Changing Current

Uptown waterfront plan shifts redevelopment focus to neglected area

By Amos Maki

The Uptown waterfront along the Wolf River Harbor – the area of the rejuvenated Uptown neighborhood that has for the most part been left out of the revitalization – could soon become a bustling waterfront village, according to a recently released master plan for the area.

Front Street looking south toward Keel is part of an area of Uptown that is being considered for a new master plan to stimulate private investment in new commercial, residential and mixed-use buildings.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The Uptown West Master Plan, developed by LRK Inc., covers some of the city’s oldest settlements, particularly the area between the harbor, A.W. Willis Avenue, Second Street and Island Drive.

The master plan outlines potential public improvements to the waterfront, streets, drainage ways and parks that can better connect the Uptown West neighborhood and bring private investment – and Uptown as a whole – to the Wolf River Harbor.

Uptown West
Master Plan

“This is the Uptown neighborhoods that had heretofore been left out of the Uptown revitalization,” said Steve Auterman of LRK.

In 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District along with the Riverfront Development Corp. and the Memphis and Shelby County Community Redevelopment Agency commissioned the master plan.

The overarching goal of the plan is to turn the area into a more active neighborhood, improve accessibility, build on its diversity, and improve the quality of life for residents while maintaining or increasing real estate values.

“We worked together with all these people in developing these concepts and hopefully over a period of time we’ll be able to implement some of the ideas,” said John Dudas, director of strategic planning at Belz Enterprises Inc.

“One of our goals is to work with property owners to visualize how that area can be developed and show how the public improvements can help lead the private improvements,” Dudas said.

The master plan acknowledges, “time and again, public improvements often are required to spur private investment in a location where revitalization is not occurring on its own.”

Organizers think the opportunity exists to use public funds to leverage private dollars to rejuvenate the Uptown West area, long overlooked by the city and urban planners. The effort won’t happen overnight, as planners envision the Uptown West Master Plan to be implemented in phases over the next 25 years.

Currently, Uptown West is a mix of industrial, commercial and residential properties, including many that are underutilized or vacant. The area is currently home to river-based agricultural and transportation businesses, including Cargill, Westwat, LaFarge and Bunge.

Vacant and underutilized land dots the area, and streets with crumbling pavement are prevalent. The same goes for sidewalks and lighting. In some areas, sidewalks are broken while in others they are completely missing.

“The Uptown West area was put on the backburner for a while and it’s been brought to the forefront again,” Dudas said.

While Uptown has improved in many ways over the last decade, enhancing connections to the waterfront have lagged far behind.

“We only have a few areas where we can get to the water at all,” Auterman said.

To make the daunting job a little easier to handle, Uptown West has been divided into six sub-areas: Gayoso Bayou, North Front Street, Henry Avenue Neighborhood Avenue, Washington Park Landing, Harbor View Landing and Levee Harbor.

One major component of the plan is a new system of trails. Tying into existing trails near The Pyramid and on Mud Island, a new Wolf River Harberfront Trail will create a multi-purpose trail connecting Uptown to the harbor.

A water taxi system will be introduced to the Wolf River Harbor to allow for new connections to Beale Street Landing, Mud Island, the Bass Pro Shops development and Uptown as a whole. An improved North Second Street will create a landscaped boulevard north of Henry Street while connecting with Third Street south of Henry with a roundabout.

The Gayoso Bayou sub-area is likely to see increased investment and development because of the Bass Pro redevelopment project. Proposed public improvements include landscaping, expanded sidewalks and basin enhancements to the Gayoso Bayou ponds and a new Harborfront trail routed around the Coast Guard facility, beginning under the Willis bridge to Willis Avenue and Front Street to Saffarans.

One of the areas that could see the most improvement is the North Front Street sub-area. Currently, Front Street between Saffarans and Henry Avenue is a wide track tailored for trucks serving several industries. Conwood is vacating a number of buildings there, including a six-story warehouse, which planners say presents a unique opportunity for adaptive reuse.

Planners see Washington Park as a hidden gem. Park usage could be increased by connecting the park westward with the Wolf River Harbor.

Just as it has taken a decade for Uptown to become a reality, the transformation of Uptown West also will take time.

“These kinds of projects do take time and there are many people and organizations involved so everyone needs to be patient,” Dudas said.

To realize the completed project, LRK planners estimate it would cost $72.8 million over a 25-year period. The resulting private sector investment could reach $175 million to $268 million over the same period of time.

“Uptown wasn’t turning itself around,” Auterman said. “It took some public investments in the area to lure private investment. We’ve seen success in the heart of Uptown and little success in the Uptown West area and we’re trying to turn some of our focus to that area.”