VOL. 132 | NO. 166 | Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Crosstown Concourse Opens With High Hopes
By Bill Dries
With the First Baptist Church – Broad choir singing “Amazing Grace,” the $200 million mixed-use Crosstown Concourse development opened Saturday, Aug. 19, 90 years to the month that the building opened as a Sears, Roebuck & Co. store and distribution center.
“I’m just going to stand here for a while if you don’t mind,” Crosstown Arts co-founder Todd Richardson said in the central atrium, taking in thousands of people, some peering down from upper levels of the atrium.
They were animating the space just as he had talked about many times over an eight-year period. Outside in the plaza on the southern side of the building, food trucks were doing a brisk business, sound techs were adjusting levels for the entertainment stages and the water arc in a fountain was being tweaked.
Inside the East Atrium of Crosstown Concourse at the grand opening on Saturday, Aug. 19. The opening drew thousands of visitors throughout the day to enjoy food trucks, live music and tour the building’s many retail and commercial spaces. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Between the two spaces – indoor and outdoor – two ballet dancers traded dance moves on the concrete surface.
As Richardson and other dignitaries spoke, some listened. But for others the formal dedication was background noise as they explored the space that has been closed to the public for more than 20 years.
Sears closed the distribution center in the early 1990s, about a decade after it closed the retail store.
Around a corner from the atrium, four screen doors salvaged from the original store stood attached to each other like part of an improvised revolving door near a wall with old signs and black-and-white photographs of those who once worked in the 1.5 million-square-foot facility.
The building has several dozen tenants now, from retail to office to residential to health service providers.
Richardson said the goal is for those tenants to interact instead of simply going their separate ways inside the same building.
“Without you, this is an empty space that might look cool,” Richardson said to those crowd.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Crosstown Concourse “translates the optimism and excitement for the future of this city.”
“Memphis is revitalizing itself in unique ways,” he added as he touted the 700 new jobs in the center and $11 billion in development underway in Shelby County currently, most of it in Memphis.
Todd Richardson, co-founder of Crosstown Arts and the driving force behind the transformation of Sears tower, addresses the large audience that came out to celebrate the opening of the Crosstown Concourse. Richardson stressed the hard work it took to make this project come to life and the importance of utilizing the new space. The building’s opening on Aug. 19 drew thousands of visitors. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Eight years ago, Richardson and video artist Chris Miner began exploring an adaptive reuse of the building and rented a $700-a-month space across the street as their headquarters, called Crosstown Arts.
The sight from their front window was Living Water Community Church.
Church pastor Francis Stebikindu sought them out early to ask what they had in mind. He and his congregation had seen past groups explore a comeback for the once thriving area.
“Just like Moses, I was suspicious,” the pastor began.
“This is a day I never thought would get here,” Stebikindu said. “Everything was gone.”
He referred to the redevelopment of the building as a “resurrection.”
“You are telling the city that Memphis is not going to die,” he added.
As the formal opening was underway, Memphis Police were clashing with protesters in Health Sciences Park over the issue of Confederate monuments.
And Richardson mentioned the protest and the national reaction to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a week ago by white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups around the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue at the University of Virginia.
“I know Memphis has its problems,” Richardson admitted as he talked about the importance of involving all of the city, in all of its diversity, in what happens within the concourse and the community surrounding it.
That, Richardson specifically suggested, is the way forward from Charlottesville.