Bridge Builders teaches kids unity, teamwork

‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal

June 19, 2014

Bridge Builders Madison, Somerset and Simone

Bridge Builders Madison, Somerset and Simone

Bridge Builders teaches kids unity, teamwork

As our children grow older, they grow closer to each other. They’re more willing to get along and coexist harmoniously in the limited space of our home. It’s a wonderful feeling; it’s all that we’ve hoped for as parents from the very first days.

Still, though, they backslide. They bicker and argue over things as inconsequential as a spot on the sofa or a difference in perspective.

Memphis, too, grows and ages and, hopefully, matures. Yet even as it moves forward, becoming more progressive on issues of growth and development, we backslide. In past weeks, interest groups and Memphis Zoo leaders have been bickering over land the way my kids argue over that spot on the couch.

Other groups have become embroiled in the most inane argument of all: Who is the most minority? It’s like my children discussing which of them is my favorite (I’ll never tell). This public discussion has devolved into public name-calling, water-throwing and an arrest.

It was against this civic backdrop that we sent two of our kids, Somerset and Joshua, rising seventh- and eighth-graders respectively, to Bridges last week for the summer Bridge Builders COLLABORATE program. In a building that acts as a bridge itself — on the edge of Downtown, Uptown, the Medical District and North Memphis — 114 young people from 32 ZIP codes came together to learn how to work as one.

The issues of the day weren’t the focus, not in so many words. No one read them headlines from the newspaper or a long list of acerbic statuses and comments from Facebook. Instead, the college-age facilitators led groups of kids through exercises meant to instill confidence, leadership qualities, unity and teamwork.

My kids didn’t want to go, be sure of that. They’re preteens and only recently finished with school, so they were looking forward to long summer days spent lounging on the couch, arguing over who sits where. “Why do we have to go?” they asked up until that very morning.

“Because you’ll like it,” I said, again and again. “You’ll meet new people, it’ll build character and it will give you something to do all day.”

This was one of the few instances of my being right; they loved it from the first day. They loved the people in charge, the kids in their groups, the games and workshops, and the lunches.

I picked them up that first day and, as they described the activities, the themes of the week shined through — they worked together to complete tasks, they had to choose leaders, they had to select a workshop of their own interests to focus on throughout the week.

There was a day of community service when the kids went into the surrounding neighborhood to pick up trash. The trash wasn’t theirs, but they cleaned anyway. These future leaders will one day be cleaning our messes. Because of Bridge Builders, they’ll be better equipped and more eager to do so. They’ve learned the skills at a time when current leaders have trouble putting petty differences aside to work toward a common solution.

As Cynthia Ham, president and CEO of Bridges, said to the crowd of kids and their parents at the induction ceremony on the last day, “No matter what you end up doing, I hope you will hold sacred what you learned this week at Bridge Builders and know that you can make a difference, especially in Memphis.”

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Tour Le Bonheur to see the heart of the city

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

June 5, 2014

Le Bonheur

Tour Le Bonheur to see the heart of the city

I spent a recent morning taking the Le Bonheur 101 Tour. My group of eight was given breakfast, lunch and guided access to the children’s hospital.

In the 40-bed emergency room, relatively quiet at 9 a.m., Dr. Barry Gilmore, medical director of emergency services, assured us that it would fill up multiple times over the course of the day. Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital is the only nationally certified Level 1 Trauma Center in the state.

We were shown operating rooms with equipment costing millions. Dr. James Eubanks, medical director of trauma services, demonstrated computers so technologically advanced that I was sure we could launch a moon mission from the corner of Dunlap and Poplar.

In the cath lab, a days-old baby underwent a procedure as we looked on from a control booth where nurses monitored every action, giving feedback to the physician and his team while tapping a keyboard the way my teen does his phone.

And mixed in and among the gadgetry, the LED lights and a seemingly endless nervous system of fiber optic wire, was another complex, yet simple, piece of equipment. So important is it to the patients and their families, the doctors and nurses, that, when the new building was completed in 2010, they capped it off with its image.

It is the heart.

A big part of Le Bonheur’s philosophy on treatment of the body is the support that is offered to patients and their families; there is talking, physical and emotional interaction, and bonding.

The doctors and nurses, department heads and marketing team each took time from their day to explain to us every floor, ward and piece of equipment. They answered our questions unhurried and at length. They even took time to point out the art on the walls and explain its significance and what it means to them. There is beautiful art everywhere, made by and for children, and it appears as integral to the day-to-day functioning of the institution as an MRI or EKG.

