MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The Memphis blight fight is facing a fight of its own, one for money. Friday morning, demolition work began on an old apartment complex in the city's Binghampton neighborhood. It will be rebuilt, thanks to money from the federal government, but federal grants have dropped more than 20 percent recently and will probably get worse.
Life is a struggle in Binghampton. The boarded up houses, the vacant apartments, not to mention the crime, are the battles people fight to make a living. The bigwigs at Memphis City Hall call this blight. It's decay, and it can eat away at a neighborhood's soul.
Now Binghampton and its people are fighting back. This is one of the first places in Memphis where a very young A C Wharton lived. Even with its troubles, it is still a place where people born and raised here end up coming back.
People like Eric Harris, principal of East High School. "This community means so much to me," he said.
An old, long-forgotten apartment complex is the latest target of the city's fight against neighborhood neglect. But before they can rebuild, they have to tear down.
In an event that was so staged it needed a concession stand, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton climbed up behind the controls of the heavy machinery, and started ripping a building down.
It is what is known as a photo op, an opportunity to get a picture that might be a bit different. No doubt about it, this is different.
The mayor, however, will do just about anything to continue the programs of making neighborhoods livable. It's for not just the people, he says, it's to show investors that Memphis does care.
"You hear all the time, and I call it garbage, you hear all the time that the city's good about putting money on big plants and all, but they never put anything in the neighborhoods, which is just a flat out lie, if I might say, and I'm not going to use pretty language for it."
In recent years, Memphis has received millions from the feds for these projects. That tidal wave of money has dried up to a trickle, and with no money in the city, there are concerns about the future of these neighborhood programs.
"We've already, in the past two or three years, suffered a 25 percent cut in the funding that we're getting," Wharton said.
Memphis can't afford to put money into these projects anymore. It's a tough reality in a city where there are plenty of blight-filled neighborhoods.
So there's a good chance there will be no more dough from D.C. 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen said, "When you hear cut cut cut cut cut, you're hearing, anti-Memphis, anti-Memphis, anti-Memphis. Memphis doesn't need cuts."
Wharton isn't ready to go that far, but he admits he's concerned, saying, "These funds are going to be dwindling across the board."
You can thank federal money for some improvements along Tillman Street, Binghampton's main drag. Few people from other areas would have dreamed about riding their bicycles through Binghampton five years ago. The Greenline now brings visitors in on a regular basis. But if money can't be found, the projects are put on hold.
"We have been leveraging our federal dollars for many, many years. And we've been putting local dollars with those federal dollars," said City Councilman Myron Lowery. "Right now we don't have the local dollars to put there."