City South Ventures, the owner of the U.S. Marine Hospital and its property, recently threw a party to discuss having parties. Just as the Tennessee Brewery saw previtalization efforts last spring in an attempt to gain attention for, and possibly save, that landmark, Lauren Crews, half of the ownership team, hopes that similar events could be held at his property to build interest in plans for redevelopment.
Those plans are ambitious and include 67 apartments in the hospital itself, multi-family homes, a restaurant and event center, hotels, mixed-use structures, a water dock and a community garden. A pedestrian path would connect to downtown and the Big River Crossing over the Harahan Bridge. In all, Crews proposes 22 projects at a cost of $165 million, including new and improved infrastructure, within the hospital property and surrounding French Fort neighborhood, which sits atop the bluff to the south of Crump Blvd.
Though there is no named source of funding as of yet, Crews said he has a lot of interest and that "it's not about just getting investors, but who to get." He's interested, he continued, in investors who understand and are passionate about revitalization and tactical urbanism. City South Ventures also seeks the area to be set up as a tax increment financing (TIF) zone whereby any tax revenue over and above existing amounts would finance affordable housing development within the zone.
This isn't Crews' first rodeo. He comes from a family whose business is development--his brother currently involved with properties in Nashville and his nephew, Jason Crews, spearheading a newly proposed multi-million dollar, mixed-use development in Collierville.
Crews is passionate not just about his property, but also about the surrounding French Fort area, its history and its future. While they'd hoped to see a dozen or so for the talk and tour last Saturday, July 19, a crowd of more than 200 showed up and were allowed to wander about the land, in and out of the hospital building and the oldest structure on the property, a nursing residence. Those interested gathered around to listen to Shelby County historian Jimmy Ogle talk of Native Americans and Spanish explorers, of great floods and tiny mosquitoes, and of a once-flourishing neighborhood of single-family homes cut off from Downtown Memphis by an interstate. Crews and his lead architect, Charles “Chooch” Pickard, spoke excitedly of what the development might become and of reattaching the property to downtown.
As for the near future, Crews hopes to see previtalization efforts underway this fall, with possible wine dinners on the front lawn and opera sung from the rusting balconies. What comes after that, he said, "is a catalytic project for the neighborhood."
Read more about the history and proposed development of the area, and see renderings, at frenchfort.net
By Richard J. Alley