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Memphis Heritage Trail

Old Postcard of the Chisca Hotel

Old Postcard of the Chisca Hotel

postcard courtesy the collection of Vance Lauderdale

Why It Matters:

“It’s critical that we focus on this area [Memphis Heritage Trail] at this time, because we are in the midst of renovating and rebuilding in this zone and if we are not careful in our progress we will overlook and build over and tear down some of the essential components of this great history.” — A C Wharton, mayor, City of Memphis


Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, Blues Foundation, Downtown Memphis Commission, Hattiloo Theatre, Heritage Tours, Memphis Landmarks Commission, Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Memphis Housing Authority, National Civil Rights Museum, Shelby County Historical Commission, Stax  Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, UrbanArt Commission, Withers Collection Museum and Gallery

Leaders and Consultants:

A C Wharton, City of Memphis; Robert Lipscomb, City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development; Luretha Phillips, Memphis Housing Authority; Dr. David Acey, University of Memphis; Paul Morris, Downtown Memphis Commission; Ekundayo Bandele, Hattiloo Theatre; Berlin Boyd; Bill Day; Jimmy Ogle, Jimmy Ogle Tours; Elaine Turner, Heritage Tours; Bennie West, Memphis Black Arts Alliance; June West, Memphis Heritage; Dr. Miriam Decosta-Willis; J.W. Gibson, Terry Lynch, Gary Prosterman, and Karl and Gail Schledwitz, Main Street Apartment Partners.

Area Boundaries:

Beale St., Main St., E.H. Crump Blvd., and Walnut St.

Area History:

The history of downtown Memphis is a colorful and rocky one, involving the birth of a new type of music, a large role in the cotton industry, direct involvement in the Civil War and the civil rights movement as well as many economic ups and downs. In its heyday, downtown Memphis was a vibrant center of shipping and commerce. As the largest port on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans, Memphis developed as a transportation center and a market for large quantities of cotton grown in the area. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Memphis was a booming and prosperous city that had capitalized on its river access, but by the late twentieth century, the historic center city had fallen on hard times.

Current Conditions:

Downtown is a bustling residential, business, and entertainment center and a dynamic development market, with approximately $3 billion in development projects recently completed, under way, or scheduled to begin. But areas of blight still need attention and connectivity.

Ideal Situation:

The Memphis Heritage Trail publicā€private collaborative will serve as a complementary redevelopment effort to the tremendous development activity that has already taken place in downtown Memphis. The goal is to redevelop a 20-block peripheral section of downtown by leveraging public investments in infrastructure, green space, and Hope VI initiatives in order to encourage private investment in this fertile development district. The public’s return on investment will be a transformation of public housing as we know it into self-sufficient and sustainable communities. Among the area’s assets are the National Civil Rights Museum, FedExForum, the Chisca Hotel, Clayborn Temple, Hunt-Phelan property, Robert Church Park, and the Universal Life Insurance Co. building. By eradicating blight in between already developed areas, downtown will gain connectivity and become more dynamic.

How To Get To the Ideal:

A team is developing an Implementation Plan to create the Memphis Heritage Trail as well as to determine the cost and schedule for the catalytic projects and future construction. 

Current Funding Situation:

The City of Memphis won $22 million in federal funding for the demolition and revitalization of Cleaborn Homes as well as a $250,000 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant for Foote Homes. The Memphis Heritage Trail can bolster these projects and provide new opportunities for expanding the cultural economy and workforce. Memphis City Council approved $2 million for blight remediation at the Chisca Hotel and a $1 million loan through a PILOT extension fund for the Downtown Parking Authority to buy and renovate the Chisca’s parking garage.

Funding Goal:

Secure an additional $30 million in federal funding through the Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant and attract additional new investments such as the Arts Place and Our Town Grants, as well as the support of local and state governments and the philanthropic and corporate sectors. The Chisca redevelopment is expected to cost $19.5 million, with $17 million of that coming from private financing.

 Jobs Created:

Pennrose Properties, Community Capital, Duvernay + Brooks, Self + Tucker Architects, Looney Ricks Kiss, Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, SSR Ellers, Jackson & Person Associates, and Capstone Building Corp. As plans develop, more firms would be utilized for planning, design, architecture, engineering, and construction work.

How You Can Help:

Participate in the planning and express your support for creating the Memphis Heritage Trail. The project needs early involvement to shape an agenda focused on affordable housing, blight elimination, green space, neighborhood retail, and job opportunities all leveraged by community culture and heritage. An international cultural destination requires additional touch points, participation, and perspectives to expand a diverse tourist and residential base.


Robert Lipscomb, City of Memphis Housing and Community Development, at; Deidre Malone, Carter Malone Group, at; and Jimmie Tucker, Self + Tucker Architects, at

Old to new | New to old
Oct 16, 2012 02:34 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Historically, this neighborhood has been bulldozed a number of times in the ostensible name of "revitalization." Each time, the argument could be made that these policies uprooted what was actually viable about the community, but the city did not see at the time due to general disconnect and a top-down planning approach. Subsequently, it was highly-planned, non-integrated "revitalization" efforts that created a wasteland. This neighborhood was a mixed-use, viable community (perhaps of the wrong racial background, however) when, in the 1920s, city-hired out-of-town planner of fame, Harland Bartholomew, zoned the area for industrial use and areas out east as residential, encouraging an eventually destructive pattern of settlement for the area. When planning for public housing, the city specifically chose the site of the mansion of Robert Church, the very first black millionaire in the South, for demolition.

Reconsider and think seriously about this. A lot of money is involved. Who will be profiting? And will we be "revitalizing" or "removing" and "replacing" what needs most to be revitalized? Where is the vitality of this area? I would argue it is in the current residents and stakeholders. Incorporate them or you are only robbing them of their community's "heritage" and exploiting it. Choice Neighborhood replaced Hope VI for good reason. Hope VI was flawed. Memphis needs to grow-up in mentality and realize this or the city will not grow at all.

Is the MBQ aware there is a second plan also available as an option to Memphis? The Vance Avenue Community Revitalization Plan actually integrates Choice Neighborhood's requirement of due resident and stakeholder participation in the planning process. Choice Neighborhood emphasizes uplifting areas facing economic difficulty rather than bulldozing and rebuilding. The Vance Plan is a viable plan, capable of achieving these same, admirable goals for which this MBQ piece so enthusiastically asks us to endorse the HTP.

Oct 16, 2012 03:07 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Is the MBQ and author of this piece aware that the Heritage Trail Plan, as it has been proposed, would be financed through the creation of a new TIF District, covering the entire Downtown, for the next 10 years? This is no small detail. Neither the input of Downtown Memphis Commission nor developers were included in the decision to finance the plan through the creation of a new TIF District. To establish a new TIF, the CRA, the City, and the County would technically have to declare the downtown of our city a "blighted area" to qualify. Think that will help our recruitment efforts and attractiveness factor? Have some confidence in what you've got to work with, and have a little more self-respect, MHA and HCD.

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