I toured the hallways, operating rooms and waiting rooms of Le Bonheur the other day and, as thankful as I am that it’s there, I hope I never have to see it again.

At the beginning of the tour, we were asked to share our own Le Bonheur stories. A few of us had them. For me, it happened about 14 years ago when my son, then only 2 years old, stood up in his high chair at Pete & Sam’s restaurant and went over backward, landing on his head. As a parent and Memphian, when something like that happens, the first thing that comes to mind is “Le Bonheur.” He was examined and released soon after we arrived.

Other stories aren’t so simple and don’t end as quickly. We heard some of those stories during our tour, saw others being played out in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and operating rooms. It’s for those children and those parents that I’m grateful for the institution.

June 15 marks the 62nd anniversary of Le Bonheur opening its doors, and the 4th anniversary for the new facility. You’ve toured Graceland and Sun Studio, the Stax Museum and Brooks Art Gallery, and they all make Memphis the unique city it is. If you want to see what makes us great, what makes our heart beat, be sure and take the Le Bonheur 101 Tour.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


$250 million infrastructure makeover keeps UTHSC competitive

High Ground News

May 21, 2014

The Johnson Building Photo by Richard J. Alley

The Johnson Building
Photo by Richard J. Alley

In 2007, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) completed construction on the 90,000-square-foot, $25.2 million Cancer Research Building at the corner of Madison Avenue and Manassas Street. To say that the facility, or any improvement to the campus at all, was long overdue would be an understatement–it was the first new building for UTHSC in 17 years.

It was also the impetus for a formalized, five-year, $250 million master plan by the century-old institution.

Now at the midway mark, the plan includes numerous completed, underway or planned projects. The $49 million, 135,000-square-foot Translational Science Research Building is under construction at the corner of Manassas Street and Union Avenue and will be a mirror image to the Cancer Research Building that sits immediately to the north. The buildings of the Historic Quadrangle, a tree-canopied oasis that insulates students from the heavy traffic noise just to the south on Union Avenue, are due for a $68 million upgrade, with the Mooney Memorial Library being converted to administrative offices, reception area and meeting spaces, and the Nash Research Building and its annex renovated into research space. The Crowe Building there will become the College of Nursing.

The Shelton Feurt Pharmacy Research Building is across Dunlap Street from Health Sciences Park and will come down to make way for a $24.1 million Multi-Disciplinary Simulation and Health Education Building.

Upgrades and overhauls planned include the fourth floor of the Cancer Research Building for $4.8 million, $9.5 million on expanded research enterprises and office space in the Pharmacy Building, and retrofitting and renovating the medical library in the Lamar Alexander Building for $6.1 million.

Growth and upgrading are necessary to any institution of science and learning as technology is in constant flux, and as the recruitment of students and world-class researchers becomes increasingly more competitive.

“The infrastructure was very, very challenged,” says Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer Kennard Brown of his first exposure to the university campus.

Such infrastructure could be seen as a liability, unimpressive as it is to potential medical students. With 165 new enrollees per year, UTHSC is competing against several programs nationwide, including Duke, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Washington University among others, many of which can offer scholarships that a state school without a comparable endowment just can’t afford. In such an atmosphere, the facilities, the campus, whether or not the environment is conducive to learning and living, become all that more important to a student and his or her family.

“All of them are medical schools, we all graduate kids at the 98th, 99th percentile, we all have our standards, they all have to pass national boards to be physicians,” Brown says. “So academically we’re probably comparable, but what appeals to the kid, what appeals to mom?”

If the technology and infrastructure aren’t keeping pace, there is a greater chance UTHSC–and Memphis–won’t make the cut . . . (read more)


Respecting our elders: the Plough Foundation’s aging initiative

High Ground News

May 14, 2014

Katie Midgley, Program Associate for the Plough Foundation, was hired in 2011 to help figure out how the foundation might be more proactive in the funding area of aging.

“I think there were several reasons why aging was selected as our area, to really get our feet wet in being more proactive instead of reactive,” she says. “Number one is because of the numbers. People are hearing a lot about baby boomers and the ‘silver tsunami’ and Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and what are we going to do about it?”

Midgley looked at past grants that Plough had awarded and saw an increase in funding related to aging.

“The numbers reiterated what our board already suspected. Memphis is no different than the rest of the country in that we are getting older and we will stay older, people are having fewer children and they’re living longer, so that’s really a population paradigm shift. I think that’s why we selected this issue as a foundation.”

