Wayne Risher, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
Rosalyn Willis will lead a reinvigorated Memphis-Shelby County Community Redevelopment Agency, which is expected to pump more than $100 million into neglected neighborhoods in coming years.
Willis, daughter of pioneering black businessman and civil rights activist the late A.W. Willis Jr., has been hired to fill the newly created job of agency president.
Her selection Feb. 1 by the CRA board was announced by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
“With the support of Mayor Luttrell and Mayor Strickland, the CRA board unanimously voted last week to hire Rosalyn Willis as President and Andrew Murray as Director of Planning and Community Development,” Strickland spokeswoman Ursula Madden said.
The spate of hiring comes as the agency has significantly expands its jurisdiction from Uptown, north of Downtown, to include Binghamton and the neighborhood north of the Medical District.
The agency oversees development within tax increment financing districts designated by the City Council and Shelby County Commission.
In the districts, increases in city and county property taxes over a baseline year’s taxes are set aside to be spent on eligible projects within a district.
CRA officials said last year they expected to have about $95 million to spend over the next 14 years in the expanded Uptown TIF district.In Binghamton, The Binghamton TIF is projected to generate $26 million for such activities as housing rehabilitation, infrastructure, safety and lighting.
Willis served as a vice president and the firm’s project manager for the ongoing South City project, a $210 million transformation of former Foote Homes public housing and the surrounding neighborhood adjoining Downtown.
Willis is the sister of A.W. “Archie” Willis III, president of Community Capital, McCormack Baron Salazar’s Memphis partner in South City.
Their father, a lawyer, founded the city’s first integrated law firm and represented James Meredith, the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi. A.W. Willis Jr., who died in 1988, was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1964, the first black elected to the body since Reconstruction.
Murray was formerly the CRA’s interim executive director as an employee of PGAV Planners, a St. Louis urban planning firm.
PGAV was hired last spring to help strengthen the Community Redevelopment Agency’s ability to oversee revitalization of Uptown and other areas. Since its creation in 2000, the agency has largely relied on the private sector for development expertise, with limited staff assigned by the city-county planning division.
Mitchell is the longtime community development coordinator for Uptown. She served as a liaison between residents and entities involved in improving Uptown, including the previous master developer, Lauderdale-Greenlaw LLC, a partnership of Belz Enterprises and Henry Turley Co.; the Division of Housing and Community Development; Memphis Housing Authority and others.