VOL. 123 | NO. 77 | Friday, April 18, 2008
Victorian Village Stakeholders Look To Reshape Park
By Andy Meek
GAME TIME: A basketball game unfolds in Morris Park, where a group of area stakeholders wants to focus a redevelopment effort that includes creating a master plan for the park. -- Photo By Andy Meek
The six-acre park at Poplar Avenue and Manassas Street has two basketball courts, two playground areas, a medium-size pavilion - and a bad reputation.
Area stakeholders say Morris Park, which covers an entire city block, regularly attracts drug dealers and homeless people. Recent crime data are similarly unflattering. More than 100 criminal incidents were reported within a half-mile of the park in the past month alone, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.
The incidents include everything from kidnapping to aggravated assault to narcotics violations. That helps
explain why a group of area stakeholders wants the park, which sits on the doorstep of Downtown Memphis and is flanked by a Victorian-era neighborhood filled with historic architecture, to tell a different story.
An alliance of neighborhood residents as well as city, business and religious leaders has coalesced around the idea of reshaping and redesigning the park, which is a focal point of the Victorian Village neighborhood. The Victorian Village Community Development Corp. is at the vanguard of that redevelopment effort and has begun the search for a design team to dramatically redesign the park.
A place to enjoy
The CDC this week issued a request for proposals with the intent of choosing a design firm to draw up a visionary master plan. Among the guidelines for the project is that the planners should help guide the park toward becoming an attraction that draws people from a two-mile radius.
"We'd like to make it a park where everybody surrounding the neighborhood can come and enjoy it," said Scott Blake, chairman of the CDC. "We don't know the extent of what we'd like it to become. That's the reason we're looking for a designer.
"But we know we want to make it a safer, more accessible place for the neighbors. There's a problem there, like with many urban parks, of being - when parts of the park are out of sight from the roadways and it's a little less safe."
The park is flanked by properties that include St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, convenience stores and residential high-rises. On a recent afternoon at the park, a pick-up game of basketball unfolded in the shade of a grove of trees.
Morris Park stands in contrast to Victorian Village, a historic district that's a throwback to a bygone era when such characters as statesmen, land barons and rich cotton merchants occupied its mansion homes. The Harsson-Goyer-Lee House at 690 Adams Ave. was the earliest house in the city to have an air-conditioning system.
Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, used to frequent the home at 664 Adams Ave. The former Confederate president moved to Memphis after his release from federal prison a few years after the war.
A one-hour documentary about the 150-year-old neighborhood produced by local filmmaker Willy Bearden is scheduled to premiere next month in a showing that will be held within the neighborhood. All of that gives some context behind the planning process for Morris Park.
Creating an asset
The park sits at "ground zero of a comprehensive master plan to create a world-class medical district in Memphis," according to the RFP, submissions for which are due from interested firms next month.
"The redesigned park should (have) ... places to exercise and relax, places of inspiration and reflection. It should be a place where people of different ages, income levels and backgrounds can interact with one another and enjoy one another's company in a congenial and safe atmosphere."
The design firm that's chosen will be required to hold a series of meetings in or nearby the park with residents and stakeholders as part of the process.
Andy Kitsinger, vice president of planning and development for the Center City Commission, said the CCC is a partner with the Victorian Village CDC in revitalizing the entire neighborhood.
"And one of those initiatives is the redevelopment of Morris Park," he said. "The plan ... calls for a re-envisioning of the park to improve its visibility, usefulness and to make it more of an asset for the neighborhood."
More details of the scope of the Morris Park RFP can be found at the CDC's Web site, www.victorianvillageinc.org.
Among other things, the winning design firm will be encouraged to include at least 20 percent minority participation in its efforts, and submissions are welcome from a variety of businesses including architecture, landscape and planning firms.