Reimagining Two Iconic Memphis Buildings
Guiding community input and the selection of new community-serving uses in the park
Memphis’s own “central park” – Overton Park – is a large, 342-acre public park in the middle of the city, and features lush green space as well as major cultural institutions, including the Brooks Museum of Arts and the Memphis College of Art. However, the park faced major changes as both institution – its two largest anchor tenants – announced they would be leaving the park and their current facilities. The Memphis College of Art (MCA) closed its doors in 2020, and the Brooks Museum will be relocating to a new downtown facility in 2024.
In anticipation of these changes, the City of Memphis, the Overton Park Conservancy, and other partners undertook a visioning and public solicitation process in the Fall of 2018 to determine the best uses for the two landmark buildings, and ensure the continued vibrancy of Overton Park as a cultural anchor for the entire city of Memphis.
U3 Advisors led this visioning, solicitation, and selection process for the next iteration of these historically significant buildings, including outreach into a wide range of stakeholders in the city’s arts and civic communities, as well as broad public outreach. During 2018, the team’s work included over twenty-five stakeholder meetings, an online survey, and two well-attended public meetings that invited the public to reflect on the legacy of the institution and the park, and opportunities to reimagine them for the city’s future.
The work challenged us to think creatively about a process that was inclusive and open to all concepts, yet one that also yielded a defined vision and development framework for the buildings. Critically, the process also required reflection and dialogue on intentionally creating a space inclusive of communities of color. The result was a unique two-part solicitation process to address two critical aspects of the outreach process: equity and organizational capacity-building. “Create Your Space,” the call for ideas, launched in the spring on 2019, garnering large media attention, and over 40 thoughtful and inspiring responses. Create Your Space was offered in partnership with EpiCenter Memphis, a start-up incubator which provided support to interested participants.
Following the “Create Your Space” call for ideas, finalists were invited to further refine their concept and proposal through a formal RFP process for one of the buildings – Rust Hall (the former Memphis College of Art building). U3 managed the process from solicitation, to selection (which included a selection committee), to LOI and lease negotiations to City Council approval. The selected new tenant for Rust Hall, the National Metal Museum, will continue the core mission of providing access to the arts for all. Renovations to the facility are anticipated to begin in 2021.