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VOL. 121 | NO. 208 | Monday, October 23, 2006

Medical District Inches Forward

Final reading of zoning overlay will set tone for biotech mega-complex

By Amy O. Williams

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WALKING IN MEMPHIS: Baptist College of Health Sciences students hurry to class along Pauline Street on a recent morning. -- Photo By Amy O. Williams

When the idea of biotechnology began gaining a foothold in Memphis about six years ago, a forward-thinking group got together and brainstormed.

Beth Flanagan was one of the people in that group, many of whom eventually became part of the Memphis BioWorks Foundation.

The group initially looked at having a sort of incubator that could be a place for people to conduct research in the biotech area, Flanagan said.

"It really is an industry, in some sense, that, 'build it and they will come,'" said Flanagan, now the director of the Memphis Medical Center. "You have to have the facilities."

Memphis BioWorks Foundation
20 South Dudley St., Ste. 900
Steven Bares, president and executive director

Memphis Medical Center
Beth Flanagan, director

The idea of an "incubator" of research led to the decision that there needed to be a research park there as well to make the project work, Flanagan said. The UT-Baptist Research Park is expected to be completed in six phases, with construction projected to continue through 2016.

"One of the keys to having a successful research park is to have (it next) to a medical school, a research institution like UT," she said.

Fast-forward to the fall of 2006, and it is becoming evident that all of that planning might just pay off.

Rx for medical district

The Memphis City Council last week held the second of three readings for the proposed Medical District Zoning Overlay.

The third and final reading - during which most of the discussion could take place - is expected to be during the next city council meeting Nov. 7.

The idea of the zoning for the area came up, and with a current list of projects in the medical district that total more than $1 billion, it was decided that investment needed to be protected. Undesirable types of zoning in an area like the medical district might, for example, include zoning for a car wash when a pharmacy could serve the area better, Flanagan said.

"We had gone through almost two years of planning to come up with a plan that we thought was workable. If we want to be in the biosciences, having a vibrant medical center is part and parcel to that job, and here's the first step."
- Steven Bares
President and executive director of the Memphis BioWorks Foundation

The zoning overlay for the medical area will serve as a placeholder for the next several years while the county creates its Unified Development Code (UDC). The UDC will pull together development codes from all of Memphis and Shelby County into a single document.

The proposed zoning overlay was approved earlier this month by the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board (LUCB), and Steven Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis BioWorks Foundation, said he hopes for a positive outcome from the city council.

"All of the work we have been doing for a really long time is leading up to that event," he said. "It's really important for the well-being of the district."

Book that needs a cover

A posting by Bares on the Memphis BioWorks Web site presents the reasons why the zoning overlay is important for not only the medical district, but for the surrounding areas as well. The posting was made Oct. 5 in anticipation of approval by the LUCB, Bares said.

"We had gone through almost two years of planning to come up with a plan that we thought was workable," he said. "If we want to be in the biosciences, having a vibrant medical center is part and parcel to that job, and here's the first step."

While the medical center is Downtown, Bares expects the effects of it to reach beyond the Medical District itself. As the medical center is built up, it will stimulate growth all around the community, Bares said.

What we've found is in the bioscience community, not everyone wants to be Downtown," he said. "But the one thing they all have in common is they see the medical center as a mark of momentum.

"And if you've got a medical center that is vibrant, that means it is a lot more attractive to be here."

When people drive into the medical center today, Bares said he doesn't think it really looks like a medical center.

One of the things he hopes to change with the zoning overlay would be to give the center a certain look that would reflect the type of work that is being done there. Now, there is not even a sign on the freeway to direct people to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

"A medical center has a unique signage, look and feel that is conveyed to the community that goes through it," Bares said.

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