Multi-Phase Plans Under Way for Former Marina Cove

By Bill Dries

Rendering of the plans for the new Power Center Academy Towne Center on the site of the former Marina Cove Apartments in Hickory Hill. The large, purple area is the new Power Center Academy middle and high schools that would anchor the project.

Courtesy Askew Hargraves Harcourt & Associates Inc.

The multi-phase Power Center Academy Towne Center to be built on what is now the Marina Cove Apartments in Hickory Hill could have a construction contractor by the end of the year.

In a matter of weeks, Power Center Community Development Corp. and Askew Hargraves Harcourt & Associates Inc. (A2H) will begin talking with potential contractors.

By the end of this month, three of the old apartment buildings are scheduled for demolition by the city. Asbestos recently discovered in some of the looted and decaying units is now being removed.

Even with that, the project might seem to be moving fast, but A2H architect Logan Meeks is cautioning patience after the first reveal this week of the ambitious plans. The church-based CDC bought the long-blighted site in June from the apartment’s Atlanta-based owners.

The ambitious plan begins with construction of a new home for the Power Center Academy, the charter middle school New Direction Christian Church opened in 2008. It would be the catalyst for homes, recreation areas, retail and a walkable community.

“This is a new model, not just for Memphis, but nationally I think this will be a model for all people to see what sustainable urbanism looks like,” said New Direction Pastor Stacy Spencer, who is also chairman of the Power Center CDC board.

The new school would be a middle and high school for 875 students. The middle school now has 300 students.

Phase one will also include 32 homes, 17 of them affordable homes built through the city’s Housing and Community Development division, and a boulevard into the site that would include wide sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

“We don’t have a development without the school,” said Meeks.

The goal is to open the new expanded charter school in the fall of 2012.

Two years out is too early for commercial tenants and developers to sign onto the project said Power Center CDC executive director Derwin Sisnett. But the school to be built with grants and private donations would turn heads and local banks are already talking to the CDC about getting involved in financing.

“Some have already come forward and they’ve been very involved from the beginning,” said Sisnett, who attributed the interest to the general atmosphere surrounding school reform.

“Some would say the charter school movement is the new civil rights movement. You have a lot of attention dedicated to charter schools. We’ve always had a waiting list. So, I think that will help to bring some of the financing to the table that we need.”

Renderings of a tentative site plan will be made public Monday as part of an online survey at The survey will be used to shape the more precise plans to come.

The other phases include a hope and healing center, a performing arts center and a sports complex as an addition to the school. There also would be a preserved wetlands area, 25 more homes, a park with a live-in caretaker and a mixed-use retail area fronting on Winchester in one of the final phases.

City Council chairman Harold Collins, whose district includes Hickory Hill, reviewed the plans earlier this week and his first reaction was “overlay” – as in a set of development guidelines.

“They’re going to have to have an overlay for the Winchester corridor,” Collins said as he talked of a plan he described as “bigger than life” and how the start of construction on the school in two years could spur development of nearby property off the site.

Power Center CDC bought the 23 acres the 1970s-era apartment complex is now on with $700,000 from the city’s demolition fund. An additional 18 acres of woods adjoining the back of the apartment complex is also part of the Power Center Academy Towne Center plan.