Passion for Architecture Fuels Looney Ricks Kiss' Norcross

By Amos Maki

Rob Norcross, a principal at Memphis architecture, planning and design firm Looney Ricks Kiss, has increasingly enmeshed himself into public service, holding positions on several key boards or committees.

Rob Norcross, principal at Looney Ricks Kiss

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Norcross now serves on the Memphis-Shelby County Land Use Control Board and the Memphis Landmarks Commission, and he is an alternate on the city-county Board of Adjustment. In addition, Norcross serves on the committee working on the redesign of the sanctuary at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Norcross credits his civic engagement to his upbringing on a crop farm in tiny Tyronza, Ark., where he learned how the connections between work, family and fun help form the foundation of a community.

“I grew up in a small town and what I realized about a small town is that you have a lot of people working together to help make it work,” said Norcross.

“This connection to people and the idea of community and how everybody had to work together to make things work, I think, impacted all of us,” he said.

The farm, particularly the older buildings that were no longer used, also kindled Norcross’ interest in architecture. He would play in deserted barns, a canning building and a turkey building and poke around an old water tower.

“It was fun to play in those old structures and that really triggered the interest I have in architecture,” said Norcross, 53. “When you’re trying to find stuff to do a on a farm you have to be creative, so would often build things using scraps from a wood pile.”

Today, Norcross is working on several major projects he hopes will provide meaningful connections in Memphis, whether that is stitching one part of the city to another or linking people with improved services and amenities.

Norcross is part of the team that crafted the development plan for the $55 million Central Station project. Developers Archie Willis III and Henry Turley are proposing turning the underutilized property into a hub of activity that includes apartments, a hotel, movie theater and significant public transit and pedestrian improvements.

“It’s going to improve that whole area, and it’s going to add a hotel and housing that brings more people, activity and will help to bring more services to South Main,” said Norcross.

Central Station should also provide a strong cornerstone for the redevelopment of the southern end of Downtown, including the South Main Historic Arts District, an area where around $500 million in investment is planned or underway.

“It’s going to really anchor Downtown in a way it hasn’t been since I’ve been here,” said Norcross, who moved to Memphis in 1992 to join LRK.

Norcross is also part of the team that crafted a plan for the redevelopment of Foote Homes and the surrounding area.

Called South City, the goal of the ambitious plan to demolish and rebuild the city’s last large public housing project into a mixed-use, mixed-income community is to use it as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the southern end of Downtown that bleeds into the larger South Memphis area.

The possible redevelopment of Foot Homes, combined with the remaking of nearby Cleaborn Homes into the Heritage Landing at Cleaborn Point community and the pending redevelopment of Central Station, could provide a critical link connecting the booming South Main Historic Arts District to Midtown and parts of South Memphis.

The city has submitted a federal grant application for South City under the Choice Neighborhoods program. If it wins the grant funding, it could proceed with the Foote Homes demolition.

The city is also seeking a federal designation for the much-larger South City area as a Promise Zone. The zone status doesn’t come with any additional federal funding attached, but it does allow the city to apply for federal grants and includes federal tax incentives for developers.

“It’s really about the stabilization of Downtown and city growth,” said Norcross.

A graduate of University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture, Norcross has worked on interesting and game-changing projects for years.

Remember the giant red wedge that was placed on top of the office building at 5350 Poplar Ave. in East Memphis? That was Norcross’ idea.

“The building had been vacated and we were really trying to find a way to have people recognize the building, show interest in the building again,” said Norcross.

He was also part of the teams that designed AutoZone Park, FedExForum and the FedEx World Technology Center in Collierville.

“We have high standards, and we’re always challenging ourselves to meet those high standards.”