The French Fort Project: How one of Memphis’ most Historical Landmarks is aiding the Development of the City’s Future

Posted on March 1, 2014


By Jake Owens

Screen_shot_2014-03-01_at_11_14_03_AMAlong the banks of the Mississippi river, just south of the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, the former U.S. Marine Hospital sits abandoned between two city parks and a stretch of old brick buildings. The construction of Interstate-55 in the mid 1960’s cut the area off from the core of downtown, and government funding for the Military Hospital disappeared. Since then, the area’s commercial and residential property values have decreased, provoking current property owners to fight for aid in the redevelopment of an area only 1 mile south of Tom Lee park with historical significance and direct access to the river.

According to property owner Lauren T. Crews, the renovation of the French Fort district and the former U.S. Marine Hospital depends heavily on the improvements to the intersection of Interstate 55 and Crump Boulevard. According to a 2012 interview with Mr. Crews the improvements mean banks will be more willing to invest in the development of the area for commercial and residential growth. With this plan, Mr. Crews hopes to convert the abandoned medical facility into high-density condominiums and introduce businesses to an area along the Mississippi river that has struggled financially for the last fifty years.

The plans for the developments on the intersection of Interstate 55 and Crump Boulevard are currently in the design process. The construction on this project, according to Mr. Crews’ 2012 interview with Inside Memphis Business, will begin in 2014. Upon the completion of the construction, access to downtown Memphis will be made easier due to a decrease in traffic congestion around the currently poorly planned intersection. This effect will increase tax funds for the Memphis City government by increasing property value and encouraging commercial development. The plan would also increase tourism and save the value of historical places in the Memphis community. But with all the benefits, it is important to ask- at what price? And will that price outweigh the benefits?

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the selected construction project for the I-55 and Crump will cost taxpayers $33.3 million, and the costs don’t stop there. The proposed plan by Crews, who teamed up with the Memphis Regional Design Committee to develop the future of the area, includes converting the Old Marine hospital into a condominium apartment complex. The Metal Museum, a museum that was built along the west wing of the old hospital, would remain open and benefit from the increased foot, bike and automobile traffic the improvements would introduce. The construction of a library, a bike shop and a coffee shop are also in the discussion, making the area’s commercial properties more lucrative for individuals to live in. The price of the hospital renovation will cost around $12 million, and the remainder of the area will require anywhere form $14.7 million to $34.7 million to renovate as well. Monetary losses are not the only concern though; multiple houses in the French Fort neighborhood will be displaced in the construction of the intersection. These displaced homeowners will be provided with government owned areas in which to construct new homes. Noise levels will also increase for residents of the historic neighborhood, but barriers will be constructed to minimize the effects.

Upon looking deeper into the value of the area, the project appears to be a gamble for investors. By connecting the Riverwalk into the Chickasaw Bluff area, a direct connection to the remainder of downtown will introduce more foot and bike traffic into the community. A path that leads across the river will also increase tourist visits to the area. But these two projects do not promise change. Surrounding the southern and eastern sections of the area are industrial factories and underdeveloped expanses of land. This could turn potential homeowners and businesses from purchasing land in the area.

Keep an eye out for future news regarding the development of this story, and while you have the chance, go peek around the area to see the old Marine Hospital before its too late.

Visit: (Interstate 55-Crump) (Metal Museum History)
(Crews on French Fort)

Jake Owens is a sophomore at Rhodes College.

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