Behind the Headlines — February 27, 2015

Behind the Headlines — February 27, 2015


(female announcer)
Production funding for
“Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. Groundbreaking on the Crosstown
redevelopment project tonight on “Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Doctor Scott Morris from the Church Health Center. Thanks for being here. Glad to be here. Henry Turley,
real estate developer. Thanks for being here. Hello, Eric. Todd Richardson from the
Crosstown Redevelopment team. Thanks for being here. Thank you. And McLean Wilson, also from the
Crosstown Redevelopment team. Thanks for being here. Thank you. So, I’ll start. I guess
I’ll start with Todd. The groundbreaking, the official
groundbreaking happened last Saturday. There are cranes. There’s been construction
going on for a little while now. How does it feel after this long
hard road that you’ve been down? (Todd)
I think I might just sit
here and not talk for 30 minutes and let
everybody else talk. It’s a relief to be
where we are today. We’re almost finished with
demolition and abatement. We’ve started construction
just recently in January. And, you know, the
groundbreaking with the torrential rains that it was. Then to have 1,200 people come
out and support regardless was just so affirming. You know,
we’re not crazy. People are in to this. It is going to be a success
and we’re excited about it. So, at this point, our.. It’s just as much of a relief so
that we can now turn to getting work done again and
making decisions related to construction. (Eric)
And let me go to you. I mean, it’s a
$200 million project. We had you guys
on the show in 2012. And like a lot of people,
my questions were skeptical. You know, could
this really happen? Was it, you know, a
$200 million arts commune? Was it, you know.. How could this
really come together? Because so many people
have wanted to do these sort of projects. But it did. It did. And it took a lot of
people to make it happen. And I think probably two
years ago we came here and said, “If, if, if, if.” We probably had
about 15 different “if’s.” If these things can happen, if
these pieces of financing do line up and we’re
able to get them, then the project
can move forward. We’re at that
bend, you know. So, it’s no longer
a question of if. It’s more of a
question of when. And that’s two
years is when we’ll open. But it really took a lot
of commitment from a lot of different people and
organizations both in Memphis, outside of Memphis, across
the nation to believe in this Crosstown vision. And we’ll get in some more of
the details of the financing just because there are
20-something different, you know,
pieces to the financing. But let me
get Scott in. You are.. And it’s unfair
to say that you all, the Church Health
Center, will be a tenant. You’re more
than a tenant. But in part,
you are a tenant. And you have been a
big part of this project, one of the
founding partners. Why did
you get involved? And, again,
same question. How does it feel to finally
get to the groundbreaking? Well, I never had any
doubts about the money. Because my experience is
is that money follows ideas. And this was
a fantastic idea. I truly believe it will be
transformative of Memphis. And how could we
not get behind it? So, that’s happening. It’s proving that it has. And so, the Church Health Center
wanted to be a part of that. And from day one,
we bought in to the idea that we’re
better together. And I think as
this thing unfolds, everybody is going to
see we’re better together. The Church Health
Center, we were at a point just as so happens. And I would call it
providence, not chance, that the Church Health Center
was needing to consolidate all of our 14
buildings in one place. We could have built
a building on our own. But it wouldn’t
have been better. This is absolutely better with
the partners that we’re going to have from the arts,
education and beyond. And so, Henry, you joked before
the show that you do not have a formal role in the
development of this project. You were joking, you
know, why are you here. But among other things, you
are, I don’t know — one of the godfathers of
redevelopment in Memphis. And we were talking a
little bit before the show. Your first redevelopment
Downtown was the Shrine building in the ’70s. Harbor Town after that. Cotton Exchange building. I mean, so from
that perspective, did you think
this would get done? The Sears Crosstown,
now Crosstown Concourse, that it would
ever be redeveloped? Someone asked me last week,
“How hard was this project?” And I said,
“I don’t know.” I’ve never done
anything nearly this hard. And I think it’s a
pretty good answer. And I haven’t. And Henry has
done some hard things. Right, right. But, so,
did you talk to.. It was Staley Cates was
who bought the building. So, the Cates family. Didn’t you talk to him early on
when he was thinking about it? I absolutely did. And I’ll have
to confess this. [laughter] I saw that Staley had
bought the Sears building. And I really
