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Ashli Blow - wmctv.com -
A new initiative for urban redesign and redevelopment makes its first stop on a couple of blocks along Cleveland Street this November. It will demonstrate the economic and community potential of the crosstown area.
The one-day event called MEMfix will fill empty store fronts with businesses, include a street festival with food vendors and live performances, feature pedestrian-focused street improvements, pop-up retail and family-friendly activities.
But executive director of the Memphis Regional Design Center Chooch Pickard said it’s way more than a street festival, it’s an experiment to transform an urban area.
"We know there is potential, and we want other people to see that as well," said Pickard.
MEMfix is composed of multiple organizations including the Mayor’s Innovation Team, Crosstown Arts, Livable Memphis, and the Regional Design Center .
The group was inspired by The Better Block program and promoted from the success of New Face Old Broad in 2010 in Binghampton.
Together for New Face Old Broad, volunteers and advocate groups teamed up and coated bike lanes themselves in the historic arts district to exhibit how bike lane made it more accessible.
Similarly to New Face Old Broad, MEMfix will have simulated bike lanes, but with duct tape this time rather than paint.
However Cleveland isn't too far behind in being repaved and having bike lanes installed.
Broad Avenue has blossomed since its demonstration a couple of years ago with popular restaurants, late night establishments, shops and regular festivals.
MEMfix is shooting for a similar result in the two-block area along Cleveland Street - from Overton Park to Galloway.
The decline of the area took place when the Sears Tower, a distribution and retail center, shut down after its 60 year run in 1990.
Neighboring restaurants, beauty shops and gas stations weren't too far behind in closing leaving vacant spaces.
Yet Crosstown's revitalization has already been years in the making as many locals are familiar with business and restaurants in the area.
"Although people may not know it, there's been plenty of activity along Cleveland Street in the Crosstown area for many years: Five in One studios, Small Fires Press printing, Cleveland Street Flea Market, Brantley Ellzey's art studio, Memphis Independent Music recording studio, and a ton of great, ethnically diverse restaurants. That said, at least half the storefronts where MEMFix will take place are empty,” said Crosstown Arts co-director Todd Richardson in a press release.
“The MEMFix event will build on the area's strengths, bring more activity and programming, and help a broader audience realize how Cleveland Street could become one of Memphis' model urban boulevards," he said.
Crosstown is already being cleaned up for the event and is part of Mayor A C Wharton's "25 square" effort against blight.
Volunteers from universities and organizations across Memphis have dedicated their time to get MEMfix going.
This short-term community driven effort that will allow residents to experience how minor tactical investments in the Crosstown area can lead to a neighborhood restoration.
“Too often, cities look to high-risk big-budget projects – arenas, ballparks, large-scale developments – to revitalize a neighborhood,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.
“Not only are there not enough of those projects to go around, the reality doesn’t always live up to the expectation. We want to encourage small, low-risk, community-driven improvements designed to generate long-term change," he said.
Other areas will be set to be "Memfixed" in the future as this is a series of community events designed to rethink and activate streets. The group has not announced any set plans on what the next area will be.
"The point is to show people it can be done - the next steps being, lease out to retailers (in the Crosstown area) and then picking another neighborhood," said Pickard.
Part of the funding for this effort comes from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Memphis is one of five cities to receive an Innovation Delivery Team grant.
•Two Crosstown blocks, Overton Park Avenue to Galloway
•10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Nov. 10