As a result, the Plough Foundation Aging Initiative was created, and a request was put out for proposals among the area’s non-profit organizations and public and private sectors. It is the foundation’s first RFP in its 50-year history.

Plough completed more than 70 interviews of individuals and organizations with expertise in all aspects of aging, and commissioned a survey of more than 500 seniors aged 65 years old and up within Memphis and Shelby County. Based on the survey and in-house research on the topics of aging, two task groups were convened, one Aging in Place and Mobility and the other Elder Abuse and Maltreatment.

Finally, a speaker series was convened to educate the public. “We wanted to really sound an alarm bell,” says Mike Carpenter, Executive Director of the Plough Foundation. “We wanted to end that (speaker series) with this call for proposals to say, ‘We’ve rung the alarm bell, now we want to be partners with you in doing something about it.’ This is a way for us to engage the not-for-profit community, because with the RFP we’re able to be very specific about the kinds of things we’re looking for, the kinds of things we’re willing to fund. It has also allowed us to bring these interested groups to the table and have some pre-discussions about their ideas and to help direct them in ways that we’ve determined would be best for the community all around this issue.”

The total grant amounts are being left open-ended, which is also a first for Plough. Not wanting to limit the focus on this complex issue is one reason. Another, Carpenter says, is that “We don’t want to be put in a position where we get proposals that are maybe subpar and feel that we need to fund those to meet some arbitrary amount that we had set out. We feel like our commitment to this is going to be larger than any single grant that we’ve made in our history.”

While the amount may not be written in stone, it is expected to be larger than the typical $12 to $13 million that Plough awards each year, an amount which won’t be affected by these grants . . . (read more)


Make summer a season of creativity, discovery

‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal

May 22, 2014



There it is, the school bell. The last one of the semester and another year is in the books. It was the first for a unified Shelby County School system, though “unified” may be an optimistic adjective.

Still, the ground didn’t open up. Hell fire didn’t rain down. Teachers taught and students learned. Parents signed papers, made lunches and purchased a tree’s worth of poster board.

Next year the municipal schools depart the mother ship for what they believe to be a better universe. Good luck to those teachers and administrators; it will be another new and unknown frontier, another testing ground.

But that seems a world away because after tomorrow it’s summertime and there is no testing. So let’s turn off the alarm clocks, pack away the uniforms and prepare for hours spent doing nothing. It’s a glorious time for lounging about, running the neighborhood, eating lunch at a normal hour and maybe staying up just a bit past bedtime. Read what you want, kids, talk loudly and at will, make up games and go fishing.

At a recent end-of-school year ceremony, White Station Middle School principal Shawn Page made a point to mention two people he admires. They aren’t titans of industry. They aren’t politicians. They aren’t celebrities, not in the contemporary sense. They are a composer and a poet — Ludwig van Beethoven and William Blake.

Mr. Page told the assembled students and parents that he admires the men for their work ethic and perseverance at creating something that comes from within.

Though he didn’t say so, art is woefully undervalued in public school systems, unified or otherwise. So this summer, let’s take a page out of the principal’s book and read up on the old masters of arts and letters. Let’s put that page down on a flat surface and spend some time painting or drawing on it. Write a story, a poem, an essay just for you. Write and direct a film on your mother’s iPhone. Noodle with that dust-covered piano or your dad’s guitar.

Indulging creativity is a pathway to learning, but don’t let that scare you away. You won’t even notice it’s happening at the time, trust me. You won’t necessarily be learning about the landscape you’re painting or scales on sheet music or metaphors and similes. The lesson you learn will be far more important.

You’ll be learning about you, who you are, what you’re capable of and where your talents lie.

There is no test at the end. Unlike the proposed Common Core Curriculum or the brain-scrubbing TCAP exam, there is no way to teach to the test of summer. It’s not a season for standardization; no good climbing tree or firefly swarm is quite so common.

The summer break from school seems shorter and shorter every year, so soak it up while you can. Don’t let the idle hours go to waste, but learn what you like simply because you want to know more about it. There is no grading, there is no standard. There is only good music and the poetry of days that stretch on and on.

Permanent link in The Commercial Appeal



Parenting is a juggling act with no end

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

May 8, 2014

Parenting is a juggling act with no end

Having been a parent for 16 years and written this column for six, I’m often asked by new parents what it’s like. “How do you handle four kids?” is most often the question I’m asked in Kroger, at the bookstore or after reading the kids’ menu aloud at dinner out for my table and those nearby.

