Public Art, Walker-friendly Intersection at Sun Studio Planned for Edge

By Wayne Risher, Commercial Appeal

Downtown's development agency is stepping up efforts to rejuvenate a former industrial and automobile district known as the Edge.

Officials voted Wednesday to spend $305,000 to spruce up key intersections and pay artists to create public art in the neighborhood east of Downtown.

In an unrelated action, the Center City Development Corp. also voted to contribute $60,000 to Explore Bike Share's campaign to raise $4 million for a network of 60 bicycle stations with 600 bicycles for short-term rental. Half the stations will be Downtown, and others will be scattered across Midtown, Orange Mound and South Memphis.

Bike Share organizer Doug Carpenter said a capital campaign is halfway to the goal after securing a $2 million pledge that's contingent on raising other donations. The Center City grant will pay the cost of one Bike Share station. More information can be found at explorebikeshare.com.

For the Edge district, the board approved $240,000 to make pedestrian-friendly improvements at four intersections including Union and Marshall, next to tourist magnet Sun Studio.

Another $65,000 will be divided among four artists for projects including murals, sidewalk etchings and an installation suspended over the intersection of Monroe and Marshall.

"We expect this year to be a banner year for the Edge in terms of improving it for the thousands of visitors who come there annually," said Leslie Gower, vice president of marketing and communications for the Downtown Memphis Commission.

Center City Development raises money using a special assessment on Downtown commercial property.

The commission made the Edge district a focus area two summers ago and has tailored incentives, such as property tax freezes, to help property owners and businesses upgrade. Similar attention helped the South Main arts district thrive over the past decade.

The Edge was home to Memphis’ automobile row in the early to mid-20th Century and still retains several auto repair businesses. It’s also home to Sun Studio, the shuttered former Wonder Bread bakery, St. Blues Guitars, High Cotton microbrewery and tap room and a handful of restaurants.

The district begins east of AutoZone Park and includes Union, Monroe and Madison as far east as Manassas.

As a transition area between Downtown and Medical District, its redevelopment is crucial to the Memphis Medical District Collaborative's effort to attract residents, businesses and street activity.

Street and intersection improvements are part of the collaborative's recipe for making the area more walkable and inviting for businesses, residents and visitors, collaborative president Tommy Pacello said. The collaborative will spend about $500,000, including the Center City money, to improve 10 sites in the first year, he said.

Plans by Looney Ricks Kiss architects and Alta Planning + Design call for landscaping, benches, trash receptacles and pedestrian crosswalks. Coupled with restriped traffic lanes, the public improvements will promote pedestrian safety and add street parking, Pacello said.

The Edge intersections due for facelifts are Marshall and Monroe, Union at Marshall, Madison at Marshall and Madison at Orleans.

Pacello said the street improvements will begin after the city repaves the streets, currently scheduled for September and October.

The public art installations grew out of research and design work by a group of artists called The Collabortory. Artists Cedar Nordbye, Cat Pena, Lester Merriweather and Kirsten Williams were chosen to carry out projects, and the Downtown commission will contract with the artists individually.

The biggest ticket item is $36,805 for Pena's plan for an art installation suspended 25 feet above the intersection of Marshall and Monroe. A web of wires supported by poles will initially be hung with streamers, the kind used by auto dealers, but the structure is designed to support different art installations in the future.