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Memphis and the Origins of the Crosstown Concourse
On February 21, 2015, Crosstown Concourse officially broke ground in Memphis, TN. Originally built in 1927 and known as the Sears Crosstown Building, it operated as a Sears store for over 60 years until becoming vacant in the 1990s. Thanks to the recent efforts of many people such as Todd Richardson, new energy and investment has been poured into its revitalization. In an interview with Thriving Cities, Todd, who has been at the forefront of the project, highlights his work and hopes for Crosstown Concourse.
Thriving Cities (TC): Todd, describe your initial interest and motivations in getting involved with a project like Crosstown Concourse?
Todd Richardson (TR): What initially peaked my interest was a simple conversation. "Wouldn't it be cool if…?" It was 2009, and I had recently moved to Memphis to become a professor at the University of Memphis. While I love academia, it quickly became clear to me that I needed to get involved in the community in a more meaningful way. At the time, I didn't know what that might look like. But as an art historian, I understood the power of art to engage minds and build community. At 1.5 million square feet, the Sears Crosstown distribution center is the largest commercial building in the city of Memphis—by a long shot. It’s bigger than 25 football fields, bigger than the Chrysler Building in New York. But in spite of its art-deco beauty and central location, it had been abandoned for almost 20 years. I was talking with the building's owner. We said, "What if something amazing could happen at Sears Crosstown? And what if art were the catalyst?" That was enough to engage my research training, and I set out to determine whether anything like this had ever been done. Turns out, the power of art to spur community development has far surpassed my expectations.