Crosstown developers eye project’s ‘magic in the mix’

Small Business Spotlight for The Memphis Daily News

Nov. 2, 2013

It would seem the only thing that might hold up the locomotive that is the Sears Crosstown $180 million renovation at this point is a much-needed $15 million from the city of Memphis.

A lot of money, but not enough to worry project developers Todd Richardson and McLean Wilson, whose analogy – and attitude – is more pedal power than steam driven.

“You’re just kind of looking over your shoulder, making sure that everybody else is right there with you,” Richardson said.

Sears Crosstown developers McLean Wilson and Todd Richardson say the “magic is in the mix” for the massive project that aims to unite the community.

(Photo: Andrew J. Breig)

“The goal is to be in the finish line together,” Wilson added. “If there are any laggards who can’t keep pace with everyone else, that becomes a problem. We’re within an arm’s reach of everyone.”

It’s an idea that began as just that – an idea, a concept – a plan rooted in altruism and community. These are hardly the ideals that come to mind with multimillion-dollar development deals. The act of acquiring land and buildings to develop into something else is rarely based on ideals at all, but profit instead.

And yet, when Richardson and Chris Miner began discussing the idea, in 2009, of a contemporary art center and collaborative artist space with ongoing programming and a little retail thrown in, it was just these ideals that they had in mind. Community, collectives, synergy – it was all underneath an umbrella without a name, much less a home.

It wasn’t until the neighborhood – Crosstown – presented itself that the notion of Crosstown Arts became something concrete. And still there was no concrete. The idea expanded as other entities showed interest. There was the Memphis Teacher Residency Program and the Gestalt charter high school.

“How great would it be to have teachers and high school students and artists all under one roof?” Richardson mused. And further: “What if we did all this in the Sears building?”

It was a capricious thought, one brought up, Richardson said, “Not as an effort to take up space – even now, Crosstown Arts’ footprint is 45,000 square feet – but just simply as a way to rethink what could happen and to kind of reignite the conversation.”

The Sears building at Cleveland Street and North Parkway had been purchased in 2007 by Memphis-based investor group Crosstown LLC. Built in 1927 as a distribution center, and vacated in 1993, the building was left to deteriorate and haunt the neighborhood like a ghost of Christmas catalogs past.

After more than two years of work, including a year-long feasibility study, Richardson sat down with Scott Morris, founder of the Church Health Center, in May 2012, to talk about the possibility of a small satellite office in the building . . . (read more)