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Downtown pocket park supports blight eradication in urban core

The Madison Avenue pocket park contains greenspace, gallery space, a stage and a screen for projecting films.

Local attorney and part-owner of Brass Door, Scott Crosby, is bringing green space to a former blighted Burger King property on the North side of the Downtown core. The public park opens to the public with a free daylong celebration on Friday, April 21.

The Madison Avenue Park is situated next to the First Tennessee Bank tower at 151 Madison Avenue at Maggie H. Isabel Street. A 2013 engineering study affirmed that the former Burger King building, which had been empty since the late 1990s, was beyond repair, and the owners were facing possible legal action from the City of Memphis.

Crosby and his partners purchased it in 2013. In addition to green space, the multi-level park includes a small performance stage and a glass enclosed gallery space.

“I’ve always been fascinated with ‘third places’ -- where do people live when they’re not at work and they’re not at home?” said Crosby, who has worked Downtown for 20 years. “To some degree that was what creating the Brass Door was about, and it worked. When the Burger King became available, we knew we could do something great with it too.”

The privately-funded project was co-designed and made possible through collaboration with the PARC Foundation, a nonprofit founded by artist David Deutsch, which is dedicated to developing contemporary art and architecture. Davies Toews Architecture also contributed to the design of the space and Montgomery Martin was the general contractor.

“There’s an Irish proverb that says, ‘being early and being wrong can often feel like the same thing,’” said Crosby. “We purchased the Brass Door in 2010 during the deepest part of the recession. We were early to this district and we felt wrong for a long time.”

“But since then, look at everything that’s come along,” he added.

“The University of Memphis Law School. The Visible Music College. Renovations to the Madison Hotel and the First Tennessee Building. The new Hotel Napoleon. The sale of the Hickman Building. The heart of downtown, the city’s original financial district, is beating stronger than ever.”

The Madison Avenue Park’s development comes at a time when new projects along the South Main corridor, Mississippi Riverfront, in the Edge district and Crosstown neighborhood dot the landscape where blighted properties once stood. Those incremental revitalizations join massive new investments planned for the Pinch district and Riverfront. In all, approximately $3.8 billion in public and private capital are being deployed in Memphis’ urban core.

“My hope for Madison Avenue Park is that it is always beautiful and always cared for,” says Crosby. “It should be a place that is always valued -- and therefore shows Memphians that they are valued. Downtowners deserve that. Our city deserves that.”

“I believe in the core. Everything flows from the core.”

Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer. A Memphian since matriculating at Rhodes College in 2008, she has also been a contributor for the Choose901 blog. 
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