The answer varies depending on the day, my mood and the most recent outbursts from my children. It ranges from, “It’s really great, you should try it” to “Forward momentum, we just keep swimming, like sharks” to “Please, help me.”

In many ways, each of those answers rings true because being a parent is a lot like juggling. In the beginning, it’s an impressive feat and friends and family are in awe of your abilities. Then it becomes a circus. Eventually, you realize that if you stop, hesitate, take your eye off a single ball even for a second, it could all come crashing down.

And it’s not always a tennis ball or orange you’re juggling, either. There are chain saws up in the air, and kitchen knives, and a stick with fire on one end.

Keep it all moving. Don’t stop.

Last weekend, I stood in the shade on the back deck and watched as my 16-year-old son mowed the yard. There was a breeze and it was pleasant, it was nice not having to trudge back and forth in the sun pushing that machine.

That chore was an orange lofted into the air, making its arc and landing again in the waiting palm of my hand. “This is easy,” I thought to myself.

Later that day I put that same 16-year-old behind the wheel of the car and strapped myself in the passenger seat for a ride across town. We took some narrow side streets, winding and without sidewalks. We crossed others as wide as Mendenhall, Poplar and Perkins. All around us was Memphis traffic and the sound of horns. There was one perilously close call with a mailbox.

That ride was a chain saw, ripping and roaring, tumbling end over end in front of my face. I didn’t want to catch it, I prayed that it might fall to the ground. “There’s a mailbox!” I thought to myself.

We parents can’t let anything fall to the ground. We can’t pick and choose which incarnation of our children we want to parent, whether the 6th-grader with a nearly-flawless report card or the one who later sulks off to her room once again, talking back out of the side of her mouth.

The point is that we have to stay on our toes. We have to watch our toes because that point is sharp. They’re not all softballs, these childhood dilemmas.

As a parent and showman, it’s that big finish with a flourish that I look forward to, when my kids are grown and successful and, hopefully, happy. It will be then that I’m allowed to take only the briefest of bows, quick to right myself because another secret of juggling, new parents, is that it never ends, there will always be something floating up there in the air.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Seven days in Memphis: boot camp puts tactical urbanism to work in the city

High Ground News

May 7, 2014

It was a week of “what if?” in Memphis as the partners promoting Boot Camp Memphis welcomed Chuck Marohn, president of Strong Towns; Mike Lydon, principal of the Brooklyn-based The Street Plans Collaborative; and Joe Minicozzi, principal of Ashville, N.C., Urban3 LLC consulting company, to town to conduct workshops on tactical urbanism.

Participating partners included the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, the Urban Land Institute, the Chairman’s Circle of the Greater Memphis Chamber, Community LIFT, Livable Memphis, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and the Hyde Family Foundations.

Following an executive session at the Bioworks Foundation on Tuesday, April 22, the day-long workshops, more hands-on and intimate, were held at No. 2 Vance, a fitting locale in a rehabbed warehouse overlooking the Riverwalk, Vance Park and the Mississippi River. Nightly recap presentations were made at the opposite end of downtown in the Pinch District.

The idea behind Boot Camp was to address issues surrounding city sprawl and discuss ways to create opportunity within core neighborhoods to facilitate action that might lead to improved communities.

While the executive session was intended for the “generals,” it was the “colonels,” Marohn said, “that I really want to have an in-depth conversation with.”

“If you’re ever going to lead a revolution or a mutiny or a change in established order,” he continued, “it’s never the people in charge who do that. It’s always the next tier down, the ones that can see the dysfunction and see also what change needs to happen; they’re the ones who come in and change things.”

Leah Dawkins is the Community Redevelopment Liasion for the University of Memphis, working toward neighborhood revitalization and building capacity within those neighborhoods. She is a planner by trade and attended both Boot Camp sessions. She says she was happy to see so many of these colonels on hand.

“I thought it was interesting that the people participating were really practitioners in the city,” she said.

“Tactical urbanism,” a term coined by Lydon, is the idea that citizens can come together to participate in low-risk, high-reward approaches to instigate change in their communities. And theory as practice could be seen throughout that week in the city. The week was bookended by two successful events that put tatical urbanism to use. On Saturday, April 19, City of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Overton Park Conservancy Director Tina Sullivan and other civic and nonprofit representatives gathered on the eastern edge of Overton Park to formally open the Bike Gate sculpture and the park’s new pedestrian entrance from East Parkway.

