VOL. 131 | NO. 69 | Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Plan Seeks To Make Medical District Even Greater Asset
By Andy Meek
On the surface, it might seem unclear why Memphians outside the immediate vicinity should care about what’s going on in the Memphis medical district, an area home to more than 16,000 people and 8,000 students.
But Dr. Kennard Brown, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, is emphatic: what goes in the district, which also includes some of the city’s premier educational and medical institutions, isn’t isolated to the medical district.
“If you look at Houston, the medical district there is a huge economic driver for the rest of the community,” Brown said. “There’s an educated, talented, well-paid workforce that brings a lot of intellectual capital into the district. In Memphis, too, there’s a halo effect when someone, for example, comes to Memphis for a transplant. There’s an effect on the rest of the community.”
That’s one reason for the concerted effort under way now to dramatically transform the district, an area that includes prominent anchors like Regional One Health, the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Southern College of Optometry. Stakeholders have come together to launch the Medical District Collaborative, which is spearheading an effort that’s pushing for everything from streetscape improvements to a new emphasis on things like safety and security, public space enhancements and more.
Brown will talk about those and other changes to come on Thursday, April 7, when he’s part of a panel of local medical industry leaders participating in the next seminar in The Daily News’ regular speaker series. Keynoted by Medical District Collaborative President Tommy Pacello, the event will take a look at what’s under way to remake the medical district.
It will run from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Brooks Museum of Art auditorium, 1934 Poplar Ave.
“There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit,” said Brown, whose own university has more than $350 million in capital construction projects ongoing. “We’ve been in the midst of our own work, so we’re also concerned about plants, flowers, streetscapes in the area. The medical district has magnified the scope and scale of all we’re trying to do. And the spaces between the institutions are important, because we’re all tied together in this environment.”
What’s happening in the neighborhood, he continued, is also bigger than any one campus.
That’s a point Pacello made during a recent appearance at a neighborhood meeting in the district at the Premier Palace ballroom on Madison Avenue. The medical district effort, he explained, is all-encompassing, touching everything from branding to signage to efforts to attract more residential developments and users, among other things.
“It’s an iterative approach to what are those things we can do today,” said Pacello, whose collaborative launched in January. “It’s looking at trash cans, recycling bins, thinking about seating, signage, lighting, public arts in the district – all those things can begin to make a transformative approach to public spaces in the neighborhood. We’ll see what works and can then move on to make even longer-term changes.”