by Doug Carpenter
My desk at DCA overlooks South Main Street, directly across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum and the revitalized district that surrounds it. Every morning I sit in this space and I feel the pulse of Downtown development.
The momentum and energy and volume of activity Downtown increases almost on a daily basis, not just through tourism, but through activation of our own residents who flock here for sporting events, trolley nights, farmers markets, festivals, and more.
Downtowns nationwide are collectively experiencing a renaissance. Their relatively small, walkable areas concentrate commercial, cultural, and civic assets. Downtowns are the intersections of business, tourism, and cultural exchanges, creating a vibrant identity for the greater city.
Downtown development is about reimagining. It’s about a new perspective and asking questions. Who are we? How do we tell our story?
People often talk about the brand of Memphis. Famed marketer David Ogilvy defines a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.”
I believe Memphis’ brand is defined daily in Downtown. Our spaces are evolving from a historically iconic Peabody and Rendezvous to a
newly reimagined Tom Lee Park and visionary adaptation of Central Station.
The Chisca and the Tennessee Brewery, both left to waste away on the Bluff, are reactivating into top-tier urban residential and commercial developments, injecting life and momentum and density into the South Main landscape. The daunting Pyramid’s empty center is now converted into a national destination.
Downtown areas generally sit central in a city’s landscape, but Memphis’ Downtown has a limited geographic footprint. Its position on the Mississippi poses interesting barriers but provides great opportunities. You can’t develop west because of a river … or can you? Thanks to a focused and driven public-private partnership, an inactive old wagonway on the Harahan Bridge will now draw millions of tourists and residents to the Big River Crossing to witness the power of the Mississippi and the ever-evolving skyline of Downtown Memphis.
And the efforts continue: Mud Island, the Medical District, and St. Jude’s expansion are following suit on the drawing board. I am confident they, too, will yield creativity, ingenuity, and collaboration. The combination of new perspectives and focused innovators will continue to write new chapters.
All of these pieces are our packaging, our history, and reputation. We don’t need to redefine our brand. We simply need to continue to reimagine its elements. Memphis will always have a rich history, but our identity is about our present and our future.
I look forward to continuing to watch the story unfold from my seat in the middle of it all. What’s next can only be imagined by people with a commitment to the city. Are you one of them?
Doug Carpenter is principal of DCA, creative communications consulting firm.
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