Know your nonprofits: Memphis Heritage

Memphis Heritage is employing new strategies to preserve old structures. This local non-profit is committed to protecting and revitalizing the region's history through advocacy for the county's oldest buildings.
With the slogan “Giving Memphis' Past a Future,” Memphis Heritage Inc. is dedicated to historic preservation. Some of their more publicly recognized campaigns have involved saving the former Four Flames Restaurant and the Gassner Building through adaptive reuse. The Four Flames is now home to the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, and the Gassner Building now houses the Visible School of Music. Other efforts include working toward saving and repurposing the Tennessee Brewery, the Goyer-Lee House, Sears Crosstown and the buildings in Overton Square.

“Memphis Heritage was founded in 1975 as a nonprofit educational and charitable organization. And MHI remains the only nonprofit organization in Shelby County that promotes historic preservation for all of Memphis and Shelby County,” said June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage. “Some of our current efforts impact areas across the city.”
June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage
In working to preserve our area’s rich history, MHI has played a part in revitalizing not just buildings, but entire neighborhoods like the Soulsville area, The Pinch, Crosstown, Broad Avenue and the South Main District.

“As Memphis Heritage celebrates its 40 year anniversary, we continue to be the voice for the preservation of the Memphis area's architectural heritage,” said West. “Our mission is to educate and coordinate individuals and groups to save, improve, reuse and architecturally maintain historically significant buildings, neighborhoods, parks and cultural artifacts of Shelby County.”

And with a focus on “old,” there are several “new” things happening at MHI. For instance, MHI is creating notebooks for City Council members and Shelby County Commissioners. The purpose is to provide elected officials with a listing of all properties on the National Register of Historic Places in Memphis and Shelby County in their respective districts.

“We want to make them aware of the properties located in the areas they represent and highlight the potential of repurposing those historic landmarks which include not only properties, but parks as well," explained West. "Memphis Heritage has surveyed over 13,000 structures, helping Memphis to become sixth in the nation in terms of the number of buildings listed on the National Register."

Additionally, Memphis Heritage is taking a unique approach to address the issue of historic structures reaching the crisis stage. Knowing that the potential exists to lose properties to demolition once they become endangered, the organization has launched its New Century Fund. According to West, this funding will be used to offer grants to support the repurposing and restoration of historic properties. It is hoped that this fund could help prevent unnecessary demolition, which has often happened in the past because this type of financial aid was not readily available.

With a goal of raising $3 million, MHI intends to provide funds to assist in saving properties and allow nonprofits to maintain more of their budgets to pursue their work in the community.

“The entire Memphis community will benefit from the New Century Fund as we make Memphis Heritage better able to sustain historic preservation,” said West. “In addition to access to grants for assisting in the restoration of historic properties, we will provide historic preservation education for both children and adults, including programs that teach restoration techniques and scholarships for students in historic preservation. We will be able to commission studies that determine the best adaptive reuse of historic buildings and surveys of the historic sites in Shelby County.”

With $1 million raised so far, the organization has hired Younger Associates to produce an impact study, the first of its kind, that documents the economic impact value of Memphis Heritage. So while MHI’s mission is the same, the organization is greatly expanding its capacity to serve our community.

If you are interested in being a volunteer for the Memphis Heritage, visit Volunteer Memphis to see a list of all available opportunities. 
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Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.