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VOL. 9 | NO. 30 | Saturday, July 23, 2016

Land Bridge Project Could Transform Entire University of Memphis Area

By K. Denise Jennings

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The official planning phase has begun for the much anticipated $33 million University of Memphis land bridge, which will safely connect two sides of the university that are currently split by the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and Southern Avenue.

Artist's rendering of the $33 million land bridge project, which will connect the two main parts of the campus currently dissected by railroad tracks.

(University of Memphis)

The official kick-off meeting with Haizlip Studio, the architects chosen for the project, happened in early July and the project is estimated to be finished in 2019, said Mary Haizlip, AIA, principal in charge of management at Haizlip Studio.

Haizlip Studio also was the architect for the new University Center, which will be adjacent to the land bridge.

“The funds are in place, and the design contracts are in place,” said Tony Poteet, assistant vice president of campus planning and design at University of Memphis. “Now we’re in the real design phase. Up until now it’s been purely conceptual. We’ll be going to the students, faculty, staff and neighboring community for design input. We want to meet with them and get their perspective and ideas about things to incorporate into the design.

“We’ve also had good discourse with Norfolk Southern and the City of Memphis,” Poteet said. “They’ve been very positive.”

The land bridge project is being funded by a student debt service fee and is a bonded project over 30 years, which is the same type of funding used for the new University Center, according to Poteet. The project was presented to the University of Memphis Student Government Association and it was reviewed and passed by the student organization.

“Our campus’ master-plan is built around becoming a pedestrian campus with parking on the perimeters,” said Poteet. “(The land bridge) really links the two parcels of land that the university is sitting on in a safe way."

University president Dr. David Rudd said the land bridge "will prove to be the single most transformational structure ever constructed by the University of Memphis."

When the project is complete, students will be able to walk over the railroad tracks and Southern Avenue on the land bridge. After crossing south from the academic side of campus, the new recreation center will be on their left with outdoor playing fields behind it, and a new parking structure will be on their right with a surface lot behind that.

In addition to function, the new land bridge, the $62 million campus recreation facility and new surface and structure parking will create a central hub for campus life at the university.

“This is a great opportunity to provide an iconic structure that is branded with the university,” Poteet said. “It’s a much safer, more aesthetically pleasing environment for the student and the community surrounding the university.”

Members of the community and nearby business owners agree.

Matt Prince is senior vice president of brokerage and development at Loeb Properties Inc., which has been a big part of the more than $400 million invested by the public and private sector in the Highland corridor west of campus and the Walker Avenue Streetscape Enhancements.

Prince, who is also a board member of the University Neighborhood Development Corp., sees the commitment to connectivity on campus and with neighboring assets having far-reaching benefits for the university.

“Connecting the university and that side of Highland will make it walkable with amenities,” Prince said. “Getting the students to live near campus will lead to better retention rates, which leads to better graduation rates. Improving the campus life for students is critical.”

The Tiger Book Store located adjacent to campus has been a family owned business for decades. Current owner Kristy Jeffords said she believes the land bridge and other improvements on campus will be a plus for her business and will be a draw for more students to come to the University of Memphis.

“I know it’s good for the school and great for the students,” Jeffords said. “Trains there are consistent. Aesthetically, I think it’s going to be fantastic. It’s definitely needed and it’s been needed for years.”

Poteet adds, “There is so much good stuff going on in university development. The university and the market are really combining to provide all these resources for the community.”

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