VOL. 7 | NO. 31 | Saturday, July 26, 2014
By Amos Maki
For the team behind the pending redevelopment of the massive Sears Crosstown property to reach its goal of maximizing the participation of women- and minority-owned businesses, it needed to make a crucial decision early in the planning process.
The Sears Crosstown development team had to make important construction-related decisions early on, which often struck at the heart of the development team’s top priorities.
Plans for the massive Crosstown building, constructed in 1927 and vacant for the last few decades, include around 260 apartments and some retail at the 86-year-old structure. Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. is the general contractor on the project.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
That’s because if the ambitious $180 million effort – one of the largest construction projects in the Memphis area – went out to bid as one large package, many WMBEs would be locked out of the process.
So the team essentially split the project into eight separate pieces, maximizing the ability for the smaller firms to compete.
“If we had just done it as one large project it automatically eliminates a large percentage of the contractors that make up WMBEs,” said Crosstown co-team leader Todd Richardson. “That was a decision we had to make early on, but it was a priority for us.”
The decision to split the project into several smaller ones was just one of several construction-related decisions the team made in the beginning, decisions that often struck at the heart of the development team’s top priorities, like encouraging WMBE participation and preserving as much of the mammoth structure, pieces big and small, as possible.
When asked to describe what factors played keys roles in the construction decision-making process, Richardson said recognizing the sheer size of the project – the Crosstown building measures a whopping 1.5 million square feet – and staying true to the team’s ideals and objectives were paramount.
“I would say it’s just not getting intimidated by the scale and setting your priorities early on and sticking to them even if you have to make sacrifices financially to make it work,” said Richardson.
The Crosstown team is seeking to redevelop the Crosstown building, constructed in 1927, through arts, education and health care. The plans also include around 260 apartments and some retail at the 86-year-old structure. Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. is the general contractor on the project.
Staley Cates – the president and chief investment officer of Southeastern Asset Management Inc. – and his wife, Elizabeth, bought the property in 2007 and are donating it to Crosstown LLC. Any and all profits from the project will be put back into the development.
The building has been a painful eyesore for years. The Sears retail store closed in 1983, and the distribution center was shuttered a decade later. Since then, neighborhood leaders, architects and activists have been hoping the building could be brought back to life.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Justin Grinder, vice president of Grinder, Taber & Grinder. “It’s a great reuse of the building and I think anyone who has driven by that building has wondered what would happen to it. It’s a great feat the project team has accomplished, in terms of acquiring the property and lining up pretty complex financing, to make it a reality.”
In seeking to resuscitate the property, the project team viewed the project like a surgeon might view a patient. They wanted to be as careful as possible and preserve or reuse as much of the original building as they could.
Crosstown project leaders Todd Richardson and McLean Wilson.
“It’s almost like using a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer,” Richardson said. “From a pricing standpoint you have to decide if that is a priority or not. It’s more complex and time consuming, which means more money. But if that’s an aspiration from the beginning and it makes the project better, then you stick to it.”
In many instances ripping out pieces of the existing property and starting with new construction would have required less time and money.
But then, how do you put a price tag on reusing as much as possible of what is considered by many to be a local gem, one that several generations of Memphis area residents share fond memories of?
Take, for instance, the interior concrete that will be dismantled when contractors carve out around 400,000 square feet.
“When we cut out the concrete we want to reuse it in the site as a visual testament to the building’s history and adaptive reuse,” Richardson said. “That’s more expensive than pouring new concrete.”
And then there’s the roughly 40 10-foot by 12-foot metal sliding fire doors, which will be removed from their hinges, labeled and stored for reuse as sliding doors, helping preserve the feel of a warehouse.
Or the maple hardwood floors on the second story of the large tower, which will be completely restored.
A metal 35-foot by 15-foot flue on the mechanical plant on the north side of the building will be cut into multiple pieces for benches and use in a planned community garden.
“It’s definitely a more meticulous project given our directives to Grinder to save and reuse pieces of the building,” Richardson said. “It doesn’t have to be that that way, but that has always been a priority for us.”