appreciate what Staley does. And I got
concerned about it. So, I presumed go out
to his office and say, “Staley, I’m so glad you
bought the property but it is so overwhelmingly large
that you must tear it down. “Assemble the property, get
whatever the property you can “but start over. “Because this
building is so enormous. “No matter what your purpose,
the building will inform the purpose rather than the form
derriving from the function.” So, I was really
concerned about it. And he very
politely threw me out. And he went on
about his business. You guys hit that kind of
skepticism again and again. But why
keep doing it? Why not move on, you
know, to some other project? I mean, you are.. And people who don’t know,
you’re an art history professor. I was thinking on the way in
here if people didn’t know what Crosstown was on the
show tonight is a doctor, an art history
professor, you know, a guy who does
hotels and legal stuff. And Henry makes the most
sense to be here to talk about the project. But, so, you’re an
art history professor. You’re still
teaching classes. You’re getting skepticism from
people like Henry who know what they’re talking about, who
have done it and been there and so on. But you kept going. I want to say this
is the world’s expert on Pieter Bruegel. And one of his most famous
paintings is the Tower of Babel. (Eric)
There you go. I just didn’t
know any better. We had
a great idea. We knew we
had a great idea. We knew we had a
great team put together. We knew we
had great partners. And I told Staley and I
told Doug Carpenter early on, I’m not going to spend the next
four years of my life trying to convince people of something
they think they don’t need. We’re going to have a vision and
we’re going to put it out there. And we’re going to say
this is what we can do. And either people are
going to buy in to it or not. And if they don’t, hey, I’d go
back to being a professor at the University of Memphis. And I’m happy as
a lark doing that. And so,
it was really.. In that sense,
there was no risk. I believed in it. I was passionate about it. But I was also.. My identity was
not wrapped up in it. Right? And so, it wasn’t
success at all costs. And so, if people
didn’t believe in it, I go back to teaching. If people did, then
let’s move forward. (Eric)
And the part.. And people are seeing some of
the video from various events, arts events. And that’s
where it started. It started
Crosstown Arts. And I joked with the idea of
it being this arts commune. And there was
some people saying, “Well, how are they going
to have a $200 million, you know, artists residency
program or something like that?” Which is not
at all what it was. But it did
start with the arts. And it did start,
I mean, with, you know, our mutual friend
and your co-worker, Chris Miner, getting 30 people
in the basement across the street from
Crosstown for a poetry slam. And then that somehow in some
way is not unrelated to the fact that people
bought in to the vision, which is kind of
an amazing thing. We always say use a building
both as a verb and a noun. It’s about renovating
a building but it’s also about building community. And so, we were
doing both simultaneously. And the arts was a catalyst
to build that community. But I came
in to the project. Really, if I knew
anything about development, it was from.. I lived for five years in Europe
and four years in California. And there were large
industrial complex buildings that had been
recaptured, reused. But arts was the catalyst
that started the conversation. And so, at the time,
five-and-a-half years ago, there was actually a lot of
conversation and publications on the value, the economic value,
the quantifiable value of these cultural centers and what
they do for urban cores. And so, it’s not
like we embarked on this
process willy-nilly. I mean,
we had a lot of numbers. And you, Henry, in
projects you’ve done Downtown.. I mean, people
must have said, “Henry, you’re
just wasting your money.” I mean,
you can’t.. The Shrine building
Downtown is dead. It’s gone. It’s over. We certainly
went through that. The mathematics of this project
were so much more difficult. You mentioned 20
sources of financing. So, say you’ve got one
out of two chances of doing each one of them. You know,
you do the arithmetic. It gets impossible. And the hard thing, which Doctor
Morris helped so much with, was keeping eight founding
partners with eight boards, eight sets of
attorneys — How about that? — together and going in the
same direction at the same time. It’s really more
remarkable than people realize. The other
founding partners are.. I’ll put
you on the spot. Crosstown Arts, Saint
Jude, ALSAC-Saint Jude, of course the
Church Health Center, Gestalt Community
Schools, Rhodes, Memphis Teacher Residency and
Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare. All of whom came in early and
said we will commit to being more than
a tenant, as I joke. But at some
level, being a tenant. At varying times along the
