In the 1990s, north Memphis was one of the poorest, most under-served areas in the City. The Greenlaw neighborhood, first established in the 1850s as Memphis’ first suburb, had deteriorated over the decades and was at that time primarily vacant lots and dilapidated structures. The Lauderdale Courts and Hurt Village public housing projects dominated the landscape and the neighborhood was in desperate need of attention and reinvestment.
Henry Turley Company and partner Belz Enterprises had been developing Harbor Town on the opposite side of the Wolf River for almost a decade and believed that a similar concept could be carried over into the older neighborhood. Forming a joint venture, Lauderdale-Greenlaw, LLC, they partnered with the City of Memphis and the Memphis Housing Authority to envision a community where all people, regardless of background, could live in a vibrant, connected and safe neighborhood.
This community – 100 city blocks, christened as Uptown Memphis – began in 1999 with a $35 million HOPE VI grant awarded to the Memphis Housing Authority to redevelop the Hurt Village public housing project site. This initial grant was then leveraged into $150 million with additional public and private funds and marked the beginning of the most ambitious HOPE VI revitalization in the country.
The infamous Hurt Village housing project (featured in the motion picture The Blindside) was demolished and the empty site was transformed into a new mixed-income community with 114 apartments, 53 single-family homes and a commercial development component. The other public housing project in Uptown, Lauderdale Courts (once home to Elvis Presley), is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and underwent a multi-year, $36 million historic rehabilitation and was reopened in July 2004 as Uptown Square comprising 347 mixed-income apartment homes.
To date, the community has only expanded, now with over 600 new apartments and 250 new homes. Uptown is called home by people from all backgrounds but who share at least one thing in common: the desire to live in a connected neighborhood close to work, friends and entertainment.
Uptown, in coordination with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Memphis Light Gas and Water, also introduced a concept we call “EcoBuild”. Recognizing that utility costs absorb a greater percentage of income for most Uptown residents, EcoBuild seeks to employ energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly design in all facets of the development, lowering utility usage in Uptown by an average of 35% – 60% when compared to non-EcoBuild construction. Uptown has been certified as one of the largest green-building communities in the nation.
More than ten years later, Uptown Memphis has blossomed into a community of engaged residents and proud homeowners. Neighbors arrange and participate in many organized events throughout the year including the annual Chili Cook-Off, BBQ Contest, Pumpkin Decorating Contest, Progressive Thanksgiving Dinner, Kids’ Bike Race, Pet Parade and Clean-Up Days. A well-established Community Garden is supported by the local chapter of Rotary and flourishes in the center of the neighborhood.
Currently moving into its sustainability phase, the development focus in Uptown will shift from bricks and mortar to the creation of a complete neighborhood. As the development under the HOPE VI grant program is now complete, a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, which was established in the early years of the revitalization effort, now provides an ongoing stream of funds dedicated to redevelopment in Uptown. TIF funds are being utilized to provide new amenities including the expansion of commercial, retail and services, additional new and improved public infrastructure, rehabilitation programs for existing privately-owned structures in the area, neighborhood programs through cohesive efforts with public and private partners; all resulting in an emphasis on improving the quality of life for Uptown’s residents.