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VOL. 132 | NO. 85 | Friday, April 28, 2017

Crosby Plants a Park in the Shadow of Skyscrapers

BY MICAELA WATTS

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Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.

How do you repurpose a blighted old Burger King? That’s the question Scott Crosby was facing. “Initially we thought we’d make it a bar, or maybe a restaurant,” he says. “But the building was too dilapidated. Then we thought, maybe a parking lot, but the space was too small.”

The old Burger King stood across the street from the Brass Door, an Irish pub that Crosby co-owns. Every day he found himself strolling past a prime piece of real estate, smack in the middle of Downtown Memphis, crumbling into ruin. Then a friend made a suggestion.

“He said, ‘How about a park?’” Crosby recalls. “And I thought, that’s easy enough. Grass, dogs, Frisbee, done.”

SCOTT CROSBY (Ziggy Mack)

So began the story of Madison Avenue Park, a brand-new pocket park at the corner of Madison Avenue and Maggie H. Isabell Alley – although it wasn’t quite as easy as Crosby first imagined.

During the day, Crosby is an attorney at Burch, Porter & Johnson. Through a professional connection, he reached out to the PARC Foundation in New York City; their mission is to help neighborhoods grow through contemporary art and architecture. In August 2013, five PARC representatives flew to Memphis, eyeballed the old Burger King, and flew back home.

“A few months later, I get the call,” said Crosby. “They’re in. They tell me they want to design and build this park – and then give it to the city of Memphis. No ownership, no naming, no programming. Just give it right out.”

The park was initially conceived on the back of a restaurant napkin; artist and PARC founder David Deutsch drew a simple rectangle with a diagonal line through it. He envisioned two sloping platforms that would invite pedestrians up from the alleyway. Two years later, that vision is a reality.

A 45-degree concrete slope invites park users to stroll to the top of a rectangular patch of grass terminating in a small stage. As you ascend, you can hear water trickling, the sound of a small stream that runs down an aluminum channel in the concrete wall. A row of alternating park benches and London plane trees marks the boundary between the upper and lower levels. On the lower level, a room-size glass display will show art from Tops Gallery.

At 7,500 square feet, the new park is hardly huge; it has about the same footprint as a four-bedroom house. But it’s rich with features, and its emergence captures an aspect of Memphis that Crosby treasures: the near-endless opportunity for individual citizens to create positive change.

“You can’t stand on the sidelines in this town,” Crosby observes. “Our city encourages – just about requires – active civic engagement.”

Above all, Crosby and the PARC Foundation want to welcome all the various ages, races, genders and socio-economic strata that stroll down Madison Avenue every day. Whether you’re a line cook or a mortgage broker, they want you to discover a respite here, a patch of green grass and a breath of fresh air in the middle of the big city.

“I think what’s driving this whole thing,” Crosby reflects. “Each of us figuring out how we fit into this city. Asking ourselves, ‘How can I make a difference? Where can I plug in next?’”

Scott Crosby is a graduate of New Memphis’ Leadership Development Intensive. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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