Design Review Board Approves Downtown Guidelines

By Amos Maki

The Downtown Memphis Commission Design Review Board approved Wednesday, Aug. 7, new design guidelines for Downtown.

The full commission will vote on the plans later this month, and the DRB will revisit the guidelines in six months for any possible revisions.

“It’s a living document,” said board member Ray Brown. “It’s not set in stone, and it’s going to need adjustments as we go along.”

The guidelines, which were developed over a nearly two-year process, place 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 standards are intended to serve as a guide and are not strict zoning regulations. 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 governs projects not seeking those incentives.

But the new guidelines do offer a roadmap for how new development should help maintain or enhance the urban look and feel of Downtown, emphasizing context-appropriate design within the distinct zones in the Central Business Improvement District.

Currently, the CBID is broken 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.