Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What To Do About The Fairgrounds: Question Of The Week

So, here’s the question of the week:

What do you think the future of the Fairgrounds should be? What do you see as the greatest obstacles to it taking place.
We asked the question in light of the movement toward a resolution of the various plans for the area’s future and the risk of it being the last resting place for everyone’s favorite ideas, but without an overall thread for the project.

We are posting the comments to our question, but we received a larger number of emails from people who think that the political context for the decision portends what one calls the “dumbing down” of the options.

Another well-connected public official said he looks for the project to “sink to the lowest common denominator,” while another one asked: “When’s the last time you saw city government do a master plan like this right?”

Finally, someone with a background in urban planning said that early indicators are that the development could end up being hostile, or indifferent, to the neighborhoods and the “texture of the neighborhood.” An indication: the way that the Kroc Center is designed as a free-standing, independent, isolated project with parking lots facing the neighbors, rather than as an anchor for a well-connected, sensitive design.

Here’s the comments to the post:

From Wtaylor:

In all honesty, the fairgrounds were misplaced in the first place and should have been in an open location near the expressway and open for tourists.

The old Mall of Memphis spot (plus some other land) would have been ideal location if you ask me.

Cost is the greatest obstacle to such a plan

From Anonymous:

Since the Fairgrounds and its antecedents go back about 100 years, it's ridiculous to state that it was "misplaced in the first place." When it was started, it WAS in an open area near a main roadway. At that time, the area at 240 Mall of Memphis location would be analogous to building the fairgrounds near Holly Springs, MS.

Another Anonymous observer said:

My hope is that it won't end up a mish-mash of styles. I would love for Fairview Jr. High to be used as the design sample for the rest of the buildings - retail, residential, Kroc buildings, parks etc.

Some cool Art Deco elements - and NO big box retail or other design that looks like Cordova, Collierville or G'town. If Turley can model his designs after Harbortown - parks, pedestrian friendly areas and nice little shops all with a "Fairview" feel, then I think it could be a jewel on the fringes of Midtown.

I also wish, instead of cramming a Target store on the site, they would look at Sears Crosstown for that type of business and leave the Fairgrounds area for more "unique" shops and restaurants.

I know there are rumors of Target going in near Poplar and Watkins/Cleveland. Just wish they would find a use - and the money - to utilize the Sears building, too.


The Fairgrounds will have a mix of uses on it. I think a renovated Liberty Bowl or another stadium will be there and I think the Children's Museum, Kroc Center and the school will remain. After that, there will be some residential and commercial, with at least some big box retail. That's what I think will happen, even if I don't want it to happen.

I think the biggest obstacle will be to get government officials and developers to put aside profit in order to put together a pedestrian-friendly, New Urbanist design that will make it an interesting place. I think it will difficult to talk them into ample greenspaces, including medians with grass and trees.

Anonymous #4 said:

With all the empty retail space and sites crying out for residential redevelopment in Midtown, why add more at the Fairgrounds? Leave it as a park! Or rather, build it into a park.


IT should definitely have ample people magnets, like a skate park, and I'm not including big box retail in that definition.

Anonymous #6 said:

The strip along Central needs to complement the university across the street. Turn it into mixed-use for students. Students can provide a strong consumer base that could drive the whole redevelopment. Plus Central is an important thoroughfare through that part of the city. If you can make it an economic corridor then the rest of the area could be stimulated outwards.

Also, the aspects of Cooper-Young should be incorporated. The East Parkway stretch should be focused on greenspace, housing modeled after the neighborhood, and public facilities.

Further in towards the Liberty Bowl, put in ballparks, areas focused on improving the game day atmosphere for a football game, etc.

Don't keep Libertyland. Don't make this an area for large national retailers.

Mesh the university, cooper-young, and liberty bowl into one area.

Gates of Memphis said:

At the May 31st Fairgrounds Redevelopment meeting in Orange Mound, Frank Ricks presented a very compelling vision: a visual west-east axis that starts at the original and restored East Parkway gates to the Fairgrounds, followed by green/festival/public space leading up to a recreated Shelby County Building and punctuated by the present Liberty Bowl hovering in perfect symmetry behind to the east. It's a strong vision that would create value for the existing neighborhoods and any new developments. A strong counterpoint to the churning caused by the new stadium, TDZs and other development machinations.

At some point I hope Mr. Ricks is willing to make a public pitch for this and other LRK quality ideas for the Fairgrounds, and against piecemeal developments or unpopular civic and commercial distractions, even if it means disagreeing publicly with some of his powerful patrons.

And finally, one last Anonymous comment:

Do not develop the Fairgrounds. 1) No residential, Memphis doesn't have a housing shortage. 2) No commercial. There are too many commercial areas close by that have a long way to go before they have maxed out their re-development potential.

We don't need to further dilute demand with unneeded supply. Make it a PARK! And 30 years from now, let's revisit and hopefully, there is actually demand for something. Right now, politicians and developers are just wanting a project, something they can say they did. They are not looking out for the health of our city. Spend the time and resources to make this city safer and cleaner. Then one day when Memphis actually has healthy demand, let's talk.


Anonymous said...

Lipscomb, Turley. What more is there to say???

Anonymous said...

I trust Turley than most other developers.

He has a proven track record of getting things done and also doing go projects with New Urbanist principals (Uptown).

If we're going to develop something there, I would rather have him than some developer who just wants to put up unsustainable junk that will make them quick money.

Elise said...

I think it's worth thinking about the city brand as a component of what a fairground redevelopment could be. The fairgrounds should be an flagship example of the Memphis brand-- it's adjacent to some of the places in Memphis that work and that set us apart, like our well-designed older neighborhoods, neighborhoods which I think should be essential to the idea of our city brand. Since our historic content sets us apart, I think that a preservationist take and the old City Beautiful campaign could a) help the space of the fairgrounds and b) be a good model for civic redevelopment. Our great strength as a city is convenience and livability. Anything we do to augment that improves our brand.

To me, this means thoughtful green-space, historically-sensitive architecture, and long-term design. It means usable public space. (And government commitment to maintaining that public space).The Parkways, for instance, look great and work well. Overton Park needs some tlc, but it works.

None of these ideas are new, I know, but I think that the older city designs have stood the test of time best and deserve to be revisited.

So if there's retail, make it small retail, and require the majority to be small-business. If there are homes, integrate them into existing neighborhoods. Keep the old fair buildings and reuse them. I love Liberty Land. (Tivoli, in Copenhagen, is a great amusement park because it's not been updated-- it's strange and enchanting). Celebrate our quirks, like the bizarre and wonderful museum on Mud Island and the Pink Palace. Memphis is odd, and that's what great about it, so we can only look to other cities so much for answers. We should look at what we have done well.