Yesterday I read the Downtown Memphis Commission’s 74-page BuildDowntown proposal to plan out Downtown development for the next 20 years. I am going to list my reactions below. Note that this is not a complete summary of the proposal by any means – these are simply the reactions of someone who has lived Downtown for 18 years and in the Downtown core for 17 of those 18.
A major point made is that while significant growth has been made in some Downtown neighborhoods, the growth has been spaced out so that the public spaces in between have not been activated. Some examples are listed below.
Right now the Downtown core seems somewhat disconnected from perhaps Downtown’s most up-and-coming neighborhood, The Edge, because you have to get across Danny Thomas Blvd. The plan proposes getting rid of the bridges and having at-grade intersections at Madison, Monroe, and Union. Great idea… I am so looking forward to having beers at the taproom at Memphis Made 2 near Madison and Lauderdale, when it opens. What I’m not looking forward to is the steep climb up Madison on foot or bike to get there.
There is something of a disconnect between the Downtown core north of Beale and South Main. The proposal suggests relocating MLGW and activating the parcel of land on which it sits, the entire block bordering Main, Beale, Second, and MLK. The MLGW headquarters feels out of place in that location. If feels like a Summer Avenue business is sitting on a key parcel of land on one of Memphis’ most important streets.
A drawing in the proposal seems to indicate the pedestrian part of Beale Street be extended all the way to Front. Excellent idea although I bet that will get push-back from the Orpheum if that huge parking lot to its north is eliminated. More on parking later in this post.
The proposal suggests eliminating the disconnect between two shared public spaces, Court Square and the riverfront, by making Court Avenue a “shared street” (between pedestrians and traffic) west of Court Square.
There’s also a disconnect between the riverfront north of Court (Fourth Bluff and the other parks) and the riverfront south of Beale (Beale Street Landing and Tom Lee Park). The proposal would fill it in.
Civic Center Plaza is an uninteresting piece of land that disconnects the core from the Pinch, The proposal suggests re-imagining those blocks to make them more inviting.
Pedestrian/bike connections connecting Downtown to French Fort – absolutely! The Metal Museum and the parks south of Crump are not currently easily accessible except by car. Would be great for residents of the former Marine hospital that is being converted into apartments. Also I bet it would raise occupancy rates at the Super 8 motel in that area, especially if bike shares and scooters were made readily available.
Better connect South Main and South City by redeveloping Second between Beale and Talbot, which is currently parking lot city, and redeveloping Film Row to attract makers and those in the arts. The proposal suggests making Second and B.B. King two-way roads as far north as either MLK or Vance.
Extend the Chelsea Ave. Greenline to run from Washington Park on the far north part of Second to N. McLean Avenue. That would benefit North Memphis as well as Downtown.
Ensure that Downtown becomes more inclusive as it becomes more successful – yes yes. I have said for almost the entire time I have written this blog that Downtown will lose a lot of its character if rents exclude people like artists, musicians, and teachers from moving down here. We need more people of color living Downtown also.
Develop a public art program in South City that tells the story of the neighborhood. A-plus idea. Memphis is a great city because it has soul. Let’s emphasize that.
Implement the vision for The Ravine as a central public space in The Edge. What’s going on with that project? It seemed like it was in the news constantly through the first half of June 2019, but since then we’ve heard little about it.
In the upgrade of Second and B.B. King, emphasize transit on Second and pedestrian amenities on B.B. King. Hey, B.B. King already has a Hooters, what more could you ask for? Just kidding. Having two walkable parallel streets with lots to do (Main and B.B. King) would be excellent. Right now there isn’t a lot to do on B.B. King north of AutoZone Park, although the new Indigo Hotel, 3rd & Court Diner, and The Lounge provide a glimmer of hope.
The study suggests there will be a reduced need for parking Downtown over the next two decades as people shift to ride share, bike share, scooters, and other new and innovative forms of transportation. That will provide opportunities to eliminate parking lots that currently separate Downtown’s neighborhoods. As I said, that’s going to produce some resistance from businesses adjacent to those lots.
Those are my thoughts. I will again stress that this is not a thorough summary of the document. Overall it sounds like a plan for a promising future for our neighborhood.