipscomb is very smart and knows how to work the local and federal systems.

I have contacted the State of Tennessee concerning TIFs and TDZs (Tax incremental Financing and Tourist Development Zones) and they seem to know less about what is going on than the general public. The real question is how are these proposed developments financed and what is the risk to the taxpayers if these developments fail.

Another question that taxpayers should ask is about subsidized housing and its cost. That is an area that I will write about in the future.

5 Responses to “The Memphis Czar”

  1. Kathy says:

    Great observations! Keep them coming and wake the public up.

  2. Tom Jones says:

    Gosh, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    First, Mr. Lipscomb doesn’t get control of downtown tax receipts. The law doesn’t allow it. The receipts are controlled by Community Redevelopment Agency – a city-county public board – which uses the incremental tax revenues to pay for projects it approves.

    Second, TIF is a widely misunderstood tool for redevelopment, but the answers to questions are out there. The state law on TIF defines slum and blight broadly, but other Tennessee cities have used it and its slum and blight definitions to pay for key projects, notably Nashville.

    Third, Mr. Lipscomb is not responsibility for various housing development, because he thankfully eliminated public housing in Memphis. In their place, he has built New Urbanist multi-use projects that create jobs and stimulate the economy. And it’s been done with five massive grants of federal money so city taxpayers didn’t have to pay for it.

    Most of all, I understand that Mr. Lipscomb was told not to attend the meeting by the CRA staff since there was no vote to be taken and no action to be taken.

  3. jsaino says:

    Comment:
    Gosh, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    First, Mr. Lipscomb doesn’t get control of downtown tax receipts. The law doesn’t allow it. The receipts are controlled by Community Redevelopment Agency – a city-county public board – which uses the incremental tax revenues to pay for projects it approves.
    As I understand what is being proposed is declaring most of downtown a slum area to qualify for designation as a TIF area where the incremental tax receipts are pledged to pay bonds which may or may not be full faith and credit bonds. The Center City Group is concerned about increased tax receipts from projects that they developed in the past with PILOTS that should go to the city and county but will not be diverted to pay for this new TIF.

    Second, TIF is a widely misunderstood tool for redevelopment, but the answers to questions are out there. The state law on TIF defines slum and blight broadly, but other Tennessee cities have used it and its slum and blight definitions to pay for key projects, notably Nashville.
    I have contacted the state on this issue and they are in the process of giving me information on existing state TIFs and TDZs and their past and present history. They seem to know very little about it.

    Third, Mr. Lipscomb is not responsibility for various housing development, because he thankfully eliminated public housing in Memphis. In their place, he has built New Urbanist multi-use projects that create jobs and stimulate the economy. And it’s been done with five massive grants of federal money so city taxpayers didn’t have to pay for it.
    Yes, but at what cost. There is no definitive information on the cost for projects such as The University Place. Private developers have told me that the cost is up to 3 times the cost of private development. This is an area that needs open accounting. Also you apparently think federal money is free and of no concern to taxpayers. This is taxpayer money and it is not free when we are borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar.

    Most of all, I understand that Mr. Lipscomb was told not to attend the meeting by the CRA staff since there was no vote to be taken and no action to be taken.
    Mr. Lipscomb missed an opportunity to explain his plan to the affected people and the taxpayers. This shows some arrogance and an attitude that “I know what is good for you.”
    Thanks for your comments. I enjoy your comments and articles.
    Joe Saino

  4. Tom Jones says:

    Thanks, Joe, for the responses.

    It’s my suspicion that the comments about TIF from anybody connected with Downtown Memphis Commission is counterintuitive considering that it has waived tens of millions of city and county taxes, and it hasn’t expressed any concerns about city and county revenues in the past. More than that, it sometimes feels like some downtown opposition to the TIF is led by the usual suspects who are accustomed to having keys to the downtown cash registers for their own incentives and want to keep it that way. If Downtown Memphis Commission was that concerned about city/county coffers, it would not have extended some PILOTs out to 40 years, an interest that continues. Finally, if the Downtown Memphis Commission were that opposed to TIF, why did it request one in 2003?

    Since state approval is only needed for TDZs and these are set out in the law, I suspect the state will have little information about TIFs since they do not affect state revenues.

    Based on the documents and accountings I have seen over the years, I don’t see any basis for claims that the HOPE VI projects, which eliminated public housing in Memphis (thank God), cost many times more than private development (since it is in fact private development leveraged by federal money).

    I don’t think federal money is free, but I also know that if we do not stake claim to our share, it is merely spent on other cities and other communities and that seems foolish on its face. That said, we can also debate the causes of the federal deficit – corporate welfare, the military-industrial complex, incentives to business and tax breaks to the richest people in the U.S., but for the purposes of our discussion, I merely ask why we would forego federal funds so they can be spent in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, etc.

    I don’t know why Mr. Lipscomb is arrogant if he didn’t show up to a meeting where he was told that there would be no action taken and following three years of meetings about Heritage Trail and TIF. A number of people have convenient memories about the history of this project, and Mr. Lipscomb has already issued reports, case studies, a web site, and more to inform people about Heritage Trail so it’s hard for me to join the crowd ignoring the facts for fear that it contradicts their preconceived opinions.

    Thanks for your diligence and your reporting about the important issues facing our community.

  5. AJinMemphis says:

    Thanks for informing the misinformed, Tom.

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