Non-profit arts organization Crosstown Arts led the redevelopment of a historic Sears, Roebuck & Company Distribution Center near downtown Memphis into a vertical urban village integrating arts, healthcare, and education that attracts 3000 people daily. (Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss)

Once home to Memphis’s leading employer, the 1.5-million-square-foot Sears Roebuck & Company was abandoned in 1993 and stood vacant for more than 20 years, despite being one of the city’s largest structures. Reopened in 2017 as Crosstown Concourse, the 16-acre complex is now a vibrant “beyond mixed use” community anchor; it includes housing, commercial and non-profit offices, as well as programming that includes arts and culture, restaurants and retail, health and wellness, and education. The biggest adaptive reuse initiative in Tennessee and the largest LEED Platinum Certified historic adaptive reuse project in the world, the $210 million complex was nearly a decade in the making.

In 2010, Todd Richardson, an art history professor, and Chris Minor, a video artist, founded Crosstown Arts, a nonprofit arts organization, to create a vision for the building’s redevelopment that would cultivate Memphis’s creative community through “an open an inclusive place designed to dissolve barriers to access.” Over the next three years, they engaged development partners in the community to explore the feasibility of their plan and enlisted seven other organizations as founding tenants, guided by the philosophy that they would be “better together.” The City of Memphis and Shelby County as well as financing from federal Historic and New Market Tax Credits provided additional support for the project’s realization.

Designed by Memphis-based Looney Ricks Kiss and Vancouver-based firm Dialog, the award-winning restoration/renovation maintains the historical building’s rugged industrial character while introducing contemporary features and uses. Now home to forty diverse tenants including Crosstown High School, Memphis Teacher Residency, Church Health, and the Global Café, the project also comprises 265 apartments housing over 400 residents.

On a massive project like this there are more red lights than green ones,” says former Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. “This is why Sears Crosstown is not only ‘Exhibit A’ for rebuilding the core of our city, but also a model for how to creatively overcome the obstacles to it.

Crosstown Concourse apartments (Courtesy Looney Ricks Kiss)
French Truck Coffee at Crosstown Concourse (Bruner Foundation)
Crosstown High cooking class, Church Health Nutrition Hub at Crosstown Concourse. (Bruner Foundation)
Crosstown Concourse art gallery (Bruner Foundation)
Crosstown Concourse atrium event (Bruner Foundation

This post was originally published by Metropolis as part of a series written and curated by RBA that offered a detailed look at the 2019 award cycle and site visits.

Anne-Marie Lubenau, AIA, is director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) for the Bruner Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An architect and advocate for educating and engaging people in design of the built environment, she is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and was a 2012 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.