Crosstown Concourse Wins Nation's Highest Honor in Preservation

Posted by Katherine Martin on October 16th, 2018

For its groundbreaking transformation of a 1.3 million square-foot mixed-use facility, national full-service architectural, planning, environmental graphic and interior design firm Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK), in association with DIALOG, is proud to announce that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, Tennessee one of only three winners of the 2018 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards.

Given each year at the end of a juried competition, the Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards, the nation’s most coveted and prestigious, are bestowed on historic preservation efforts that demonstrate excellence in execution and a positive impact on the vitality of their towns and cities. 

“Through creative and meticulous restorations that reinvigorate older buildings, elevate the quality of public life, and educate and encourage others, the winning projects are outstanding examples of the power and potential of preservation to improve lives,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust. “We are honored to partner with the Driehaus Foundation to celebrate Memphis’s Crosstown Concourse as one of this year’s awardees and a source of inspiration for the future—remarkable not just for its size, but for the many ways it puts community first.”

Built in 1927 as one of the first Sears, Roebuck and Company facilities, the site brought thousands of jobs and spurred growth in the Crosstown neighborhood two miles outside downtown Memphis. Although the distribution center and retail store were successful for more than 60 years, suburban expansion trends eventually caused the decline of the urban core, and the building sat vacant by 1993. After nearly 20 years, Memphis residents came together to create a vision for the massive structure that would put community, culture, and the arts at the forefront.

The building’s process of rebirth is as remarkable as its success. Instead of a conventional co-founder, art history professor Todd Richardson, a leader of the Memphis arts organization Crosstown Arts, joined forces with developer McLean Wilson to launch the project. The massive footprint and rundown condition of the structure eliminated the possibility of finding an anchor tenant. Instead, the developers embarked on the long process of building community support. Hundreds of meetings were held to solicit the input of local residents, nonprofits, and businesses. Eventually, eight “founding partners”—including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Crosstown Arts, and Rhodes College—signed lease agreements that helped secure $200 million in financing. Historic tax credits were used, and the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) supplied a New Markets Tax Credit allocation. 

The Art Deco exteriors were restored, and LRK added seven atria inside to create civic community spaces throughout the huge structure. “The atria are the fundamental programmatic solution in terms of addressing the building size,” said LRK principal Tony Pellicciotti. “We felt compelled to get natural light throughout to create an environment people want to be in. One of the things we found intriguing is that once the dry goods and shelves were removed, we had a three-football-field-long forest of columns and could see all the way outside the building. We wanted to keep that and preserve it in places, like in the central atrium.” Three of the atria have prominent stairways designed to mimic the distribution center’s original sorting system.

“The restoration and repurposing of the Sears Crosstown property into Crosstown Concourse will be seen for decades to come as one of the most important transformations of a historic structure in Memphis and the region,” said June W. West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, Inc. “Not only did it preserve a historically iconic building, it created an urban village, of which its diversity and creativity stand as a benchmark for others to follow.”

Within a year of its grand opening, Crosstown Concourse has achieved full occupancy through a unique model that integrates community, sustainability, and inclusivity. This LEED Platinum development, which has become known within the community as a “vertical urban village,” includes office and retail space, apartment units, a charter high school, a YMCA, a performing arts theater, and artist residency studios.

Already, ripple effects from the building’s revival are evident. The neighborhood around Crosstown Concourse came together to push for new zoning rules to preserve the area’s historic fabric. Perhaps more important, the project’s unlikely success has changed mindsets about what is possible.

“The big things are optimism, positivity and civic pride,” said LRK’s Pellicciotti. “Suddenly, the impossible has happened. So let’s figure out what’s next.”

“Crosstown Concourse is the type of project that happens once in a generation,” said City of Memphis    Mayor Jim Strickland. “Countless hours of work from so many dedicated partners brought Crosstown back    to life as a thriving hub in Memphis. Receiving this high honor from the National Trust for Historic  Preservation will serve as a constant reminder of the building’s unspoken creed—Together, we are better.”

“Once abandoned and listed as one of Tennessee’s most endangered historic places, the exciting transformation of Crosstown Concourse into a vibrant community landmark is one of the most remarkable preservation success stories in our state in years,” said E. Patrick McIntyre, Jr., executive director and state historic preservation officer of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “The large scale and layout of the building makes it possible to serve a wide variety of creative uses. The Tennessee Historical Commission is proud of its role in providing guidance and support for this extraordinary $200 million Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit project, the largest in Tennessee history, and we heartedly endorse and applaud this well-deserved recognition.”

Established in 2012, the Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards have honored distinguished individuals, nonprofit organizations, public agencies, and corporations whose skill and determination have added to the richness of their communities by preserving their architectural and cultural heritage. As the most sought after of all National Trust awards, the initiative recognizes efforts in landmark preservation, historic restoration, skilled craftsmanship, and educational and advocacy activities.

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards winners, chosen from among 50 nominated projects by a jury led by Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, will be honored as part of PastForward 2018, the nation’s largest historic preservation conference, on November 14 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco. This year’s other awardees are The Douglass at Page Woodson apartment community in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the Richardson Olmsted Campus architectural masterpiece in Buffalo, New York.

Members of the public are invited to learn more about the award-winning set of projects, individuals, and organizations that have demonstrated excellence in the field of preservation at: www.SavingPlaces.org/awards

Tags: Crosstown Concourse, Preservation, Memphis

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