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Memphis Redevelopment Wins Grand Prize in CNU Charter Awards: Crosstown Concourse Showcases Community-Driven Revitalization

By kmartin
Jun 25, '18 4:12 PM EST
Photo Credit: Aerial Innovations
Photo Credit: Aerial Innovations

Savannah, Georgia: On Friday May 19, The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) will honor Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, Tennessee with the grand prize among eleven professional and three student winners of its 17th annual Charter Awards, which recognize exemplary projects by local government, developers, architects, urban designers and others engaged in revitalizing and creating coherent cities, neighborhoods, and metropolitan regions. Winners are chosen because they not only embody and advance the principles of the Charter of the New Urbanism, but also because they make a difference in people's lives.

“Excellence in architecture and urban design is more than a beautiful building, street, or neighborhood,” said Lynn Richards, President and CEO of CNU. “It’s how a design improves the quality of lives of the people living, working, and playing in these areas. The best efforts are victories that may not be obvious but make a tremendous impact.”

Crosstown Concourse was designed by the architectural, planning, and interior design firm Looney Ricks Kiss, in association with DIALOG, leading to the transformation of a once-derelict Sears distribution center into a “Vertical Urban Village” that has attracted impressive partnerships and includes 265 apartments (20 percent of which are affordable housing) a public charter school, a YMCA, health care facilities, restaurants, shops, and a 425-seat theater. Most importantly, perhaps, the project is creating new partnerships and community connections among residents, service providers, educators, and businesses.

“The project teaches what can happen when typical models of development are put aside in favor of local re-investment and direct community engagement,” said Tony Pellicciotti, principal at LRK. “One of only a handful of the surviving behemoth retail centers built by Sears in the early 20th century, Crosstown Concourse stepped beyond its peers’ rehabilitation model and envisioned an entirely new collaboration between a structure and the people it serves. On behalf of the entire Crosstown Concourse and greater Memphis community, we’re grateful to accept this national designation.”

The 1.5-million square-foot building was redeveloped and opened in two years from its 2015 groundbreaking. A nonprofit organization called Crosstown Arts was formed to work on the redevelopment in 2010 when the nation was emerging from the Great Recession. The intent was not only to convert a derelict building into a center of much-needed community activity, but also to reactivate the adjacent urban neighborhoods.

“It’s extraordinarily exciting,” said City of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “Three thousand people are going in and out of this building every day. I’m hopeful that all of Cleveland (Street) starts popping. It’s nearly miraculous.”

This year, CNU recognized eleven professional designs and three student design projects across the United States and in South Africa, England, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Iran. The awards were announced at a ceremony May 18, during CNU’s annual Congress, a 4-day event that brings together 1,500+ people to discuss, debate, engage, and advance innovations and strategies in city- and town-building.

Regarded as the preeminent award for excellence in urban design, the CNU Charter Awards have honored a select number of winners and honorable mentions since 2002. In 2018, the jury focused on a specific aspect of the Charter’s principles: projects that advanced equitable and inclusive placemaking.

The 2018 winning projects were recognized for imaginative and practical solutions to pressing community needs: affordable housing, biodiversity in cities, prioritization of people over cars, and creative uses of design to empower neighborhood residents living in poverty.