The Shelby County Land Use Control Board voted Thursday morning to approve the planned redevelopment of the abandoned Sears Crosstown building into a "vertical urban village" that will be home to the Church Health Center, Gestalt Community Schools, Methodist Healthcare, and other medical, office, retail, and residential uses.
"I welcome this change for those of us who live in Midtown and use that post office [on Autumn] and have to look at that huge empty garage," said Land Use Control Board member Margaret Pritchard, referring to the parking garage in the Sears lot.
The Office of Planning and Development (OPD) had recommended the Land Use Control Board approve the project but with a few conditions. The plans for the redeveloped Crosstown project include opening up Claybrook to make it a through street. Currently, Claybrook dead ends on either side of the Crosstown building, but the redevelopment plans call for opening up the street. The north side of Claybrook would then be used as a drop-off point for Church Health Center patients.
"We think that's a relatively busy intersection [at North Parkway and Claybrook], and we think there are opportunities in other areas of the site to achieve what the applicant wants to do," said OPD principal planner Gregory Love.
But Cindy Reaves of SR Consulting, who represented the Crosstown developers, told the Land Use Control Board members that the access point on Claybrook was critical for Church Health Center's medical facility. She assured the board that there would be no big truck traffic, just vehicles of Church Health Center patients. The main entry point for other uses of the Crosstown building will be at Autumn near Cleveland and Watkins.
"Sears cut off the neighborhood when that building was built. We want to reconnect the neighborhood back into the development," said Tony Bologna of Bologna Consultants, also representing the Crosstown developers.
Donna Palmer, a Crosstown resident who lives on Forrest, spoke in favor of the board allowing developers to make Claybrook a through street.
"I'm the most affected neighbor for the Claybrook entrance, and I support this," Palmer said.
There were no opponents for the Claybrook access or the project as a whole. In the end, the board approved the project and voted to allow Claybrook access pending the outcome of a traffic study by the city engineer's office.
If all goes according to plan, construction on the project will begin in early 2014, and tenants of the building hope to move in by 2016. That timeline is contingent on Memphis Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb locating $15 million in public funds to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements. The total project cost is estimated to be $175 million, with the majority of that money coming from the building's founding partners — Church Health Center, Methodist Healthcare, Gestalt Community Schools, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, ALSAC, Memphis Teacher Residency, Rhodes College, and Crosstown Arts.