Crosstown Groundbreaking Is This Saturday + Q&A With Todd Richardson
This blog has covered the Crosstown neighborhood and the Sears Crosstown building for the last several years. It’s taken you inside in the old building to naming the “seeing the disco ball” as #256 on the 365 Things To Do in Memphis list, to attending the Crosstown MEMFix (way back in 2012!), plus promoting various block parties, spoken word events, and interviewing the neighborhood’s residents.
This Saturday is another milestone in the area’s evolution: the Crosstown Groundbreaking, 88 years to the day that the original Sears Building broke ground in 1927.
Ignore any mental images you have of dudes in suits with shovels (though there will be some dudes in suits there, namely, both mayors) because this is going to be more block party than ribbon cutting.
After the formal ceremony, there will be free snacks, businesses with open houses, renderings on display, music, and beer. There’s also going to be a big renaming reveal, and an iron pour–they’re using metal melted down from old heaters in the building and using it to create the cornerstone for the new building.
There’s another cool thing: the Crosstown Passports. You can pick yours up at the groundbreaking, have your photo made onsite, and then walk from business to business filling up your passport with up to 17 stamps from different locations.
I had a chance to talk with Todd Richardson, who is the co-founder and director of Crosstown Arts and a Professor of Art History at the U. of Memphis. I also had several of y’all submit questions on Twitter. Those are at the bottom of the interview. Here’s the interview:
Holly: Where did the name “Crosstown” come from?
Todd: When the original Sears Crosstown building opened in 1927, Mayor Rowlett Paine allocated $100,000 to install a new trolley line along Cleveland/Watkins St. The busy pedestrian exchange that resulted from the crossing of this new line with existing line at Poplar Ave. inspired the name “Crosstown”.
Holly: What can you tell me about the history of the area?
Todd: Crosstown is one of the most diverse areas in Memphis. This is due to the important refugee relocation work of Catholic charities for over thirty years. Wherever there were conflict zones around the world, Catholic charities helped to bring refugees to Memphis, and Crosstown was often their first neighborhood. In addition, the Sears Crosstown building is surrounded on all sides by three registered historic districts: Evergreen, Vollintine Evergreen, and Speedway Terrace.
Holly: What happened to the Sears? Did it just suddenly shut down one day?
Todd: Sears closed the retail store in 1983 and the distribution center in 1993, due to decline of the mail-order business.
Holly: What can you tell me about the architecture and how that will be preserved?
Todd: It’s a mix between Art Deco and Art Moderne, two architectural styles closely associated in the 1920s and used for multiple skyscrapers across the country. The project is using historic tax credits as a source of equity, so the original character of the building will be kept in tact.
Holly: Let’s get some numbers. Do you have any stats on the renovation project?
Todd: About 3 miles of concrete saw-cutting. 17.2 thousand tons of concrete removed so far, 9 million pounds of scrap metal and rebar removed so far, 3,200 window pane sections replaced, 400 thousands bricks will be replaced, and more than 2,000 lineal feet of suspended scaffolding. Also, about 360 miles of brick joints will be restored, which is enough to travel the I-240 loop 12 times or drive from Memphis almost to New Orleans.
Holly: Why is the building being renamed?
Todd: Crosstown is the name of the neighborhood, and Sears is long gone. Time for something new that reflects what will be happening in the building.
Holly: In a nutshell, what can folks expect from the new building?
Todd: They can expect a 1.1 million square foot vertical urban village. First floor: restaurants and retail; floors two through six: fitness facility and health clinics, art gallery and studios, graduate programs in education, a charter high school, and commercial/office space; floors seven through ten: 270 apartments. All the components of a great neighborhood stacked on top of each other in the 10 floors of the Crosstown building.
Holly: How do the project organizers hope to affect the surrounding neighborhood?
Todd: First and foremost, there will be 3,000 people coming in and out of the building everyday. This increases density and population, and will generate additional development along cleveland. Tenants aren’t just occupying the building. They are bringing their incredible resources in arts, education, healthcare, and wellness, much of which will be easily accessible to the surrounding neighborhoods. The overall direct and indirect economic impact of the project is $330 million.
Holly: Will there be jobs created, and what is being done to ensure that people in the area get priority for the jobs?
Todd: 1000 construction jobs (with $36 million in wages) and 800 net new permanent jobs when renovation is complete (with $50 million in wages). The development has exceeded its goal of awarding 25% of construction jobs to minority- and women-owned business enterprises. A job portal has been set up for anyone in the area interested in applying for work on the project, and a number of sub-contractors have set up professional development programs specifically for the Crosstown project.
What are your questions re: the Crosstown project/groundbreaking this weekend? Ask and I’ll see what I can find out. pic.twitter.com/1kSqHsHT6J
— Holly Whitfield (@ilovememphis) February 17, 2015
And here are the questions from some of my Twitter followers:
@ilovememphis I would like to know when we will know about apartments that are available and how we get on the list to move in!
— Smith (@smithallison5) February 17, 2015
Todd’s answer: Leasing for apartments will begin in about a year and they will be available for occupancy in approximately two years. Once the new website launches, subscribe to the Crosstown mailing list and blog and you’ll be the first to get the announcement.
@ilovememphis what are they doing to be energy conscious?
— Brad T (@brothershipbrad) February 17, 2015
Todd: The design for the Crosstown building intends to set Memphis’ precedent in energy conservation measures. For efficiency, the entire heating, cooling, and electrical distribution system will be replaced with modern systems designed to achieve advanced energy conservation and LEED certification.
Saturday, Feb. 21
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
North Cleveland and Autumn