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VOL. 121 | NO. 156 | Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Shops at Highland Development Near University of Memphis Moves Forward

By Amy O. Williams

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HIGH MARK: This is how developers at Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers envision the mixed-use Shops at Highland University, which is set to open in Spring 2008. -- Rendering Courtesy Of Looney Ricks Kiss Architects Inc.

Although he doesn't own a crystal ball, Josh Poag said he hopes to see The Shops at Highland University on the Highland Strip positively influence the area surrounding the University of Memphis.

Poag, executive vice president of Memphis-based real estate firm Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers, once lived in the area and said he thinks the community around the university is a great neighborhood with a lot of potential.

"The surrounding area is phenomenal," he said. "With the kind of people (there), it is a microcosm of Memphis. Within a five-mile radius you have lower-income households and extremely high-income households and everything in between. It's just a dynamic area of Memphis."

The Highland renaissance

Construction of the tentatively named, $45 million mixed-use retail and residential Shops at Highland University is expected to begin in January or February of next year.

Meanwhile, Poag & McEwen's plans have been moving through the approval process, most recently gaining a green light from the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board in mid-July.

The company initially unveiled the project to the public in April. Representatives will present plans to the Memphis City Council in September.

"(Shops at Highland University) are a price point above your typical student housing. We're going for a nice product that will be the nicest in the area."
- Josh Poag
Executive vice president of Memphis-based real estate firm Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers

The project will consist of about 88,000 square feet of retail space, Poag said. Though he could not yet announce any of the retailers who have signed on for the project, he said some potential tenants were "processing their decisions," while a couple had made commitments. Plans for the residential development have not been finalized, but will include three stories of between 170 and 200 apartments above the retail shops. An additional 25 townhouses facing Ellsworth Street behind the Highland Street Church of Christ at 443 S. Highland will be built between the main retail and residential project and the existing neighborhood of East Buntyn.

Value-added living

This type of development - retail mixed with residential - first came online for Poag & McEwen when it developed The Shops of Saddle Creek in 1987 in Germantown. Since then, Poag & McEwen has developed numerous other so-called "lifestyle centers" around the country.

"It creates a dynamic community," Poag said. "This was something that Americans built in the '20s, and it really hasn't happened in Memphis on a major scale since then."

Despite the planned residences' proximity to the U of M campus - one block - Poag said the units are not necessarily intended for students.

"They're a price point above your typical student housing," he said. "We're going for a nice product that will be the nicest in the area."

And though many students might have to wait until they get their first job before they can afford to live in the apartments, the shops nearby are a definite plus for some. English major Bridgette Townsend, 20, said it would be very convenient for students like her, and even moreso for students who don't own cars.

Students like Elizabeth Johnson, 21, worry that a large retail development could cause the area to resemble the suburbs, making it lose its personality.

"If you put in too much, it would be like putting the suburbs in the middle of Midtown," said Johnson, who moved to Memphis from Nashville about one year ago.

But, she said, if it turns the Highland area around, then it might just be worth it.

Piece of the puzzle

And that is exactly what university officials are hoping for.

David Cox, executive assistant to university President Shirley Raines, said the U of M is working with developers.

Cox said the university has a variety of housing options for students in a variety of price ranges. The Shops at Highland University will include housing that some students will be able to afford, Cox said. But, it is not the only housing initiative in the works for the area.

Other projects currently in the works include the Domain on Highland planned development by Trammell Crow Co. and a four-story, 40-unit condominium building at the corner of Highland Street and Central Avenue by Makowsky Ringel Greenberg LLC.

Cox said The Shops at Highland University just will be part of this larger puzzle.

"By our understanding, it's a very positive development involving retail, housing and entertainment opportunities," Cox said.

While the U of M is not directly involved in the project, he said university officials are seeking to revitalize the area and are working to integrate these kinds of improvements into the university's master plan. One way of doing that will be to ensure the plan for the campus supports these initiatives near the campus, he said. Another way will be to encourage those in the neighborhood to support the university, and vice versa.

"Good universities need good neighborhoods, and good neighborhoods support good universities," Cox said. "That's what we're trying to do, work together to make that happen."

PROPERTY SALES 79 321 2,586
MORTGAGES 90 426 3,033
BUILDING PERMITS 153 796 6,864
BANKRUPTCIES 37 213 2,000