'Impossible' Project Provides Critical Workforce Housing Options in Memphis

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[caption id="attachment_15874" align="alignleft" width="300"] After decades of vacancy, the building is once again a hub of activity for a diverse population.[/caption] This post has been updated. Repurposing a 1.5 million-square-foot decaying building that’s been abandoned for decades and is too expensive even to demolish may seem like an impossible task. A group of non-profit organizations in Memphis, however, tackled this feat by turning a 1927 vintage Sears distribution center into a "vertical urban village," called the Parcels at Concourse, that includes resources for the arts community, for education, and for health and wellness services. A six-month feasibility study by Looney Ricks Kiss architects determined that the building could be renovated, and additional non-profit groups agreed to be part of the mix. Still, after allocating space to those groups, thousands of square feet remained unused space. In order to include a residential component, the engineers cut through all of the floors to create a huge atrium, as well as a number of smaller light wells, to bring natural light into interior units. The 265 apartments on floors seven through 10 used much of the remaining 1.3 million square feet for a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units at both affordable and market-rate price points. [caption id="attachment_15871" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The massive structure was called a "beacon of blight" before the project team transformed it into a thriving, collaborative space.[/caption] The rest of the building, known as Crosstown Concourse, became home to Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Rhodes College, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital offices and those of its fundraising arm, ALSAC, as well as the Memphis Teacher Residency. [caption id="attachment_15873" align="alignright" width="300"] The architectural design made extensive use of existing and repurposed materials.[/caption] About half the building’s apartments are available to four residency programs:
  • Twenty-five short-term arts residents receive free living space, studio space and meals from the Crosstown Café. In return, they invite neighbors to open studio events or musical performances. And each one donates at least one piece of art to "the community," as defined by the artist.
  • The teacher residency fills 75 apartments with young teachers who work in neighborhood schools. They take classes in the evenings and weekends to work toward a master’s degree, learning from experienced teachers and from each other.
  • The Church Health residency program invites young doctors to live in the building with a housing subsidy and, for some, student loan forgiveness. They spend three years learning from the veteran doctors who volunteer their time at Church Health clinics.
  • St. Jude’s residency program provides apartments to families of children being treated on an outpatient basis. The families live in a real community, not a hotel or hospital room.
The building was 98.7% leased, including commercial spaces, within a year of completion. According to lead architect Tony Pellicciotti, who worked on the project from start to finish, the project not only transformed the building and the neighborhood, but also the people who worked on it. "Everyone thought it was impossible, so its success was inspiring," he stated. The Parcels at Concourse is the 2018 Multifamily Pillars of the Industry winner for Multifamily Community of the Year. Spotlight your outstanding projects by applying for the 2019 Pillars awards at awards.nahb.org. Applications are due by Aug. 23.

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