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VOL. 129 | NO. 138 | Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rehab on the River

Redevelopers of historic Marine Hospital plan for its future

By Bill Dries

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The next front in the “previtalization” of Memphis is a three-story, neoclassical brick building from the Depression era that was once a hospital for those who worked on the Mississippi River.

Redevelopers of the three-story, neoclassical U.S. Marine Hospital near the Metal Museum on the Mississippi River bluff are looking at renovating the historic property.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The U.S. Marine Hospital – on the river bluff near the Metal Museum – is a different kind of challenge than the Tennessee Brewery. That property became a beer garden and event venue in April and May as stakeholders explored potential new uses for the landmark farther north along the bluff than the old hospital.

“Our previtalization is getting people aware of the building and not necessarily trying things out,” said Charles “Chooch” Pickard, strategic development consultant at Go Where I Go, the development firm working with property owner Lauren Crews. “The property is already set to be residential. The previtalizaton events we have there aren’t necessarily going to be a part of what the final design of the building is.”

Previtalizaton is a way of building awareness of a long-vacant property or finding possible uses for it. Pickard and Crews had hoped to start that process on the Marine Hospital this weekend with a small gathering of perhaps 10 people.

Almost immediately it turned into a gathering of 150, which shows the promise of the property, whose buildings are surrounded by massive old trees between the trio of original Memphis bridges across the Mississippi River and the Indian mounds in Chickasaw Heritage Park.

Several years ago, Crews began with plans for condominiums in the hospital and the older 1884 nurse’s building – a small, white brick structure with a wooden porch.

But the recession wasn’t kind to condo developments. Now Crews and Pickard are looking at 67 apartments in the two buildings. Beyond that would be later phases for a maintenance building and an abandoned hotel.

The old hospital and hotel border the French Fort neighborhood of older homes, an area isolated by its lack of easy access off E.H. Crump Boulevard and Interstate 55.

That is set to change with a new Interstate 55 roundabout planned by the state of Tennessee, making it not only easier for trucks coming across the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge to turn south off Crump onto the interstate but also opening access to the French Fort area.

And the plans for a pedestrian bicycle boardwalk on the northern side of the Harahan Rail Bridge is certain to create more interest in French Fort.

“We have to be ready for when that happens,” Pickard said. “The big message we want out there is change is coming to the neighborhood based on the roundabout coming and the Harahan Bridge coming. We’re doing a comprehensive plan that will assure that it’s proper change for the neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, the Harahan Bridge project – rebranded as Big River Crossing – is being rebid after initial cost estimates came in too high. The new bids are scheduled to be opened in August.

The U.S. Marine Hospital is a different kind of challenge than the Tennessee Brewery, which became a beer garden and event venue in April and May.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Proponents of the project announced Tuesday, July 15, their Big River initiative has a memorandum of understanding with the St. Francis Levee District of Arkansas for a set of crushed limestone trails atop levees covering more than 60 miles in Crittenden and Lee counties in Arkansas.

“It’s a simple one-page document that says we want to be partners with you,” said Steve Higginbotham, director of the levee district. “We’re going to work a lot of these details out later, but we can go forward as a team now. We don’t want to have this wonderful bridge and a U-turn sign in West Memphis that says all you can do is turn around.”

The district, headquartered in West Memphis, covers levees in six counties from the Missouri Bootheel to the confluence of the St. Francis River.

“For now we are just talking about the West Memphis levee south to Marianna,” Higginbotham said. “We wanted to make sure it was only pedestrians and bicycles. … We wanted to understand that we didn’t want a lot of liability.”

The announcement was made at Martyr’s Park Downtown, with the bridge as a backdrop, by commodities firm founder Charles McVean, who has been the most vocal proponent of the river crossing and linking up to other bicycle trails that stretch south along the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

“There were those who wanted to allege that we were dealing with a bridge to nowhere,” McVean said. “This is the last piece of right-of-way we had to have to go to New Orleans … by the time the Big River Crossing opens in the spring of 2016.”

West Memphis leaders have been working on a plan that would include trails in the flood plain on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River directly across from Memphis.

The river park envisioned would take in such sites as the old Hopefield settlement that predates West Memphis, as well as Dacus Lake and Native American trails on the flood plain.

PROPERTY SALES 106 212 6,230
MORTGAGES 111 232 6,953
BUILDING PERMITS 88 304 13,617
BANKRUPTCIES 46 168 4,261