Without Visionaries, Where Would Our City Be?

Doug Carpenter of Doug Carpenter & Associates.

A friend of mine was visiting my office on South Main after a Grizzlies playoff win last season. “Something is happening in this town,” she said. “Memphis is really changing. Do you think it’s because the Grizzlies are winning so much?”

My friend was noticing the renovations under way at the National Civil Rights Museum. Looking down the street, she could see where a warehouse behind the Arcade will become new live/work studios for artists. Up the street, redevelopment has already begun on the historic Hotel Chisca.

She was partially right: Memphis is changing and has been for a while. But with all due respect to the Memphis Grizzlies, the something that’s happening isn’t attributable to any one organization, company, project, or person. The spirit isn’t even contained to downtown, as the continuing improvement of any number of Midtown and East Memphis business districts prove.

Just think: Only 10 years ago, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Stax Music Academy had not yet opened; FedExForum was still more than a year away from completion; the Shelby Farms Greenline was a derelict old train track; the Levitt Shell was a decaying husk of its former glory; Overton Square was a shadow of its past; Cooper-Young was evolving; Overton Park was longing for attention; and Broad Avenue was dormant.

No one could have imagined the kind of vibrancy we now see night after night in Overton Square and Cooper-Young. New life for Broad Avenue and the Hotel Chisca was the stuff of fantasy, not the work of architects and contractors.

These things didn’t happen overnight, and they didn’t happen by accident. They happened because companies and people with means, courage, and commitment were joined by the vision and enthusiasm of those who wanted something better.

The work isn’t over — far from it. The challenge now is to support and encourage the next wave of Memphians as they explore opportunities in the next decade. Is it the redevelopment of the Harahan Bridge? The new life being breathed into the Sears Crosstown building? Perhaps. Or it could be any number of assets, neighborhoods, and forgotten treasures that have yet to be rediscovered.

Whoever steps forward with the next big, bold vision runs the risks of doubt, ridicule, and failure. But without these kinds of visionaries, what would our city be and where would our city be heading?

Ten years from now, will we reflect on the effort we gave to discover something hidden in our city? Will we be talking about the risk we took to create something new that changes how we look at everything else?

Doug Carpenter is Principal, Doug Carpenter and Associates. Company is an advertising, public relations, and consulting firm. Since 1988, he has represented clients in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Instrumental in campaign to bring Grizzlies NBA franchise to Memphis, “NBA NOW” recruitment effort for the Grizzlies, development of the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, The Racquet Club of Memphis’ acquisition and retention of professional tennis in Memphis, and stewardship of efforts to revitalize the Sears Crosstown building.


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