Proposal for new pre-development grant would help emerging and minority developers

WATCH: Downtown Memphis Commission trying to make pre-development construction process more affordable

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Construction is one of the few things still on track during the pandemic.

But what many of us don’t see are the pre-development planning steps like financial modeling to design plans that all happen before a developer can even consider construction.

These initial steps are a vital part of the development process, but they can be very costly too and for an emerging or minority developer, the cost of those pre-development steps even for small projects can be discouraging.

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A new 35-unit housing complex in Uptown is the latest project from Jones Urban development.

The agency, run by two brothers, has been building in Uptown for 20 years.

But co-owner Andre Jones said he remembers how difficult it was to break into this industry, especially as a minority developer.

“It’s even more difficult to go to the next level because when you’re doing projects that are larger scale, finding equity resources, getting money for pre-development is difficult because we don’t have that same circle friend, you know we don’t have that generational wealth that other larger developers have, non-minority,” said Jones.

That’s one of the reasons why the Downtown Memphis Commission is working on a proposal for a new pre-development assistance grant.

Staff says this would be a tool to help grow the number of emerging and minority developers who don’t have the same access to resources.

The grants would be up to $5,000 dollars each and cover the cost of pre-development work such as preliminary architectural designs, financial modeling, and environmental testing.

“Connecting them to someone who can help with a pre-defined set of scope of what that work is to get you to be able to do a project is really going to be helpful for the folks who are new and don’t have the resources,” said Jennifer Oswalt, Downtown Memphis Commission President.

Oswalt said the agency would allot $50,000 for this grant per year and she hope they can help 10-15 developers with the funding.

Jones said grant funding like this is vital and the impact wouldn’t just be downtown.

He said this effort has the potential to help redevelop some of the blights throughout Memphis.

“A lot of vacant lots that are between houses, between buildings downtown, South city, South Memphis and you know the small-scale developer, that emerging developer is the one who’s going to build that – no large-scale developer is going to do it,” said Jones. “We need to get into our neighborhoods build one building at a time and it’s going to take incentives like this to make that happen.”

Center City Development Corporation Policy committee will meet is this Thursday morning to discuss and vote on the grant proposal.

If approved, applications for the grant would be available right away.

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