Memphis Targets Adaptive Reuse of Historic School for Neighborhood Benefits

A plan to rehabilitate the vacant former location of Melrose High School in Memphis' Orange Mound neighborhood "recalls many other recent initiatives aimed at elevating and investing in Black urban history."

1 minute read

September 1, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

The backboar of a basketball hoop is painted orange with the words "orange Mound"--the name of a historically black neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee.

Thomas R Machnitzki / Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Sisson tells a story about the past and the future of a historic landmark in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis. Melrose High School has long sat vacant in a city that once served as "a burgeoning Black center of commerce and culture for much of the 20th century. "

Orange Mound once had "the most concentrated population of Black Americans in the U.S. behind Harlem," explains Sisson. B.B. King and Duke Ellington performed at the neighborhood's performance venues. The neighborhood's recent history, however, has been marked by decline. "Property values in the neighborhood dropped roughly 30% since 2009," report Sisson with data provided by the county assessor.

"Now the city hopes the landmark can be both a site for celebrating the neighborhood’s past and a hub for its redevelopment," writes Sisson, buy spending $13.5 million to restore the vacant school. The plan will "transform the lower floor into a community library, cafe, and genealogy center, all expected to open by 2023," according to Sisson. "A second phase of the project, designed by Memphis-based Self + Tucker Architects, includes two floors of senior housing within the school. Mitchell calls the building’s restoration a 'jubilation journey.'"

The restoration is part of part of the $200 million "Accelerate Memphis: Invest in Neighborhoods" plan championed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

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