More than just a way for bikers, joggers and walkers to safely enter the park from the protected Hampline bikeway, the Bike Gate is a monument to the citizens who, in the 1970s, fought the federal government, which sought to lay asphalt through the park as a means to extend Interstate 40. The Gate marks the one spot in the country where the roadway is interrupted, the people unwilling to accede to the imminent domain of federal projects . . . (read more)


Willy Bearden

Memphis Magazine cover story

(First in a series of profiles of Memphis-area photographers)

April 2014

Willy Bearden: Images from one of Memphis’ best-known filmmakers

In the lobby of Willy Bearden’s rambling studio downtown, across from the elementary school and in the shadow of the abandoned Sterick Building, is an array of vintage cameras — a dual lens Konica and slim Pentax on a tripod, a Nikon SLR that died an untimely death in the sand and surf during one of its many trips to Horn Island off the coast of Mississippi. But you also might find a vinyl blues album, a slim volume of Eudora Welty, and an early model television. Bearden is a collector who throws nothing out, not props, not ideas, not outdated equipment.

And certainly not photographs.

To sit in front of his large-screen Apple monitor as he flips from folder to folder on the desktop is to take a virtual trip to Paris and Amsterdam, to the Gulf Coast and South Memphis. You will certainly be spending some time in the Mississippi Delta. Bearden grew up in its red fields overgrown with green kudzu, three hours south of Memphis in Rolling Fork, seat of Sharkey County. He arrived in Memphis in 1971, at the age of 21, the only way a Delta child of the 1960s (or a bluesman of the 1930s) might: He hitchhiked.

Bearden’s thinning white hair and glasses may hint towards his six decades, but the fervor heard in his voice as he discusses his passion negates those years and the triple-bypass surgery he underwent (in India, of all places) several years ago. There is something of the child in his eyes, too, as there must have been that day in Rolling Fork when a neighbor let him borrow a Polaroid Land camera for the very first time.

“I didn’t call it ‘documenting my world,’ but I was always interested in just the snapshots, just taking the pictures, and I tried to do some creative things when I was a teenager,” he says. “I remember specifically [the neighbor] had one of those gazing globes in his yard and I was fascinated with that thing. I took some pictures of that with the Polaroid.

“I think once you look through a viewfinder, a lot of people get hooked. You look through there and you say, ‘Whatever is in the frame is the only thing that matters to me at this point.’ The extraneous clutter of the world doesn’t matter. I’m focusing on this gazing globe, or I’m focusing on this person’s face.”

His passion for the visual developed early when George Larrimore, a friend working as a producer at Channel 5, asked him to work on a film project.
“I was just there to carry stuff around, and I looked through this Canon Scoopic, which was a 16 mm motion picture camera,” he says, “and it had a zoom lens and, man, I looked through that thing; I don’t think I took that thing away from my eye for the next two hours.”

At the time, Bearden was working for Motion Picture Laboratories, a business that delivered film reels to theatres all around the South, and employed many area photographers. The break room there became like a college classroom for him and he would ask those “professors” question after question about the technical aspects of the art. He soaked up hard information from wherever he could read about it and whoever was willing to talk about it . . . (read more)



Unlike tests, kids aren’t standardized

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 24, 2014

Misguided movement puts testing above all

As new parents, we approach the work as we would any new job. We’re eager, excited, a little awed we got the job in the first place, yet ready for any challenge. Over time, though, we get bogged down, don’t we? There is the morning routine and the constant list of needs and demands from the administrators, our children.

It’s like that with any job, but maybe none more so than teaching. Have you ever talked with someone new to the profession? It’s infectious. They’re going to change the world one student at a time with a package of Crayola crayons and a piece of chalk.

But then something happens come spring. Beginning next week, our kids will be taking the TCAP standardized test to find out where they stand among their fellow students across the state. For many teachers and administrators in the school system, this is the speed bump on the road to education. Treating our kids like data on a spreadsheet is where the process begins to break down.

Kids are nothing if not nonstandard. They are wonderfully, blessedly unique in their gifts, their approaches, their thinking and their play. But there are children in our city who are new to the country, who have yet to master the language and customs. There are those who woke up without a meal, who may have gone to bed without a parent in the house. And there are those afforded every opportunity to succeed.

To measure them all against one another is to do them an injustice. To attach such importance to those tests is to hamstring our educators.

