Memphians encouraged to celebrate city's investments

Real estate development comes in a variety of forms, much of which is visible.
It’s not hard to understand the transformation of the south end of Downtown, the latest example being the transformed Chisca Hotel building into apartments, known as Chisca on Main. Midtown’s renewed energy comes into focus at Overton Square. And the future shines bright at Crosstown Concourse, which will bring new life into the long-vacant Sears Crosstown structure that towers over Cleveland Street and North Parkway.
From Bass Pro at The Pyramid to Central Station, Graceland, Ikea, the Harahan Bridge project and Shelby Farms Park, development comes in all shapes and sizes in Memphis. The One Beale development will reshape the city’s skyline. If the massive additions underway or soon to come at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are included, there is some $3.4 billion in new development in the works in Memphis.
That theme was the story at New Memphis Institute’s Celebrate What’s Right luncheon May 10. Sponsored by First Tennessee Foundation, the Celebrate What’s Right luncheon series shines a light on the progress underway in the Memphis area. The first of three planned events this year, the May luncheon focused on large-scale projects in the Memphis community and the potential to shape the city’s future.
Andy Cates, CEO of RVC Outdoor Destinations, moderated a panel that included Chase Carlisle, Director of Real Estate and Development at Carlisle Corp.; Anna Holtzclaw, Principal at Holtzclaw Group; Tommy Pacello, President at Medical District Collaborative; Terence Patterson, President of Downtown Memphis Commission; and Rick Shadyac, CEO at ALSAC.
Cates opened by relaying a conversation he had with a friend who bemoaned all the activity going on in peer cities while not having much knowledge about what is underway in Memphis.
“I self-righteously told him what I’m aware of, then after research discovered what I’m actually clueless about,” Cates said. “People are focused on their projects but we realized we don’t preach to ourselves all the great things in our city. … These are quality-of-life projects. Having a new warehouse is important but I’m talking health care, parks and things that have a direct impact on our lives.
“Memphis is the Silicon Valley of education reform. Not just charter and public school systems but it’s a long-term battle, one being fought well here. I believe we’ll look back on now as an important time in our city’s history.”
Many of the projects touted are known; drive along Interstate 40 near the Germantown Parkway exit and the big blue exterior of Ikea going up is obvious. The massive expansion of Patriot Lake at Shelby Farms Park is clear to anyone driving along Walnut Grove Road near Farm Road.
Some projects are known but not noticed by anyone not in those neighborhoods. For example, the University of Memphis continues to transform its campus, and the university district is beginning to grow around it with projects such as the $60 million Highland Row investment.
Shadyac talked about the investment St. Jude is making to expand its footprint near the Pinch District with the plan to add 2,000 jobs over the next six years. The effort will increase the number of pediatric cancer patients by 20 percent. But it takes an investment.
“We do these things because St. Jude leads the world in pediatric cancer care,” he said. “All of this will cost money. We are going to embark upon expansion, roughly $1.3 billion in capital and an increased operating cost of $1.7 billion. And those numbers are probably on the conservative side. That money needs to be raised. That’s why we’re working with city and county and state. We’re committed to our city and the Pinch District. We’re committed to being good corporate citizens.”
While Memphians aren’t always quick to recognize the growth, it’s real in the city, even if cranes aren’t in abundance. Broad Avenue Arts District has transformed that neighborhood, much like the Chisca on Main has closed an important dark hole between The Orpheum Theatre and the heart of the South Main Historic Arts District.
Cates mentioned the famous “Keep Austin Weird” slogan in Austin, Texas. Memphis doesn’t need to create a slogan to keep its unique identity, he argued.
“I get to travel a lot to other cities, including those ‘sexy’ cities,” he said. “We have a sense of community here. I joke that if you have to do a shirt with a slogan you’ve already lost it. Memphis is still weird.”
Patterson discussed the legacy that everyone in the room is charged with leaving for the city’s future generations. Protecting the city’s character is one of the Downtown Memphis Commission’s goals.
“I don’t do that for today but I think about my 2-year-old son and his friends,” Patterson said. “We have certain assets like the Sterick and Hickman buildings and 100 North Main that we have to find assets to go into. Our Downtown has to be for everyone. We have to brand it in a certain way so visitors and residents alike have assets to utilize.”
Moving beyond focusing on one neighborhood of Memphis, Holtzclaw pointed to the sense of collaboration throughout the city that’s making many projects possible, such as the growth of bike lanes and the Shelby Farms Greenline. The Harahan Bridge project will help the region grow closer as it will bring Arkansas and Tennessee together via a bike path across the Mississippi River.
The Medical District Collaborative is a new effort that is working to bring all of that community’s stakeholders together, from property owners to hospital operators.
“We see Downtown on an upward trajectory along with Midtown,” Pacello said, pointing to the 24,000 students and employees who enter the district daily. “There are 250 acres of land owned by institutions. How do we connect those dots? How do we think about more of the student and employee base to attract them back to the district (to live)? We need to make sure it’s clean, green and safe.”
The idea of clean and green somewhat plays into the changing transit narrative in the city. Efficiency in public transportation options can be an answer to the spread outward of the city’s job centers. But Pacello hopes to change the conversation in the Medical District.
“The Medical District is very auto-oriented,” he said. “We have to find alternative ways to get people around. There are a lot of ways people get around – car, bike, bus, car share, bike share. It’s about networking all those options and I believe we’re heading that way.”
Holtzclaw also serves as Director of the Urban Land Institute Memphis and said she hasn’t seen a program in the Memphis area over the past year where transportation hasn’t been a focus. She said transportation must be viewed on a larger scale as development in the city continues.
Carlisle closed with mention of what has become his personal bulletin board message on a daily basis. It comes from a recent article by Kevin Arnovitz about the Grizzlies and the city. The passage that motivates him reads: “Far from its booming Sunbelt brethren, such as Atlanta and Charlotte, Memphis feels perhaps more charming but certainly older and less dynamic. It’s a scraggly river town populated not by construction cranes, but memories. Grit ‘n’ Grind means everything.”
“It takes one peek into the perceptions of outside looking in,” Carlisle said. “We recognize we have challenges. … That lights a fire in me to go out and shape our future. The word is out about Memphis.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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