VOL. 131 | NO. 233 | Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Memphis 3.0 Plan Weighs Scale Of Development
By Bill Dries
Office towers close to smaller-scale retail or residential development is one of the themes in the still emerging plan for the expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the Pinch district.
More details will likely surface Tuesday, Nov. 22, at the last town hall meeting on the plan.
Meanwhile, Crosstown Concourse is reviving a commercial real estate behemoth of 1.5 million square feet surrounded by residential development, much of it single family.
The mix in each area is what Memphis 3.0, the new city master plan under development between now and late 2018, is seeking to get right for each area.
“As a profession, planning has moved away from thinking in discreet chunks of residential here, office here, industrial here, commercial here,” said John Zeanah, deputy director of the city-county Office of Planning and Development on the WKNO/Channel 10 program Behind The Headlines.
“So much of the way we think about cities now is how we can have a vibrant mix of uses that creates a more sort of livable quality of life and character in communities.”
It’s the type of planning the Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber had been talking about earlier, said Frank Ricks, principal of architecture firm Looney Ricks Kiss.
“The key is a planning culture, not a plan,” he said, referring to the last plan of the scope of Memphis 3.0 done in 1981. “A plan which we did back then – that was it. We didn’t nurture that appropriately, nor did we update it … to keep it valid.”
The first of 14 community meetings at the outset of the process begins Nov. 28 at 5:30 p.m. at Ed Rice Community Center, 2907 N. Watkins St., in Frayser. The meetings continue through Dec. 10.
“That’s sort of the first real engagement, true engagement in this process,” said Ashley Cash, the city’s Comprehensive Planning Administrator. “Going forward we’ll be engaging the community in different segments – maybe not as neighborhood-based as initially, but just engaging the community around different topical issues like transportation, like sustainability and connectivity.”
But the plan won’t be in its final form at its May 2019 roll-out or further down the line. It will be constantly updated to reflect, rather than dictate, the terms of private development or try to predict national economic trends.
Behind The Headlines, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.
Ricks points to the ongoing Crosstown Concourse revitalization as a project in progress where different scales of development are involved.
“One of the largest buildings in the city sits predominantly in a residential area surrounded by mostly residential and small-scale commercial,” he said of Crosstown. “Hypothetically, someone might say that’s out of scale. It is if you just measure scale. If you measure the uses and how it blends and how it connects – and that takes planning – then you can transform this issue of scale as a bad thing or density as a bad thing, too. It is actually a good thing if you understand it’s intentional about how it’s put together.”
What goes next to what in the era of mixed-use development that Memphis and other cities are currently in depends on the area as opposed to having a single blueprint for every community.
“For some developers, for some building types, scale is an issue. If you cannot do enough of it, it might not make economic sense,” Ricks said. “Cities are predominantly built by private-sector developers. They’ve got financial models they are trying to look at. There’s a scale of the project itself that each developer has an opinion about. But then there’s the scale of the neighborhood itself and what makes sense.”
Zeanah said in some areas, large-scale development next to smaller-scale development might not be an issue. In the case of the preliminary St. Jude-Pinch plans, there is a model in Amazon.com’s campus in Seattle that includes such development side by side.
“What we want to be able to do in this planning process is leverage the fact that we have new investment dollars coming into the city and think about how those dollars and new dollars can get spread around to other areas of the city that may not see the scale of investment like bringing Crosstown Concourse back to life,” Zeanah said. “But thinking about what is the proper scale of development to get a corridor like McLemore Avenue to see new activity built on the anchor of Stax there, or Elvis Presley Boulevard to build on the investment of the Guest House (at Graceland resort-hotel) there.”
“These issues of scale – they are real and they are real to the people who live there, if they think something is being imposed on them immediately that is going to disrupt the scale of their neighborhood without understanding there is a benefit to it,” he said.
The city is also not asking private developers to wait while the Memphis 3.0 plan is developed.
“Our goal is not to slow down any work that’s happening and any projects that are happening, but really aligning efforts,” Cash said. “What is our optimal growth strategy for our city? Once you have those you can align that with what’s current, what projects are in the pipeline. Should there be tweaks? … You have to have that foundation first before you can say we need to change these few things.”