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VOL. 130 | NO. 42 | Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Path to Crosstown Difficult, Unexpected

By Bill Dries

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When Staley Cates bought the Sears Crosstown building in 2007 and the development team behind what is now Crosstown Concourse was taking shape to redevelop the property, another developer dropped by Cates’ office.

Todd Richardson and McLean Wilson led the effort to begin redevelopment of Crosstown Concourse with a group of eight partners who will bring arts, education and health care, along with a small amount of retail, to the old Sears Crosstown building.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Henry Turley, the developer of Mud Island’s Harbor Town among other projects, thought the best course of action was for Cates to demolish the 1.5 million square feet of space and build anew on the leveled land.

“It is so overwhelmingly large that you must tear it down,” Turley recalled telling Cates, on the WKNO TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “Sell the property, get whatever property you can but start over. No matter what your purpose, the building will inform the purpose rather than the form deriving from the partnership.”

Developers didn’t heed Turley’s advice. Preliminary site work was completed in January with construction following closely. More than 1,000 people came out for the formal groundbreaking two weeks ago.

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

These days, Turley marvels at the financing of the project and the partners who will occupy the building once redevelopment is completed.

“I’ve never done anything nearly this hard,” he said on the program. “The hard thing was keeping eight founding partners with eight boards and eight sets of attorneys – how about that? – together and going in the same direction at the same time.”

Church Health Center founder Dr. Scott Morris, also on the program, said Crosstown Concourse will have a far reaching impact on what is possible in Memphis because it is not an attempt to draw outside entities to the space.

Church Health Center was about to consolidate 14 different buildings and could have built its own new structure. Morris was drawn to combining Church Health Center with the arts and education, and the impact the synergy has on lives and health.

“This whole project for Memphis – let’s not forget this is about Memphis – is about what does that look like in this community of ours that truly people outside of Memphis don’t care about,” Morris said. “Nashville doesn’t care, Washington doesn’t care. So how do we link arms together in this community we all choose to live in to say how do we make it better? That’s what this is about. It’s not a building.”

Todd Richardson, who with McLean Wilson led the redevelopment effort that Cates will turn over the property to, said Crosstown Concourse will have a large impact on the surrounding area.

“These are not just 9-5 businesses with employees coming. But they are coming to do things that are going to be easily accessible to the surrounding neighborhood,” Richardson said of the 60,000 square feet of retail in the structure.

“We want the number of people in the building to actually incentivize and to help development on the Cleveland street corridor where there are a lot of empty buildings right now,” he added. “We hope people in the building get tired of the two restaurants that are in the building and they want to go across the street. And we don’t own any of those things.”

The project also represents a generational shift as well. Wilson is the grandson of Holiday Inns founder Kemmons Wilson.

“My generation now is leading our business. I think we have a lot of our grandfather in us,” he said. “We care deeply about our city. We want to see amazing things happen. We want to do work that is meaningful and I think this is an extension of his legacy living throughout me.”

Richardson said he didn’t dwell much on how hard the project would be, as Wilson assembled financing from 20 different partners, because he was convinced the concept was good and because of his inexperience at development.

“Either people are going to buy into it or not,” Richardson said of his thinking at the outset. “And if they don’t, I go back to being a professor at the University of Memphis, and I’m happy as a lark doing that. In that sense there was no risk. I believe in it. I was passionate about it. But my identity was not wrapped up in it. So, it wasn’t success at all costs.”

Morris was adamant that the redevelopment is not gentrification. The center already operates a preschool in the North Memphis area that is north of Crosstown Concourse.

“The Church Health Center is not coming to gentrify this neighborhood. That is a no-go for us.” Morris said. “This is about the people who live there now, not driving them out – but giving them more hope and giving them more opportunity. That is totally what I am convinced will happen.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 56 9,658
MORTGAGES 49 49 10,665
BUILDING PERMITS 212 212 21,170
BANKRUPTCIES 49 49 6,157