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VOL. 130 | NO. 180 | Wednesday, September 16, 2015

ULI Panel Tackles Soulsville’s Dilemma as Shadyac Reveals Concept

By Madeline Faber

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Local shareholders and national development leaders got deep in the heart of Soulsville USA this week with an all-day deliberation on how to bring placemaking to one of Memphis’ struggling historical areas.

Tom Shadyac’s vision for the New Towne Center property in Soulsville is a “St. Jude-like” community center with space for counseling, classes, a rock-climbing wall and rental bikes, coffee shop and a movie theater.

(Daily News/Bob Bayne)

The “technical advisory panel,” assembled by the Memphis chapter of the Urban Land Institute, culminated in a town hall meeting Tuesday, Sept. 15, at the Stax Music Academy. Nearby on McLemore Avenue loomed the New Towne Center, the bankrupt community anchor that sold at auction last month.

Filmmaker Tom Shadyac bought the 77,000-square-foot center for $1.85 million. At the meeting, he presented his concept for a “St. Jude-like” community center with space for counseling, classes, a rock-climbing wall and rental bikes, coffee shop with a sliding-pay scale restaurant, and – of course – a movie theater.

Leveraging Stax Records-era character while still creating a relevant neighborhood was the main concern of the panelists, who included Rob Norcross with Looney Ricks Kiss; Josh Poag with Poag Lifestyle Centers; Jim McCullough with Crosstown Concourse- and Chisca Apartments-backer SunTrust Bank; Robert Dalhoff with Dalhoff Thomas Design Studio; Bert Crenca, founder of community arts space AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island; Brian Whaley with CBRE Memphis; and Everlena Yarbrough, a community leader with the Soulsville Neighborhood Association.

The technical advisory panel's plan aims to unite Soulsville from the intersection of East McLemore Avenue and Mississippi Boulevard (circled on the left) and the Interstate 240 gateway.


“How do we make this a long-term community of people for generations to grow in, work in, raise a family in and enjoy their time in?” asked Whaley, who highlighted the tensions of a livable tourism district.

Based on that day’s 12-hour investigation, the panelists put forth recommendations for organic growth to create continuity between anchor tenants and allow the neighborhood –which stretches from Mississippi, Crump and Elvis Presley boulevards to Trigg Avenue in the south – to retain its authenticity. Their suggestions include:

• Expand LeMoyne Owen’s presence onto McLemore with a consumer-facing business at the corner of Neptune Street.
• Add dining options so Stax tourists can extend their visits and foster a “real Memphis experience.”
• Erect a Soulsville sign on the bridge over Interstate 40.
• Extend the success of the Memphis Slim Collaboratory with additional performance venues, music stores and areas for music lessons and practice.
• Establish a Design Review Board and a special Soulsville zoning district to promote cohesive identity through architecture.
• Acquire existing lots and buildings from the Shelby County Land Bank to connect the commercial corridors with businesses and community gardens.
• Unite Stax and LeMoyne-Owen College to tell the story of Soulsville’s history.
• Add health care services, convening spaces, fitness facilities and other public amenities for residents who have made Soulsville a “neighborhood of choice.”

Shadyac – the son of former ALSAC/St. Jude chief executive Richard Shadyac and the brother of current ALSAC CEO Richard Shadyac Jr. – said that more details will come forward about his grand plan for the New Towne Center.

“If you're sick, you can go to St. Jude,” he said in a later conversation. “If you are sick in any way, meaning depressed, needing involvement, engagement, wanting to take a class – everything they (the panelists) listed is what we're going to do.”

Community LIFT aims to continue the conversation with stakeholders about where to move forward with the panel’s recommendations.

“For so long, people have been asking us what's the plan for the neighborhood and we haven't been able to answer in any codified way what that is,” said LIFT president Eric Robertson. “We hope now we have the beginning of something like that and that we can know what we want and drive in that direction and move in that direction.”

PROPERTY SALES 32 252 16,449
MORTGAGES 35 120 10,207
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,041 39,585
BANKRUPTCIES 52 188 7,785