Such is the weight of the outcome of these exams — the high percentage of the child’s overall grade and the performance evaluation of the teacher — that there is little choice but to “teach to the test.”

I’m subjected to a performance review of sorts every school day. My 7-year-old daughter will let me know in the mornings if I chose the wrong uniform top for her, and she critiques the lunch I packed at the end of every day. I laugh it off, a hazard of the job.

But what happens when it isn’t a mere glitch in the bossy personality of an adolescent and is taken more seriously? I shudder to think of someone’s job evaluation coming down to how well my daughter might grasp the difference between answer C and answer D. I shudder to think that someone might judge my performance as a parent, and whether or not I’m allowed to continue, based on the fact that her socks don’t match today.

In the next year or two, the Common Core curriculum will be adopted and, with it, a standard that is unattainable for many in a misguided effort to raise the bar across the board. It’s an initiative with the propensity to do damage to the least prepared among the schools in our system.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, in a speech last January to the Modern Language Association, said, “I fear that the Common Core plan of standards and testing will establish a test-based meritocracy that will harm our democracy by parceling out opportunity, by ranking and rating every student in relation to their test scores.”

As spring blossoms, we should hope our kids do as well, that their senses are awakened and curiosity piqued.

Not all of our children are destined be artists or industry leaders, start a technological revolution or discover the cure for a disease. But we have to want that for them; it’s our job.

And we have to hope, more than anything, that they’ll be something more than standard or common.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal


Tennessee Brewery: Untapped potential

High Ground News

April 23, 2014

(feature & photos)

Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery

From Crosstown to Binghampton, Memphis has proven that temporary neighborhood activation projects can yield long-term results. With Tennessee Brewery: Untapped events ready for rollout this week, the city is once again ready to reimagine a forgotten space.

Beginning April 24 and lasting through May, live music, pop-up retail, craft beer and other programming will reactivate and animate one of Memphis’ hidden jewels, weekend by weekend. It’s a jewel that might still be considered a lump of coal just awaiting the right amount of polishing by a visionary developer.

The Tennessee Brewery at 495 Tennessee St. was built in 1890 and at one time produced 250,000 barrels of beer a year and employed 1,500. It last operated in 1951 and has sat idle since.

Tennesee Brewery: Untapped, as the event is known, isn’t the first such reimagining of a blighted neglected building, or the first time the idea that a few city blocks might benefit from the grassroots efforts of an enthusiastic few. Such successes can be seen in neighborhoods such as Bingampton and its Broad Avenue Arts District, and Crosstown with the redevelopment of the Sears Crosstown building.

“Our goal was to have 5,000 people, and 15,000 showed up,” says Pat Brown, vice president of the Broad Avenue Arts District, on the event that started it all–“A New Face for an Old Broad”–held during a single weekend in 2010.

A series of charettes hosted by the City of Memphis in 2006 was the jumping-off point for the district and garnered the interest of over 200 business owners, stakeholders and residents. There was promise, and with that promise came a lot of hard work and planning.

“It was very complex just with logistics and thinking through how you activate a space,” Brown says. “We were trying to activate all the different properties along Broad that had been closed up for years. Most of them did not have power, and so just getting electrical service, that was one thing we had really overlooked in our planning.”

At the Brewery, the team behind Untapped–restaurateur Taylor Berger, commercial real estate broker Andy Cates, attorney Michael Tauer and Kerry Hayes and Doug Carpenter of Doug Carpenter & Assoc.–has enlisted a revolving legion of volunteers over the past few weeks to clean and refurbish the 5,300-square-foot courtyard that will see much of the action. A stage has been built, furniture fashioned out of repurposed wood and electricians brought in to add lighting. It’s a physical effort to help people imagine the possibilities, the same challenge faced by the Crosstown redevelopment team when it held its MEMFixevent in November of 2012.

“The biggest challenge that we had, and they (the Brewery team) have as well, is getting people to see something beyond what they see,” says Crosstown co-developer Todd Richardson. “I can’t say it any more simplistically than that. What people see with the Crosstown building is the huge, blighted building that has been empty for 20 years and that defines an expectation. For us, the biggest challenge is getting people to see or to imagine something beyond what’s before them and that’s just harder than it sounds.”

Cates, Executive Vice President for Brokerage Services with Colliers International, is part of the Untapped team, not as a commercial real estate broker, but as a citizen who has known the other members for years and finds the project “exciting as hell.” Still, with his knowledge of the city’s real estate, his pragmatic point of view is invaluable . . . (read more)