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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Memphis: an amazing city redefining itself

The Lambda Alpha International Memphis Chapter hosted the Spring 2016 Land Economics Weekend (LEW) April 21 - 23 attracting a global contingency eager to learn about Memphis' history, challenges and accomplishments. With limited time, the LEW tours and presentations focused on the music industry, major redevelopment and, of course, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Lambda Alpha International (LAI) is an honorary society for the advancement of land economics. LAI provides a forum for the study and advancement of land economics where the "winnowing and sifting" of ideas takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. LAI operates through a network of chapters. A LAI Chapter provides a variety of programs and forums for its members to share information critical to understanding important land-use issues. The IMPACT Blog article, Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter: growing membership, influence and impact, introduces LAI along with its designated purposes.

Twice per year chapters sponsor "Weekend Experiences" giving members an opportunity to meet and learn about land economic issues in cities throughout the world. Open to LAI members and their guests, the LEWs address wider international, national and regional issues and include project tours within the host city.

Long known as the "South's Grand Hotel," The Peabody - home to the March of the Peabody Ducks - was the perfect choice for the Memphis LEW host hotel. Peabody history dates back to 1869 when the original Peabody Hotel opened on the corner of Main & Monroe. Immediately, the hotel became the social and business hub of Memphis. In 1925 a newer, grander Peabody was built at its present location on Union Street.

Consistent with the LEW's redevelopment theme of Memphis historical landmarks, The Peabody reinvented itself numerous times to reflect changing society dynamics. Another consistent LEW theme: wealthy Memphis citizens invest their personal funds, experience and resources to preserve | redevelop prominent city iconic structures, often with complex funding scenarios.

In 1977 The Peabody owner Jack Belz embarked on his journey to rebuild the decayed hotel back to grandeur status. The renovation took four years and $25 million to complete, more than twice the original estimate and four times the original cost. Jack's investment was beyond The Peabody - Jack envisioned the prominent hotel serving as a foundation to bring economic vitality back to downtown Memphis. On September 1, 1981 The Peabody grand reopening inaugurated a new era in Memphis history.

The Memphis LEW program began on Thursday, April 21 with Board & Executive Meetings throughout the day. An evening LEW Welcome Reception was hosted across the street from The Peabody at AutoZone Park. Memphis Redbirds General Manager Craig Unger educated the group on recent park renovations along with its impact on downtown redevelopment.

On Friday the first tour day began with a breakfast program at The Peabody. Deputy Director for the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning & Development John Zeanah presented on the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan, a 25 year plan to create 500 miles of greenway trails and 200 miles of bicycle paths across three states. It was empowering to witness local governments collaborate on public green space.

First on the tour agenda was the incredibly impressive St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Before entering the amazing facility, St. Jude staff educated the group on Danny Thomas' promise to St. Jude Thaddeus: Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine. ... and the magnificent hospital is Danny's shrine to St. Jude!

Flags in St. Jude atrium
represent staff home countries
Danny Thomas envisioned a hospital that would treat children regardless of race, color, creed or their family's ability to pay. A facility where research would shine light into the darkness.

Funding for St. Jude comes mainly from the corporate community via their sponsorship program, individual donations, fundraisers and events. Minimal to no government funds are included in the financial equation. It was intriguing to see corporate sponsorship at work in the hospital system. Two examples are the Kay Jewelers' Kay Cafe, where healthy eating is top priority, and the Target House for long-term patient lodging.

Although located in Memphis, St. Jude has global impact from employee diversity to patients arriving from around the world. In the main atrium, a multitude of flags hang from upper floors to honor the home countries of their diverse staff.

the "blue phones" that serve as
interpreters between staff & parents
When an interpreter is not available, foreign parents may communicate with medical staff via the blue duel-handset phones. Equipped with a telephonic interpreting service, the phones serve as an interpreter within news feed time in a myriad of languages.

Since St. Jude's opening on February 4, 1962, the survival rate for childhood cancer increased from less than 20% in 1962 to more than 80% today.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is a jewel to Memphis. Beyond the tremendous medical and humanitarian impact, St. Jude has far reaching economic benefits, both tangible & intangible, to the Memphis metro area.

view of Crosstown w/ area earmarked
 for a community garden in foreground
Next on the tour agenda was the Crosstown Sears Tower, originally opened on August 8, 1927 as the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog order plant and store. On opening day, the store welcomed nearly 30,000 shoppers and employed 1,000 local residents. The original 53,000 square feet facility expanded to a total of 1.5 million square feet by 1965 via five separate additions.

Due to shifting demographics and population depletion in the city's urban core, Sears closed the Crosstown retail store in 1983. The distribution center closed in 1993, leaving the iconic complex dormant nearly two decades. In 2010, Crosstown Arts, a 501(c)3 non-profit, was formed to facilitate the redevelopment of the Sears Crosstown building using arts and culture as a catalyst for change.