process and as Todd said, art was the catalyst
and shortly there after, education
became a component. And it really wasn’t until Scott
and the Church Health Center became very interested in this
urban village idea that arts, education
and healthcare now.. Now we have something
really to build off on. And it was our spring
board for really making the project viable. (Eric)
Yeah. And you saw the idea of
an urban village and that fit with your mission? How did that, from
your point of view, come together? It’s not so much
about a village. It is about what does a
life well-lived look like. You know, that’s why we love
our partners in the arts because health is not about
the absence of disease. Technology in many
ways is not our friend, especially when it comes
to dealing with the health of poor people. It’s helping people figure
out what does it mean to live a full life. And that means having
more joy, having more love, from our point of view
being driven closer to God. And that’s exactly what
the arts can lead people to. Money by itself
doesn’t buy happiness. It certainly
doesn’t bring people joy. But this whole project for
Memphis is about Memphis. Let’s not forget
this is about Memphis. It’s about what does that look
like in this community of ours that truly people outside
of Memphis don’t care about. You know,
Nashville doesn’t care. Washington doesn’t care. So, how do we link arms together
in this community we all choose to live in, to say how
do we make it better? That’s what this is about. It’s not this building. I shouldn’t ask this
question on the back of that. But I’ll do it anyway. Was that the.. Goldman Sachs put in
however many $30 million. SunTrust puts in 80.5. Were they interested? I’m being unfair but were they
interested in what Scott said or were they interested in the
dollar and cents bottom line of the project? The dollars and cents obviously
have to work itself out. But you do not get an
organization like SunTrust or even Goldman Sachs in the
conversation without a hook. And the hook was exactly what
Scott was referring to and what Todd has referred to. And this missional
component that is beyond any one particular person and
that’s what really has been the driving force. (Eric)
Yeah. So, they loved the idea. They loved the thought. They wanted
to dig in more. Can this
really happen? And when they
found that it could, then they said we
want to be a part of it. (Eric)
And the city and county
were involved to some degree with some amount.. Who wants to do this? (Todd)
The city, 15,
and county, five million. (Eric)
And in what form? (Todd)
So, the city funds came
to us in various ways related to qualified energy
conservation bonds, which is a federal
program through the state through the city. Betty and 108 hud funds as well
as two-and-a-half million from Stormwater and M-L-G and
W and those kinds of things. The county funds were from
their C-I-P for — all of it for public
infrastructure improvement. (Eric)
And so, you know, at the
groundbreaking last Saturday, Mayor Wharton and Mayor
Luttrell both were there. They are very excited. Both expressed their skepticism
to some degree at the start. Could this really happen? It’s so big. Henry said it
better than I will. Bill Dries, who couldn’t be here
today just because of timing things, talked about
from his political reporter’s point of view. It’s when it became clear to
city council that this would not just be a construction of a
building but it would improve the neighborhood that
city council got on board. So, how does this improve beyond
just the physical space of the property itself and
the building itself? You guys hope for it to really
improve that whole neighborhood and connect
the neighborhood. I can tell you the Church Health
Center is not coming to gentrify this neighborhood. That is a
no-go for us. You know, so, we care deeply,
especially about not only the surrounding neighborhood but the
neighborhood just north of us, you know, which you could argue
is the poorest neighborhood in America. But the Church Health
Center runs a pre-school in that neighborhood and
Klondike and Smoky City. And this is about the
people who live there now. Not driving them out but giving
them more hope and giving them more opportunity. And that is totally what I
am convinced will happen. I mean, you guys can speak more
to how we’re going to do that. I’ll let McLean talk
about the numbers. For me, I think what’s so
important is that the tenants that are coming to the building
aren’t coming there just to occupy. But the tenants
that are coming there, the Church Health
Center, you know, providing quality healthcare
to the working uninsured. Crosstown Arts,
providing arts programming. Gestalt and a school. These are not just
9:00 to 5:00 businesses with employees coming. But they’re coming to do things
that are going to be easily accessible to the
surrounding neighborhood. And just the 3,000 people coming
in and out of a building that’s been empty for
20 years, you know, what that does for density,
