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VOL. 11 | NO. 33 | Saturday, August 18, 2018


New Life

Harmony Plaza follows trend of re-creating old retail centers

By Michael Waddell

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By this time next year, the formerly blighted Frayser Plaza will become Harmony Plaza, with Memphis STEM Academy as its anchor tenant and 100 percent occupancy. It’s part of a new trend of transforming out-of-date retail shopping centers into mixed-use, walkable concepts.

“It’s a little bit of a new look for shopping centers. It’s not your grandmother’s shopping center anymore,” said Shawn Massey, partner with the Shopping Center Group.

His firm was involved in a previous retrofit that converted a former Kmart at 3306 Overton Crossing in Frayser into the Memphis Business Academy charter school’s (which Massey co-founded) main campus.

Shawn Massey, a partner with the Shopping Center Group, talks about what it takes to turn a vacant shopping center into a STEM-focused elementary school. (Memphis News/Jim Weber)

“We have to reimagine these shopping centers that are no longer relevant into new community-centered projects,” he said.

The new $14 million Harmony Plaza project will include $8 million in extensive renovations to the building, which had only been 40 percent occupied in recent years.

“We think it will really become a solid anchor for the Frayser community,” Massey said. “As we need facilities for charter schools, we are looking at these big-box retail spaces coming available and figuring to convert the facilities into schools or other uses.”

Memphis STEM Academy will move to the renovated Harmony Plaza after operating from an incubator space at a local church since 2016.

“This new development is a win-win for the community, both for students educationally and in cleaning up blight, which our students need to see,” said Anthony Anderson, co-founder and CEO of Harmony Schools, which includes five area Memphis Business Academies and the Memphis STEM Academy.

The move will allow the STEM school to increase its enrollment from 200 to 450 students.

“We’re going to a high-tech, 60,000-square-foot school geared toward urban kids in Frayser for STEM,” Anderson said. “We’re going to raise the ceilings up and let them fly drones after building and testing them. It’s going to be off the chain.”

Shawn Massey donates much of his time to making community projects happen in areas that most major brokers would never touch like Harmony Plaza in Frayser. (Memphis News/Jim Weber)

The $14 million project investment included acquisition of the property by Harmony Schools.

“We’ve been in this community a very long time,” Anderson said. “So we’re not just buying property just to buy property for a school, we’re raising the value of the property by taking a blighted shopping center and taking it to 100 percent occupancy.”

Leases are already in place to bring in new tenants like a 9,000-square-foot diabetes clinic and an H&R Block office.

Memphis Business Academy schools teach business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy, as well as STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“We’ve been doing a major STEM focus for about four years, and we’re good at it,” Anderson said. “The business of science and innovation, that’s what we do. We teach kids how to be coders, engineers and robotics builders, and then we teach them how to sell that idea.”

The developers of Harmony Plaza are finalizing details for new market tax credits and hope to begin construction by October. Metro Construction is the general contractor, and Fleming & Associates handled the project designs.

Shawn Massey talks about what it takes to turn a vacant shopping center like Harmony Plaza in Frayser into a STEM-focused elementary school. (Memphis News/Jim Weber)

Harmony Schools is expanding its reach across Memphis as well. On Aug. 6, two new Memphis Business Academy schools, one elementary and one middle school, opened in the Hickory Hill area off South Germantown Road on the Love Fellowship campus.

“One of the biggest problems we have with charter schools is being able to find facilities,” Massey said. “We don’t have a lot of money for buildings, so we have to find creative ways to get facilities and retrofit them. Building a school from the ground up is just not economically feasible on the budget for a charter school.”

Massey’s team is looking at more blighted shopping centers throughout the city for future charter school locations as well for other new uses.

The Shopping Center Group is also working on the Frayser Gateway project, the first new shopping center built in Frayser in 30 years, not far away at 2571 N. Hollywood.

“It’s going to be designed the way a shopping center should be designed for the next 20 years,” said Massey, referring to its open-air, walkable layout.

The multi-phased project will feature a 20,000- to 45,000-square-foot, full-service value grocery store, a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot apparel tenant, a 10,0000-square-foot national value household goods retailer and multiple smaller retail tenants. Three outparcels will also be developed for a possible hotel and restaurant.

PROPERTY SALES 0 291 21,272
MORTGAGES 0 160 16,194
BUILDING PERMITS 258 692 41,920
BANKRUPTCIES 1 117 6,579