New Design Plan for Broad Avenue Water Tower 

Local artists begin painting and lighting iconic tower.

"The third time's a charm" is the case for the ever-evolving design plans for the Broad Avenue Arts District's iconic water tower.

Local artist Tylur French of Youngblood Studios began a mural painting project on the water tower this week after two previous design plans for the tower fell through. Lighting designer Jeremy Fisher will complete the project with color-changing LED lights.

"The businesses on the street wanted something that would have daytime and nighttime appeal. And Tylur and Jeremy were able to come up with options that honor the iconic shape of the water tower but also provide this great beacon for the street," said Pat Brown, vice president of the Historic Broad Business Association.

click to enlarge New design plans for Broad Avenue water tower
  • New design plans for Broad Avenue water tower

French's design will feature a topographic image of the Mississippi River that will wrap around the barrel of the tower. His team began building scaffolding and safety structures last week, and he said they should begin painting by the end of this week.

"The location on the river where Memphis is will be a starburst," said French, who also designed the bike gate entrance on the East Parkway side of Overton Park. "When you look at it from the top, it will look like a map. But on its side, that water line becomes a horizon with a sunrise. It's really indicative of the spirit of everyone on Broad."

Fisher, a lighting designer for Theatre Memphis, will be installing colored LED lights on the tower over the next month or so.

"The lights will be controlled by a computer that will fade through the colors throughout the night," Fisher said. "For the holidays, we may do red and green lights. Or for Griz games, we can make it all blue."

French and Fisher's plan replaced a more ambitious, costly plan by New York artist Suikang Zhao to install a perforated metal ribbon around the tower. Zhao was chosen for the project by popular vote during the Crosstown Arts MemFEAST event in 2014. He was allotted $65,000 from an ArtPlace America grant for the project, but Brown said the actual implementation of Zhao's vision ballooned well beyond that.

"There was a national search for artists, so they had not seen the space," Brown said. "And then you get into the cost of the crane [to get the sculpture onto the tower]. There were concerns about asbestos and affixing something to the water tower. The costs grew to well over $200,000."

Back in 2010, around the time of the "New Face for an Old Broad" event that reactivated the street into an arts district, Loeb Properties had hoped to cover the tower with a digitally printed wrap mural, but they ditched those plans when they learned it might begin to lose its color after three years.

French said he wanted to make sure the tower's shape wasn't covered up.

"My goal was to design something that didn't take away from the fact that it's a really beautiful historic tower but would give it a more specific identity to the city and the community and the sprit of what's happening on Broad," French said.

French says the project is part of Youngblood Studio's overall push for more public artwork in the city.

"A city with a lot of artwork is a more humane city, a more cosmopolitan city, and a more forward-thinking and liberated city," French said. "To be a part of that is so unique and so exciting."

Brown is just happy to see the water tower finally getting its facelift. There will be a lighting ceremony and dedication of the work at the fall Broad Avenue Arts Walk on November 6th.

"Everything works out, and it's like the water tower knew what it wanted," Brown said. "It's great that it's come back to local artists, and the third time is a charm."

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