what that does for the activity. And then the last thing I’ll
say is that for a million square feet, we only have
60,000 square feet of retail. And that was intentional because
we want the number of people who are in the building
to actually, you know, incentivize and to help develop
the retail along the Cleveland Street Corridor where there
are a lot of empty buildings right now. And so, we hope that people in
the building get tired of the two restaurants that are in
the building and they want to go across the street. (Eric)
Or whatever
restaurant unrelated to you. And we don’t own
any of those things. Henry, I mean, you know as
much about this as anyone. When I was at the
groundbreaking Saturday, a fellow who helped me at
Harbor Town came up with great excitement and said, “I had
bought three empty houses and intend to rehabilitate
and repopulate them.” So, he’s already there. Because, you know,
with Harbor Town, of all of the
development on Mud Island.. You know, people drive
down there on Riverside park. And you did, give or take,
what percentage of that? It wasn’t all of it. Harbor Town is 130 acres
and it’s the first 130 acres. But that then spurred all
these other people to bring in. I hadn’t thought of
it that way but it did. And the stuff south
that does towards.. I mean, even
after the recession, more apartments
have gone down there. So, the other end of Mud Island,
whatever you want to call it, it was developed. So, that’s, I guess for your
point of view as a developer, you want
that to happen. You want multiple
people to come in. I think you do. And another way you might look
at this that has occurred to me is that it is so difficult
that it makes other ambitious developments
seem more possible. So, it builds civic
confidence, which we need, which every city needs. That’s really all it takes. Don’t you think.. I mean, I don’t know if we’ve
talked about this on the show but the brewery in some ways and
the idea of that when they took the brewery and they
opened the beer garden. And we had those
guys on the show. And they said, yeah, it was
kind of like what Crosstown did. Crosstown Arts, they’ve
got a $200 million idea and a huge building. But they start with some
arts programs and get in the community there and get people
out on a Wednesday night and seeing that this
neighborhood can thrive. And the same
kind of thing.. I don’t know who
I should look at. But the same kind of thing
happened with the brewery it seems like. And then somebody comes in after
years of that thing not being able — anyone want to build it,
some Billy Orgel and folks are coming in to do that. So, in your family.. So, the Kemmons-Wilson
family, Holiday Inn family, Memphis family story, you
know, obviously worldwide. You do all kinds
of developments. But this is
maybe one of.. This is different than what
you guys have usually done. Right? It is. And I don’t.. Is this our question? (Eric)
Well, it’s a question. You know I’m
trying to set you up. Picking up on
what Henry just said, which is it gives people the
confidence and the realization to get in there. And another person might
say it gives them the bug. I mean, whether
he says it or not, Henry, for whatever reason,
likes to do old buildings and urban kind
of redevelopments. And that’s his thing. And he’s also been
successful at it financially. Does the Wilson family
start looking at this and say, “Boy, there’s some other kind of
developments like this we might do in addition to the stuff
we’ve traditionally done.” Sure, I think that.. You know, my
grandfather loves this city. And he had
an enormous vision. And he wanted to
start it in Memphis and he never left Memphis. And he wanted to make sure that
Memphis was well taken care of through this idea. Holiday Inn’s was obviously
one of about 400 businesses that he owned. So, I mean,
he’s a visionary. He’s an entrepreneur. I think my generation now
is leading our business. And I think we have a lot
of our grandfather in us. We care deeply about our city. We want to see
amazing things happen. We want to do
work that’s meaningful. And I think this is really an
extension of his legacy living throughout me. The other thing that
at the groundbreaking, the person whose name I forgot
from Goldman Sachs who was here. And he talked about really
falling in love with the city. He’s from New York. Very nice
New York suit on. And he was there. And he was so excited about
Memphis and said in so many words, this will not be
the only thing we do here, we hope. And I mean.. So, is that.. This may be a part of what Henry
was talking about people getting the bug or people getting
more involved in getting the confidence that it’s
not just one project, it’s many projects. And I think there’s.. I mean, one of the things that
I mentioned that’s been special for Todd and I to experience
is showcasing our city. And the beauty about
the Crosstown project, as Doctor Morris alluded to,
it’s not about a building. It’s really about this
redevelopment effort in a community that’s
