VOL. 123 | NO. 49 | Tuesday, March 11, 2008
East Buntyn Residents Await Neighborhood Changes
JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News
VACANT AND VAST: While it's not certain when this summer Highland Street Church of Christ will be torn down, the building stands ready for demolition. -- Photo By Jonathan Devin
Residents of the East Buntyn Historic District near the University of Memphis are one step closer to meeting their newest neighbor, the long-anticipated Highland Row development.
Though some voiced uncertainty about the development at first, excitement and curiosity have conquered concern.
At the end of February, Memphis developer Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers took possession of 443 S. Highland St., the former site of Highland Street Church of Christ, now known as Highland Church of Christ.
The sprawling red-brick church building will be demolished this summer to make way for the Highland Row mixed commercial and residential development, which will include 95,000 square feet of street level retail space and 200 homes, said Poag & McEwen's vice president of marketing, Maureen O'Connor.
"We're looking forward to breaking ground in late summer," she said.
Room for a view
Residents of East Buntyn, which is bordered by Highland Street to the east, Southern Avenue to the south, South Greer Street to the west and Central Avenue to the north, say they will miss the church, which has been a good neighbor, but are nonetheless excited about future changes in the community.
GOING DOWN: The empty Highland Street Church of Christ building in the East Buntyn neighborhood awaits its summer demolition, which will make way for the Highland Row mixed commercial and residential development. -- Photo By Jonathan Devin
Antiques store owner Dana Whitehead, whose home on Ellsworth Street faces the church's back door, said Poag & McEwen took great care in allaying neighbors' concerns. She attended neighborhood meetings, viewed renderings of the project and found herself looking forward to its completion even though she plans to move Downtown in the next month.
"The traffic was the first thing on everyone's mind," she said. "But they designed islands in the street to help curb it. I really felt like they took great care in preserving the integrity of the neighborhood in their design."
Whitehead recently accepted a contract for her house, where she has lived for three years. Far from having to sell prospective buyers on living near the development, though, she said she received positive feedback about it. Though the church building is well kept and its property known for manicured landscaping, she said she believes the west side of Highland Row facing her house will make a much nicer view.
Attractive and desirable
David K. Tester, an affiliate broker with Marx & Bensdorf Realtors who has shown and listed several homes in East Buntyn, said that while a major new development always raises eyebrows, it usually does not have a negative impact on home values.
"It might change traffic patterns somewhat, but probably not by much," he said. "However, it will ultimately increase home values over time because it makes the area a more attractive and desirable place."
Tester said home values for the neighborhood range between $160,000 and $210,000 for two- and three-bedroom single-family homes, most of which were built between 1920 and 1945.
Tester grew up attending Highland Church of Christ, where his father formerly served as a deacon. He noted that more of the congregation commutes from other areas of East Memphis than live in East Buntyn.
Highland Church of Christ was founded in 1928 at another Memphis location and currently has about 1,000 members, a church employee said.
The congregation will meet at Harding Academy's campus on Cherry Road at Park Avenue and remain there until their new church is built in eastern Shelby County.
East Buntyn is home to three other churches, St. John's Episcopal Church, St. James Anglican Church and Buntyn Presbyterian Church.
Tester sees the Highland Row amenities helping to make East Buntyn a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood by placing restaurants and shops within easy walking distance of the neighborhood. O'Connor said that's the point exactly.
"We design our lifestyle centers to be places where people can gather and enjoy being outside whether they are shopping, dining or living," she said.
During the last week of February, neighbors watched as workers removed the church's stained glass windows. Other church fixtures were sold and removed.
Just in time for Easter, the former church site and the neighborhood around it patiently await the new growth of spring.