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VOL. 128 | NO. 153 | Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Downtown Design Guidelines Close to Reality

By Amos Maki

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After nearly two years in the planning stage, new standards for guiding how development Downtown should occur are getting closer to becoming a reality.

The Downtown Memphis Commission’s Design Review Board will vote Wednesday, Aug. 7, on the design guidelines, with the commission’s full board expected to vote Aug. 22.

The document places an emphasis on promoting context-appropriate design for new construction – making sure new projects complement existing development in Downtown’s distinct districts – strategies for sustainable design, and guidance for public improvements such as sidewalks and streetscapes.

The Downtown Memphis Commission’s Design Review Board will vote Wednesday, Aug. 7, on design guidelines for Downtown.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The guidelines are the culmination of a nearly 24-month process that included meetings and feedback from Downtown residents, business owners, architects, developers and other stakeholders and they update the existing 2001 guidelines to reflect current best practices.

“One of the reasons for doing this process is our knowledge that Downtown has changed a lot since 2001 and our design guidelines need to reflect Downtown’s current goals and the development patterns we’re seeing,” said Brett Roler, development projects manager for the Downtown Memphis Commission.

DMC staff, Boulder, Colo.-based Winter & Co., Memphis-based Self-Tucker Architects and Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based White & Smith LLC, developed the new guidelines.

In many ways, the standards are intended to serve as an aspirational blueprint. Only developers seeking Downtown Memphis Commission incentives are required to seek design approval from the DRB. The Unified Development Code of Memphis and Shelby County govern projects not seeking DMC incentives.

Still, they offer guidance on how new development should complement existing conditions to maintain the urban look and feel of Downtown.

“We think these guidelines are important,” Roler said. “The purpose of really having design guidelines in a place like Downtown is to encourage high quality development and make sure the projects that do get a DMC incentive contribute to the public environment in a positive way and are appropriate for their context.”

The detailed guidelines offer several case studies that act as a roadmap showing developers how the new standards can be applied to their project, encourage sustainable design and green building and guidance on technical issues such as appropriate exterior and building materials.

One of the major changes in the standards is a more detailed focus on context-appropriate design within the distinct zones in the Central Business Improvement District.

Currently, the CBID is broken down into four zones: North CBID, Downtown Core, South CBID and the Medical District. The new guidelines go further by laying out how development should occur in eight specific areas: Riverfront, Downtown Industrial, Downtown Neighborhood, Neighborhood Center, Urban Campus, Downtown Core, Sports and Entertainment and Commercial Corridor.

“Each of these areas has established character that needs to be respected,” Roler said.

“The character areas help us figure out what is appropriate in each area and guide future development, the idea being that new development in South Main (Historic Arts District) should probably be different than the Pinch District or Third Street.”

Sharon Leichman, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and a Downtown Memphis Commission board member, said she thought the new guidelines go a long way toward preserving the unique characteristics of the eight zones while still encouraging investment and opportunity.

“It’s not cookie cutter,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we preserve the character of Downtown while still allowing creativity, which I like about the style and design guidelines.”

PROPERTY SALES 124 481 17,865
MORTGAGES 127 530 20,565
BUILDING PERMITS 195 891 36,836
BANKRUPTCIES 52 262 11,426