within this city. And it’s because of the
city that we are doing that, what we’re doing. And being able to showcase,
to take them to the brewery, to have these Goldman Sachs
folks meet Henry and to showcase all of the great things
this city are currently doing, the things
that we aspire to do. It’s unique. We live it
and breathe it. So, we don’t think that it’s
as unique as it really is until these folks from New York come
in and say this is incredible. (Eric)
How many Crosstown
Sears buildings like this? (Todd)
Ten. (Eric)
Ten of them. And what’s happened to
the other ones in short? (Todd)
Three have
been demolished. Kansas City,
Chicago and Philadelphia. Seattle is the
headquarters of Starbucks. L.A. is empty. It’s got a small outlet store
in it but it’s basically empty. Just got purchased
about six months ago. Dallas is southside of
Lamer, primarily residential. And then Memphis. Minneapolis is
Midtown Exchange. It opened in 2005. It’s residential
office and retail. Atlanta is almost
finished with construction. James Town Properties
is redeveloping that as Ponce City Market. Also residential,
office and retail. And then Boston is the
Landmark Center, all office. Please. You may remember
that those markets, Boston, Atlanta,
Seattle, Dallas, are three and four times, five
times as big as this market. So, it’s comparable to you’re
having a building that’s not. You have to do six
million feet of space. So, it’s really.. These guys are one in the
same game that those guys in Boston were. They had
it a lot easier. Well, you look at Kansas City,
which is maybe more comparable in size to Memphis. [crosstalk] Here’s where I think the
magic in this building is, which we haven’t talked about,
which is in the residential. So, these guys know I have
no intention of ever having a single apartment
on the open market. I know there are a lot of people
out there who are already saying I want
to live there. But, you know, what I’m out
there trying to do is finding institutions that can focus on
the young future of Memphis to commit to long term leases so
that we will address the issue around brain
drain in Memphis. That that’s who is
going to live there. It’s going to be a privilege
to get to live at Crosstown. And then we create this
magic soup where you put young artists, young
doctors, young architects, you know, young people who want
to either stay in Memphis or be drawn to Memphis. And then they see what’s
happening at Crosstown on a daily basis. And they’re going to
then change Memphis. (Eric)
Yeah. But that’s what I am
convinced is going to happen. I’m not going
to doubt you. How much
residential is there? Two hundred and
seventy apartments. What else did I miss? We’ve got a
couple of minutes left. The name. That’s right. I didn’t do the full. So, people know it
as Sears Crosstown. (Todd)
It’s the first time
I’ve said that out loud in front of public. Crosstown Concourse. (Eric)
Why rename it? Sears is long gone. Crosstown is the name
of the neighborhood. And so, we needed to have a name
that touched on the history of the building and as a
distribution center or a railroad right there,
Concourse does that. But we also need a name that
touches on more appropriately the future
activities and uses. And as Scott said, lots of
different kinds of people coming in and interacting and
a origin of expiration. And all of those kinds
of things fits Concourse. (Eric)
Can I call it Crosstown? Is that still okay? You can call it
Crosstown Concourse. [laughter] I can tell he’s going
to harass me about that. Let me tell you my moment
of epiphany on the thing. I started out by telling you
all that I thought the building was too big. And it was a
burden on the project. And when I first read
about the founders, hmm. I thought, you know, I guess the
flipside of burden is challenge. And if the enormity of the
building could be a challenge to each of the organizations
and a challenge to work collaboratively together,
so I think Scott brought me around on that. Just a minute left. Nobody is
leaving Memphis. Nobody is going to think
about leaving Memphis. Everybody is
focused on our city, our community, how do
we do this better together. I mean,
that’s what.. (Eric)
I mean, we talk. There’s nothing wrong with
IKEA coming and the jobs. And there’s nothing wrong with
the big distribution center. Went from a European
company down on the border, DeSoto County on this side. But it is
totally different. This is this
very Memphis thing. The other thing I
thought was interesting. I was at the
groundbreaking. I was driving out and
there’s this big crowd. And when you go right around the
corner from there is the ramp of where 40 was going to cut
through that whole neighborhood. The dirt is still there. And I thought,
you know, you guys.. It’s phase two. We’re out of time. Thanks. Thank you
for joining us. Join us
again next week. Goodnight. [theme music] CLOSED CAPTIONING PROVIDED
BY WKNO, MEMPHIS.

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