South Bluffs. Harbor Town. South Main. Uptown. It all started here.
We started Henry Turley Company (HTC) in 1977 and began doing projects that we thought Memphis needed — projects that, for one reason or another, the private sector, the market, was not doing. At that time, downtown Memphis was in serious decline and suffering from disinvestment. We were always aware that we couldn’t rebuild downtown Memphis by ourselves. So we found partners who were motivated to make investments that originated in a civic need, recognizing that to get others to join us, we had to make good returns on our investments. We assumed a willingness to pioneer, hoping our novel projects would succeed both from a civic and financial standpoint. Most have.
If we build it. We thought our contribution in downtown Memphis could be turning the decaying Central Business District (CBD) into a more vibrant urban area by adding residents. We asked ourselves: “If it’s failing as a CBD, shouldn’t we make it a place to live?” So we set about doing as many housing developments downtown as we could. Our first, in 1979, was the conversion of a derelict office building to apartments. The Shrine Building worked well. The apartments are beautiful, the residents formed a community and our investors did well financially. Then we turned our attention to South Main.
In focusing on residential, our financial premise was that the lack of downtown residents was not a function of lack of demand, but rather of lack of supply — that a latent demand existed. Given that, we have tended to build more than most, assuming that with increased supply, the demand would manifest itself. That’s pretty much what’s happened.
Putting cars in their place. In 1989, we began developing two new riverfront communities that bookend the Central Business District: Harbor Town on Mud Island and South Bluffs, at the southern edge of the downtown core. In the process, we found ourselves struggling to create density and diversity. We began to devise ways to better live with our cars instead of for our cars. And we mixed land uses so that our destination was not so far from home.
Rather than fighting our environment, we adapted to it. Relegating the automobile to its proper subservient role, we put the garages in the back, built alleyways behind the homes, and put the people, not their cars, front and center. We kept trying to live with our environment. In Memphis, that’s hot — so we put in a lot of shade trees, porches and fans. Along the way, we developed a new way of building neighborhoods. It’s now called New Urbanism.
No gentrification, just renewal. When Harbor Town was nearing completion, the residents told us: “We had no idea what a difference living here would make in our lives.” We began to wonder if the same development pattern that we applied to Harbor Town would work for lower income neighborhoods with similar, positive results. We found 100 blocks on the northern edge of downtown that had been left behind — the homes and the people. There had essentially been no investment in what is now Uptown for more than 50 years. We felt the project was worthy of our investment because Memphis has so many neighborhoods where blight and neglect predominate — that Uptown could serve as a model for improving these neighborhoods and improving people’s lives. Fifteen years later, we’re still at it. And we believe a lot of people have better opportunities in the improved environment.
What we’re working on now. HTC is still involved building Uptown and we’re engaged in the development of Healthy Community with our partners in Jackson, TN. We’re also expanding our South Bluffs concept through the whole South End area of downtown Memphis, including a major redevelopment of Central Station and its environs. So stay tuned.
Henry Turley began his real estate career as a property manager, spent some time brokering investment properties and founded Henry Turley Company in 1977. Since then, he has invested a lot of time, thought, energy and money in urban development.
For more on our history, explore The 12 Stories of Henry Turley Company.