Lots of consideration has been paid to making downtown and Midtown more walkable and bikeable, but now a busy, car-centric area of East Memphis is getting some attention.
Last week, Livable Memphis held MEMFix East, an urban revitalization event, in the Clark Tower/Brookhaven Circle area of East Memphis with a goal of gathering opinions from people who live, work, shop, and dine there on how to make that area more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
Livable Memphis conducted short surveys with people at that event, and for those who couldn't make it, the survey is now available on the Livable Memphis website.
"If you go behind the east side of Clark Tower, you can see where these businesses along Brookhaven Circle have created these back entryways to get onto the property without going up to Poplar and coming around," said John Paul Shaffer, program director of Livable Memphis. "There's a desire to connect these pieces that are developed separately from one another. If you look at property maps of the area, you see all these weird driving lanes that don't go through, and you have to make weird turns. It was developed in a piecemeal way."
Carol Gaudet works in Clark Tower, and she said she'd love to see more clearly marked pedestrian walkways. She said she often walks to neighborhood restaurants for lunch.
"In this day and age, people tend to be impatient. Pedestrians don't necessarily have the right-of-way," Gaudet said.
The Livable Memphis surveys complement a recent Blair Parker Design master plan that shows six kinds of pedestrian paths that could be built in and around the massive parking lot between Poplar, Mendenhall, Sanderlin, and White Station.
Shaffer said making the Clark Tower area more pedestrian-friendly may mean simple fixes, like adding more walkways to better connect the individual properties, adding wayfinding signs that help office workers identify restaurants and shops they can walk or bike to, and reconfiguring a few parking spaces that are currently blocking walkways.
"In some cases, a parking spot here or there is blocking a pedestrian entrance, so we could just move that out and make the pedestrian access more visible," Shaffer said. "That was the case between the iBank Tower and Whole Foods. There was a parking space at the top of the new stairs by the patio. That spot got removed, and now you can see a clear path to walk to Whole Foods."
Once the results are in, Livable Memphis will turn them over to the property owners in that area, and any changes would fall to them. Clark Tower and iBank Tower owner and president of Florida-based In-Rel Properties Dennis Udwin is completely on board with making his property more walkable.
"As an owner, I have a stewardship and an obligation to the city of Memphis," Udwin said. "If you look at some of the things that have happened, like the Whole Foods coming in and the Houston's, the Malco, the [Double Tree] hotel, and this restaurant area in [Brookhaven Circle]. I think it's time to pull the area together and make it more pedestrian-friendly and cycle-friendly.
"[We can do that with] pedestrian walkways, better lighting, better signage, more landscaping. If you look at that parking lot, it's just a mass of asphalt. It should be softened, and it can be done with color, benches, landscaping, and fountains," Udwin continued.
Udwin said the 35-story Clark Tower has a 65 percent occupancy rate, and the 22-story iBank Tower is 85 percent occupied. He thinks making the area more walkable and bikeable could improve occupancy.
Udwin is also currently pouring about $8 million into renovations at Clark Tower that include painting the exterior and renovating the elevators, lobby, and some of the restrooms.