VOL. 111 | NO. 101 | Tuesday, June 3, 1997
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Memphis Heritage honors Midtown Corridor Redevelopment Project organizers for their vision in urban rehabilitation and neighborhood conservation
By LAURIE JOHNSON
The Daily News
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the demolition of almost 200 homes in preparation for a proposed I-40 highway project that was later rerouted effectively tore a hole in the fabric of the Evergreen neighborhood in Midtown.
An extensive redevelopment project, launched almost 10 years ago by neighborhood residents and city officials, has been recognized by local and state preservation groups for its success in knitting the neighborhood back together again.
The Midtown Corridor West Redevelopment Project was created to ensure that the empty lots were redeveloped in keeping with the aesthetics of the surrounding neighborhood.
Its authors, the Memphis/Shelby County Office of Planning and Development (OPD) and the Evergreen Historic District Association, are the recipients of Memphis Heritages 1996 Preservation Planning Award and the Tennessee Historical Commissions Certificate of Merit.
"It was a pretty easy choice," said Clayton Rogers, chairman of this years Memphis Heritage Preservation Award committee. "This has been one of the more successful urban planning projects in the country for integrating quite a number of new homes into an older historic neighborhood."
Memphis Heritage awards are given to projects that enhance local preservation efforts through urban planning, said Rogers, an architect with Williamson Haizlip & Pounders Inc.
"This is an extremely good example of new construction in a historic district," said Nancy Jane Baker, coordinator for the Tennessee Historical Commission. "It is compatible, yet it is a product of the time in which it is built.
"In other words, it looks new, but it fits in with the old. It retains the things that were important in the Evergreen neighborhood in the past that are still important today, such as that good neighborhood feel."
The Evergreen Historic District is one of the largest cohesive collections of early 20th-century homes in the Mid-South and contains about 1,400 dwellings built between 1890 and 1930.
The area contains a multitude of architectural styles popular during that period. Bungalows and four-squares of brick, stucco and stone make up the majority of the homes in the area, but there also are examples of styles such as Colonial Revival, Beaux Arts, Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival.
The main goal of the redevelopment effort was to build homes consistent in size, appearance and quality with the historic neighborhood that surrounds the corridor.
Although a precedent-setting lawsuit resulted in the deletion of the proposed section of I-40 from the states interstate system in 1981, the demolition of about 200 homes in what would be the proposed highways right-of-way left a barren ribbon of land running from Overton Park to Cleveland Street, which effectively split the Evergreen neighborhood in half.
In the late 1980s, after the state and federal governments designated the interstate right-of-way surplus land, and after state legislation was passed that made it possible for the land to be sold and developed, the city purchased the land back from the state and assumed responsibility for its maintenance, planning and marketing.
To get the redevelopment project off the ground, the city created an advisory committee made up of city officials and neighborhood representatives. The committee came up with a plan, which was adopted by the City Council, and the land was rezoned.
The Evergreen neighborhood association became involved in the process because residents wanted to have a say in how the land was redeveloped.
"We wanted to make sure that the land was not sold to one developer," said Sue Williams, past president of the Evergreen neighborhood association. "We were also concerned that a development might be done on an east-west axis."
Williams explained that although this is the direction that the cleared land extends, development along these lines would have resulted in as much of a break in the neighborhood as an expressway.
"We wanted it redeveloped in single lots following the streetscape that was already there, and thats what we eventually got," she said.
Area residents also successfully lobbied to have the area designated a historic conservation district so that new home designs would have to be approved by the citys Landmarks Commission.
Conservation district guidelines are slightly less restrictive than those of a historic preservation district, Williams said.
"We can maintain things without going under review, but new homes undergo pretty careful scrutiny."
To date, about 130 homes have been rebuilt, said Darrell Cozen, historic preservation planner for OPD. About 40 lots are still available for sale, and a section of about 30 lots has yet to be plotted and offered for sale.
In addition to making Evergreen residents happy, the redevelopment project has resulted in several benefits for the city, as well.
Cozen said property values in the area have increased, mainly because people building new homes tend to build bigger homes than the older homes around them.
Sale of the lots, which range in price from $14,000 to $34,000, have generated $2.8 million for the city, which has allowed it to more than recoup the $2.4 million it spent to repurchase and maintain the property, said Cynthia Buchanan, deputy director of the citys public works division and former director of planning for OPD.
Any surplus funds go toward low-income housing development.
Property taxes from new homes in the corridor, when it is fully developed, are projected to add about $150,000 to both the citys and the countys tax bases, she said.
City and neighborhood residents alike agree the rebuilding project so far has been a success.
"It has been an absolutely successful neighborhood/city joint venture," Williams said. "The houses fit in so well."
"We were dealing with 50 acres of land that had just been totally abandoned," Buchanan said. "It had a very negative influence on a neighborhood in the middle of town.
"This project removed that negative and actually put in an incentive for people to move in. It stabilized the neighborhood."
Buchanan said the project also marked one of the first opportunities for residential development in Midtown.
"No one knew what the market would be for that," she said. "We soon found, however, that Midtown is indeed a very attractive location for people interested in buying new houses. This really gave Midtown a boost in terms of its public image and self-image."