Like so many cities, Memphis, Tennessee, is imagining the future of one of its largest natural assets, its waterfront. The Home of the Blues marks the approximate midpoint of the Mississippi River, and until recently, it has mainly utilized it for industrial purposes, like many other American waterfront cities. While the river has been home to casino riverboats, and a riverfront park does exist, plans are now underway to turn the area into a full-fledged cultural destination. Memphis-based archimania, in collaboration with Peter Chermayeff and BWS&C have put forward a plan called the Mud Island River Park + Cultural Center, which aims to bring the public closer to the water and provide educational opportunities. The scheme calls for cultural facilities linked by a pedestrian path that would also connect Mud Island (a peninsula edging the city and the river) and the city’s riverfront to the adjacent redeveloped Fourth Bluff Civic Commons. The centerpiece of the project is the Aquarium Museum, a complex on Mud Island that will show off aquatic species and focus on the city’s long history with the river as well as contemporary water studies. On the other side of the river, the complex will likely include a reimagined Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The Brooks is currently located outside of the downtown area. The past few years have seen a number of proposals for Memphis’s downtown and waterfront, with an eye on the city’s bicentennial in 2019. Just northeast of the proposed Mud Island project, a building and development moratorium for the downtown Pinch District is being reassessed through a planning and architecture study led by the Division of Housing and Community Development and the Memphis office of Looney Ricks Kiss. Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects have also produced a Riverfront study for the city, which was released in mid-2017. The Mud Island proposal was informed by the Studio Gang research, which called for any projects along the river to foster, restore, and connect the city, the river, and the larger ecology of the area. Considering the numerous proposals, it is likely that we will see multiple developments and amenities coming to Memphis’s extensive riverfront in the coming years. To get the wheel turning, fundraising is set to begin for the Mud Island River Park + Cultural Center in 2018, with construction starting within the next four years.
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The city of Memphis, Tennessee, will be 200 years old in 2019. In anticipation of that milestone, the city is investing in improvements throughout the downtown and along the Mississippi. Along with redeveloping the Mississippi Riverfront, Mud Island, and the Pinch District, the Memphis Cook Convention Center renovation is part of the much larger citywide Bicentennial Gateway Project. Led by the Memphis office of Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) and Atlanta-based tvsdesign, the overhaul will affect the entire complex, including the neighboring Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. In the first week of the year, the City of Memphis filed for the project’s first construction permit, which lists the budget at $175 million. That money will be drawn from a 1.8 percent hotel tax and Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) funds gathered from the convention center’s surrounding neighborhood. The most dramatic changes to the convention center will come in the form of an expanded footprint and outdoor terraces with views to the river and downtown skyline. New glazed concourses and meeting rooms will increase breakout space while providing more views of the city. In the 125,000-square-foot main exhibition hall, new retractable ceiling lights and additional material upgrades will allow for a 40,000-square-foot secondary hall to be carved out from the west end. The number of breakout rooms will also be expanded from the current 30 to 52. Access to the building will be updated with the addition of a new grand entrance and a new sky bridge. The new grand entrance will open to the Main Street Trolley station and neighboring Sheraton Memphis Downtown Hotel. The sky bridge will connect the convention center to the Sheraton. Back-ofhouse access will also be improved with a redesign of the loading docks. The neighboring 2,100-seat Cannon Center for the Performing Arts will undergo a complete cosmetic update, as well as backstage improvements. Along with the performing arts, more public art will be brought to the complex through a partnership with ArtsMemphis and the Urban Art Commission, as well as private contributions. In order to establish these goals, the Memphis Meeting Planners Advisory Board met with convention and event planners from around the country. Along with this research, feasibility studies conducted in 2010 and 2011 found that redeveloping rather than moving or rebuilding the convention center would be more cost effective while achieving the same goals. Another advantage of not moving the complex is that through careful phasing, both the Convention Center and the Cannon Center will be able to host events throughout construction. Other portions of the city are set to be transformed through major infrastructural improvements in multiple neighborhoods, and TIF districts will be expanded to help pay for the improvements. With work beginning in earnest this year, Memphis will be a changed city by 2019.
In anticipation of its bicentennial in 2019, Memphis, Tennessee is taking big steps to revitalize one of its oldest neighborhoods. The downtown Pinch District was part of the city’s original plan, but for much of the last 40 years it has seen very little development. In fact, since July 2015 there has been a moratorium on new building permits and additional construction to existing buildings in the area. The Pinch District Concept Study has been put together by the city’s Division of Housing and Community Development, the Memphis/Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, and the Downtown Memphis Commission, with architecture and planning being handled by the Memphis office of Looney Ricks Kiss. With a recent unanimous approval by the Land Use Control Board (LUCB), the study is on its way to the Memphis City Council. While in front of the LUCB, a resolution was added to the study to ensure that the master plan would act as an outline for future development rather than a true set of building regulations. If the study is approved by the City Council, the moratorium will likely be lifted, much to the pleasure of current Pinch land owners. The study covers a nine-block area and calls for a diverse set of programs integrated into a mixed-use neighborhood. The proposed neighborhood is based on four main principles: "history/character," "connected," "mixed-use," and "walkable neighborhood." Pedestrian friendly streets, intersections, and green spaces are an important part of the plan. Additional connections to the Mississippi River, which runs just west of the site, and to the rest of the downtown under the I-40 expressway are also highlighted in the study. While the neighborhood is decidedly underdeveloped, considering its location's history, one major recent development looms over the Pinch. The Pyramid Arena, built in 1991, sits between the neighborhood and the water. When it was built, it was imagined that the area would be transformed into an entertainment district. After multiple attempts and failed plans through the late 1990s, the push was mostly abandoned. Originally it was used as a 20,142-seat sporting venue for the University of Memphis men’s basketball, as well as the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. Eventually, a new stadium built on the south side of the downtown left the Pyramid vacant. In 2015 the Pyramid reopened as a Bass Pro Shops megastore and hotel. It should be noted that Memphis is the second Memphis, after the ancient Egyptian city, so the pyramid sort of makes sense. The Pinch itself was one of the first landing places for numerous immigrant populations including Irish, Italian, Russian, Greek, and Jewish communities. The name Pinch comes from the nickname of "Pinch-Gut" given to the area as a derogatory reference to the starving emaciated Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine of the mid-1800s. While the new vision of the Pinch still has a long way to go before being realized, it would seem the area may be entering a new era in its long history.