With an unwavering commitment to ground the Crosstown Arts' vision into a viable project, Crosstown Concourse emerged from a complex financial platform. Thirty different financial sources comprised the platform, including non-profit loans ($12.5 mil), government grants ($6.25 mil), investor capital ($31.7 mil), bank loans ($80.5 mil), and a city loan ($8.15 mil). It took tenacity, perseverance and in-depth expertise to orchestrate the financial package closing in December 2013.

Jordan Peters poses w/ the spiral
staircase leading the main atrium. 
Designed with intention as a vertical urban village, Crosstown Concourse's heartbeat centers on Arts, Education and Healthcare. The founding pioneer tenants mirror the heartbeat: A Step Ahead Foundation, Church Health Center, Christian Brothers University, City Leadership, Crosstown Arts, Crosstown Back Institute, The Excel Center, G4S, The Kitchen Next DoorMethodist Le Bonheur HealthcareMemphis Teacher ResidencyThe Poplar Foundation, The Pyramid Peak Foundation, Southern College of Optometry, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Teacher Town.

Deconstruction began in 2014 with a 2017 opening anticipated. In 1927 it took six months to build the Sears center yet three years is slated for the deconstruction and renovation! 

During the deconstruction, great care is taken to reuse | recycle building material:
  • 10+ million pounds of metal was recycled to date, including iron from 2000 salvaged radiators.
  • 400,000 lbs of concrete and rebar was removed and repurposed back into the building.
Due to local tax incentives the Concourse project received, the Crosstown development team was obliged to award 20% of overall construction spending to minority and women-owned local businesses. The development team upped that figure to an internal goal of 25%. Ultimately a total of 29% of all construction dollars goes directly to minority and women-owned firms—nearly $38 million in total. 

loading dock area staged for a
cool farmers market
As a vertical urban village, Crosstown is comprised of a mixture of office space, dwellings (condominiums & apartments), entertainment, retail, dining and open space for community events. Within the grounds, an area is earmarked for a community garden. The Sears loading dock is staged for a cool farmers market operated by a prominent local grocer. Bound for success, the Crosstown apartments are nearly 50% leased by office tenants. 

After the exhilarating walking tour of the Crosstown Concourse, the LEW group enjoyed a lovely lunch at Layfayette's Music Room. For the lunch program, Bob Loeb with Loeb Properties educated the group on the Overton Square redevelopment.

A LEW group shot 
Following lunch, the LEW group was treated to a Stax Museum of American Soul Music visit, consisting of a Stax introduction, an 18-minute film on Stax Records, and a tour of the impressive museum.The musical odysseys of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T & the MGs and numerous others were launched at Stax Studios.

The final Day One LEW tour was at the historic Tennessee Brewery. Though in a dilapidated state since its 1954 closing, the Brewery is prime for redevelopment as the anchor for a Brewery District. Billy Orgel purchased the property in 2014 with plans for redevelopment. It was intriguing to wander the Brewery main buildings and feel the energy from its once vibrant days.

Back at The Peabody, International LAI President Steve Gragg was Duckmaster at the 5:00 p.m. March of the Peabody Ducks. LEW participants were on their own for dinner at the multitude of vibrant downtown restaurants. Many enjoyed a nighttime visit to the famous Beale Street, voted America's Most Iconic Street by a 2013 USA Today poll and is the Official Home of the Blues.

Sunset on the Mississippi River
Elemental Impact Founder Holly Elmore joined new friends at the legendary Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, famous for racks of smoked ribs & sausages dusted with dry rub. Convenient, Rendezvous is nestled down an alley across the street from The Peabody.

For the adventuresome, the LEW tour bus departed at 9:30 p.m. for the impressive FedEx Hub Tour, returning to hotel at 2:00 a.m. In the morning, the tour participants were unanimous the sleep deprivation was well worth the FedEX insider view. It is mind boggling how the overnight packages are handled for an on-time morning delivery at their varied national destinations.

The Day Two LEW began with a substantial "grab 'n go" breakfast before boarding the Musical Driving Tour buses. Many cities by the water have entertaining "duckie" tours that educate on interesting local history & high points. Memphis has a musical bus tour where the guide sings as part of the education. The tour guide was great, a Ph.D candidate in Music History and a Memphis native!

Musical Bus Tour Guide
Beyond entertaining, the guide educated on many little known, interesting facts. For instance, many of the Stax Studio popular recordings were written at The Lorraine Motel swimming pool. With no air conditioning at the studio, the musicians enjoyed plenty of cold beer by the pool while the creative lyric juices flowed for later recordings. The motel was one of the few Memphis destinations where whites and blacks were permitted to socialize together. 

The Lorraine Motel is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot on April 4, 1968 and now is the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Twice the bus stopped for an in-depth site experience: 

1> Graceland, The Home of Elvis Presley - with over 20 million visitors, Graceland was voted as USA Today's #1 Iconic American Attraction in 2013 and is a significant economic driver for Memphis. LAI Memphis Chapter member Greg Marcom of The Reaves Firm educated the group on Graceland development plans in-progress. The main new amenity is The Guest House at Graceland, a 450 room luxury hotel with a 464 seat theatre for screenings and live performances. The grand opening weekend is slated for October 27 - 30, 2016.

