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VOL. 125 | NO. 225 | Thursday, November 18, 2010

Broad Ambitions

Residents promote, celebrate Broad Avenue revival

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Its title may sound like a Woody Allen movie, but an innovative, two-day street festival in a resurging Midtown neighborhood may draw in new businesses via bike traffic.

Sarah Newstok of Livable Memphis walks down Broad Avenue with vendors from Enchanted Florist to prepare for this coming weekend’s “A New Face for an Old Broad” event. (Photos: Lance Murphey)

“A New Face for an Old Broad,” to be held from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, will temporarily exhibit Broad Avenue as a connector between the terminus of the Shelby Farms Greenline and Overton Park.

“It’s easier for any of us to envision what the future can be if you can see it, touch it and taste it as well,” said Pat Brown of T. Clifton Art. “Instead of looking at a piece of paper, we want people to experience it.”

Broad Avenue was the connector between Sam Cooper Boulevard and East Parkway until Sam Cooper was rerouted and extended to bypass Broad a few years ago. Over the last six years, the Historic Broad Avenue Arts District has been marketing its turn-of-the-century buildings and low rent through Arts Walks and other events designed to showcase the street to the public.

But the upcoming event is far more ambitious.

Working in conjunction with Livable Memphis, a program of the nonprofit Community Development Council, and the city engineer’s office, Broad Avenue secured funds and design assistance to temporarily repaint the street to include bike lanes along the two mile stretch between Collins and Hollywood streets.

“It’s easier for any of us to envision what the future can be if you can see it, touch it and taste it as well. Instead of looking at a piece of paper, we want people to experience it.”

– Pat Brown, T. Clifton Art

Existing parking buffers in the street will be turned into green spaces with specially designed antique lighting.

Each of the four schools in the nearby Binghampton neighborhood will design and paint a crosswalk on one of the four side streets off Broad.

Additionally, vacant commercial properties will be staging sites for several businesses and six restaurants, which are currently located elsewhere in Memphis, to demonstrate possible permanent uses.

Live music and children’s activities, including a bike parade led by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, will run throughout the two-day event.

“We want for people to say, ‘Wow this is a cool place,’” said David Wayne Brown, owner of Splash Creative and president of the Historic Broad Avenue Arts District. “We’re getting more and more retailers in here, so we want people on bikes to say, ‘I need to stop here and gets some coffee or a drink, lunch, or walk around and do some shopping.’”

He noted that a $6,000 grant has already been secured by Livable Memphis to provide artistic new bike racks, one of which will be on display for the event. Bike valet service will be available for those attending on bikes.

The idea for the event came from the “A Better Block” event in the Oak Cliff neighborhood outside of Dallas. Members of Livable Memphis heard of the event and began looking for a Memphis street in need of a similar facelift.

Sarah Newstok of Livable Memphis works on pedestrian signs in preparation for “A New Face for an Old Broad” this weekend.

“When we were looking for a place to do some projects, (Broad Avenue) was the clear and natural fit,” said Sarah Newstok, program manager for Livable Memphis. “This project really ties in a lot of our areas (of focus) because it’s about walking and biking, it’s neighborhood reinvestment, it’s giving another choice for people to live within existing neighborhoods.”

Pat Brown said that the neighborhood is investing about $10,000 in the event, but neighborhoods can easily scale the project for smaller budgets. Oak Cliff spent only $1,000.

Of course the ultimate goal of the event is as ambitious as the event itself.

“The Oak Cliff people say that they ended up leasing out all of their properties within two or three months,” said Pat Brown. “That will be the ultimate bid people give it if by spring we have greater occupancy.”

But regardless, the two groups plan to move forward with extending the greenline down Broad. Newstok recently sent letters of interest for permanently repainting bike lanes on the street to several engineering firms. Pat Brown said a firm could be selected as early as January.

“By this time next year, it’s very feasible that the engineering, the repaving and the restructuring could all be done,” Pat Brown said.

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