Wharton announces plan to fight blight in Memphis - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Wharton announces plan to fight blight in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

The City of Memphis is taking on the fight against blight. 

In a news conference Nov. 22 Mayor A C Wharton and several other city leaders visited decaying properties with this message: "We're going to clean this place up."

Mayor Wharton announced plans to demolish two severely neglected properties, Winchester Gardens and Walter Simmons Estates, with another one close behind. City leaders say these are the first of many more to come, and they're trying to make changes to the law so they can step in sooner before these properties are too far gone. 

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It's been years since a resident lived in Winchester Gardens. Now after years of sitting empty and in decay, the city has plans for it and others like it, demolition. 

"This is something that should not be allowed to exist anywhere that calls itself a city," Mayor Wharton said, "There are people that live here, little children walk by this." 

Winchester Gardens is one of over 80,000 properties in the city needing major cleanup, but city officials say it's not easy to step in.  

"Under our current system, it could take as long as five years from the time taxes are due until the time the government takes the property back," Memphis City Attorney Steve Barlow said. 

And in five years, anything can happen.  

"Unfortunately during that time the project has continued to deteriorate until nothing can be done to save it," Deputy Director of Public Works Onzie Horne said. 

Now city leaders are turning to state lawmakers for help.

"If the law needs to be strengthened, that's why I'm here, to make sure that's done," State Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) said. 

"One of the ways we can get in there earlier in emergency situations is when people stop paying taxes, that's the first warning sign something's going wrong at this place," Barlow said. 

They're hoping to change the law so they can step in before a property falls too far into disrepair. 

"We can save the city that demolition money, but more importantly for all of these properties, if we can rehabilitate and get back on the tax roll, then it'll benefit the city in terms of tax revenue," Horne said. 

It would save the city millions in demolition and save properties for redevelopment. 

"It is a continuous effort, blight is a relentless foe, and we're doing all we can to rise to the challenge and meet it as aggressively as we can," Horne said. 

"This is just the beginning, not the end," Mayor Wharton added. 

Demolition on the two properties announced Nov. 22, Winchester Gardens and Walter Simmons Estates, is expected to begin in the next several weeks.  

The city is also working to get other properties condemned so they can take over and clean up or demo the properties as needed.

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