2> Sun Studio - opened on January 3, 1950 by Sam Phillips, Sun Studio is the "birthplace of rock 'n roll." Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison are a few of the legends who launched their careers at Sun Studio. Recording sessions remain available in the original studio.

Terrace @ The River Inn
The musical tour ended as the bus arrived at the Terrace at The River Inn where the group enjoyed an excellent lunch. Located on Mud Island in Harbor Town, the Terrace boasts panoramic views of the magnificent Mississippi River. Harbor Town is a charismatic planned neighborhood filled with nature trails, ponds, and walking trails that elegantly connect the town’s houses and businesses.

Mud Island River Park is a family destination on the southern portion of the island. Within the park, the Mississippi River Museum showcases 10,000 years of history in the Lower Mississippi River Valley via 18 galleries. Another educational attraction is The Riverwalk, an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River flowing from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois 954 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. Designed using Corps of Engineers survey and navigational charts, the model empties into an acre size Gulf of Mexico.

In the afternoon, the LEW offered three optional tours: 1> Graceland, 2> National Civil Rights Museum and 3> Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid.

Originally owned jointly by the City of Memphis and Shelby County, The Pyramid opened as a 20,142-seat arena located in downtown Memphis at the banks of the Mississippi River. Former home court for the University of Memphis men's basketball program and the Memphis Grizzlies,The Pyramid proved inadequate for a National Basketball Association (NBA) arena. Upgrades to NBA standards made it more practical to build a new arena. As a result, the $250 million FedExForum was built and opened in 2004. ... and The Pyramid went dark.

On April 29, 2015 The Pyramid's lights were turned back on as Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid. A long-term investment, the City and Bass ProShops negotiated for 5 years before executing the 55 year lease supported by a $30 million city investment. Sales tax from the surrounding area businesses funded the city investment. America's tallest free-standing elevator transports visitors 28 floors to The Lookout at The Pyramid for a spectacular dining experience.

SUCCESS: as of December 18, 2015, more than two million people visited the Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid since the April 2015 opening!

Consistent with protocol, the Memphis LEW closed with a cocktail reception | dinner program complete with awards presentations. The sunset over the Mississippi River was magnificent from the rooftop terrace adjacent to The Peabody Skyway Lounge, host to the LEW dinner.

Among the local and global awards, the City of Memphis received the International Skyline Award for the Bass Pro Pyramid Redevelopment Project. The formal honor copy:
Kemp Conrad  accepts the prestigious
award on behalf of the City of Memphis 
Recognizing successful redevelopment of a landmark feature in the City of Memphis, the Bass Pro Pyramid Redevelopment Project is adaptive reuse at its best, using iconic structure in a new and unique manner through innovative teamwork between city leadership and officials, an imaginative tenant and its designer.
The final formal "business" was an appreciative farewell to the Memphis Spring LEW along with a hearty welcome to the Toronto Fall LEW, scheduled for September 22 - 24, 2016

During the tours a common theme emerged: a city rising from the rumbles of challenging economic times, especially in the downtown district. At the foundation of recent redevelopments, there was a strong Memphis revitalization commitment among prominent individuals. 

Since the visions did not always align with "traditional business sense," creative collaboration among local government, non-profits, financial institutions, the business community and, importantly, Memphis citizens was the magical recipe for ultimate success.

Another interesting anecdote is common ground with Atlanta, the 2014 Spring LEW host city. Memphis and Atlanta are "phoenix cities," who rose as vibrant metropolitan centers from ashes: Atlanta rose from literal ashes after General Sherman's March to the Sea in 1964; Memphis is rising from the ashes of urban blight and challenging economic times.

One of the Atlanta LEW features was Ponce City Market (PCM), a previous Sears, Roebuck & Company retail store, warehouse and regional offices, located a couple miles from the downtown business district. As with the Memphis Sears Crosstown, PCM was in the midst of renovation to a mixed-use development with residential units, commercial office space, a food hall and local | national retail anchors during the Atlanta LEW; PCM officially opened in August, 2014.

The King Center visit
during the Atlanta LEW
Martin Luther King, Jr. is another Atlanta | Memphis connection: King was born in Atlanta and called the city his home into adulthood; King was assassinated in Memphis. The King Center was integral to the Atlanta LEW tour agenda. In Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum was included in the musical tour educational program and an optional Day Two afternoon tour.

... and more than once the Memphis LEW group was told "at one time Memphis was bigger than Atlanta!"

The IMPACT Blog article, Atlanta Welcomes Global Land Economics Group, chronicles the impressive Spring 2014 Atlanta LEW.

The Ei FB album, Memphis Land Economics Weekend, is a pictorial recap of the Memphis LEW including a section on Holly's self-guided Memphis walking tour.

In addition to well orchestrated tours of a city's economic drivers, complete with in-depth, on-site education, LEWs are excellent venues to meet new global friends and spend time with long-term colleagues.... and the Toronto Fall 2016 LEW is a mere six months away!