A Promising Development Schilling Farms Marries Urbanist Functionality with Small-Town Charm
By Chris Herrington
– Agenda –
Drive east on Poplar Avenue into Collierville, one of Tennessee’s fastest-growing cities, and it is virtually impossible to miss the ambitious, mixed-use development-Schilling Farms-that is growing at the town’s western edge. The product of a 50-50 joint venture between Harry Smith, owner of Schilling Enterprises, and Memphis-based Boyle Investment Company, a real estate development, management, and leasing firm, Schilling Farms is situated on a pastoral, 443-acre plot of land once used by the Ford Motor Company as a demonstration farm. A 20-year project, the development will one day boast more than 1,000 homes, 1.5 million square feet of office space, and 90 acres of distribution space.
Planners hope that this development-situated on 3,000 feet of Poplar Avenue frontage and 9,300 feet of Winchester Road frontage, and with easy access to the newly built Nonconnah Parkway-will be an attractive destination for both individuals and families, as well as major corporations. According to Boyle’s executive vice president, Russell Bloodworth, Schilling Farms was designed keeping modern amenities in mind, but with a nod to the past "[It has been a] desire on the part of our company to build parts of Memphis and Collierville in a way that will preserve and provide a heritage to the citizens of this community," he says.
The $350 million Schilling Farms development is a groundbreaking blend of theory and functionality, combining design elements from the vanguard New Urbanist architectural philosophy with a commitment to preserving Collierville’s quaint, small-town flavor. Several years of planning went into the project before infrastructure work began in September 1997. The master plan for Schilling Farms was developed by Boyle and Collierville city planners, with help from two architectural firms-New York-based Cooper, Robertson and Partners, and well-known local firm Looney Ricks Kiss, both of whom worked on the master plan for Celebration, Disney’s town development in Orlando. Looney Ricks Kiss also helped plan Harbor Town, the only other development in the Memphis area to incorporate principles from the popular New Urbanist design philosophy.
New Urbanist developments generally transpose early-20th-century conceptions of urban community design to a late-20th-century milieu. The philosophy behind Schilling Farms takes the general principles of New Urbanism and adapts them to a small-town suburban environment. Like the New Urbanists, the planners of Schilling Farms looked to the past in order to build a future, but instead of finding inspiration in the vibrant urban communities of the ‘20’s, they took as their model the idyllic small towns built in the ‘30’s-the 1830s, that is.
As part of the early planning of Schilling Farms, Russell Bloodworth took a road trip. Armed with his camera, he set out for the small towns of western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Using six towns as his case studies-Franklin, Savannah, LaGrange, Bolivar, and, of course, Collierville, in West Tennessee, as well as Holly Springs in Mississippi-he recorded the older areas of each town, the parts built prior to the Civil War. Photos taken during this trip were configured into an album that helped form the design goals for Schilling Farms.
Bloodworth’s reconnaissance mission yielded a conviction that all developments on Schilling Farms should be as true to what he terms the "West Tennessee agrarian heritage" as possible, given that the demands of life at the dawn of the millennium are not the same as during the era when these towns were founded. Part of this agrarian ideal involved preserving the original character of the farm itself.
The white picket fence that surrounds the farm is a preexisting element that was retained, and it provides a motif that is carried throughout the property. Along these lines, a 40-foot-tall white brick tower has been built midcenter of the development, at the Poplar Avenue entrance. This agrarian symbol provides a visual introduction to Schilling Farms and is accompanied by nine identical minitowers scattered throughout the development. The green light poles and wrought iron benches featured throughout Schilling Farms are modeled after the ones in Collierville and with the agrarian ideal at the heart of Schilling Farms.
The large, single-family homes in the Neighborhood at Schilling Farms will be modeled closely after the architectural styles Bloodworth documented during his West Tennessee scouting trip, with special attention being paid to the late Federal architecture style upon which Collierville was built. The roofs of these homes will have the same slope and pitch as their 1830s models, while attention to details such as the inclusion of operable shutters will further add to their architectural authenticity. But despite such touches, this is no Old Collierville theme park. "We aren’t trying to create Disney World," says Bloodworth. "We’re trying to create something that speaks to the past but still utilizes modern technology."
For instance, say you need the proverbial gallon of milk. The days of the milkman are mostly gone, so for the typical suburban resident, an errand as simple and essential as this can mean getting in the car and driving more than half a mile. Suburban expansion-from World War II on through to today- was a response to the new ubiquity of the automobile and the power and convenience of automobile travel. During this period of rapid, and often unthinking, development, the kind of architecture and planning that arose had the effect of fostering a solitary existence in which people travel from garage to parking lot-a car-bound, work-home-work routine that tends to discourage community, to say nothing of its environmental impact.
Schilling Farms, according to Bloodworth, is as much a reaction against this recent history of "thoughtless" development as it is a result of nostalgic yearning for an agrarian past. It is imperative to the planners of Schilling Farms that they help preserve the independent, small-town atmosphere of Collierville at a time when the rapidly growing community is being impinged upon by suburban sprawl. "Thoughtfulness is the issue," says Bloodworth. "In the postwar era, developers didn’t take the time to think. But a really great environment takes a lot of thought and talent and planning. We’re not coming out of the depression, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be thoughtful about development as we approach the millennium."
A governing principle behind the development of Schilling Farms was the belief that environment influences behavior, and if previous suburban expansion created environments that discouraged community, then Schilling Farms could be constructed in a way that would encourage it. What’s happening with Schilling Farms might be dubbed "new suburbanism" – a compromise between the conventional cookie-cutter suburbs of the postwar years and the utopian vision of New Urbanism. Schilling Farms will combine a suburban location and car-accessible infrastructure with the tree-lined streets and pedestrian-friendly access to recreation, retail, and commerce espoused by New Urbanism.
The most important aspect of Schilling Farms-and this is a trait that it shares not only with New Urbanism, but with any small town–is that it is a mixed-use development. Where typical Suburban development tends to isolate individuals not from each other but from many of their basic needs and activities, Schilling Farms will bring together as many of the strands of human activity as possible within the boundaries of its 443 acres. A variety of housing types will coexist with private businesses and retail enterprises. Public-use buildings like churches, schools, hospitals, and the YMCA will alternate with homes and businesses. The interconnectedness fostered by the mixed-use nature of this development may echo the principles of New Urbanism, but it also replicates the small-town ideal. The primary design goal of Schilling Farms is to create a community within its white picket fence border that evokes the small-town character of Collierville, and in doing so, it will incorporate almost every type of building and land use found in a small town. The most important aspect of Schilling Farms-and this is a trait that it shares not only with New Urbanism, but with any small town–is that it is a mixed-use development. Where typical Suburban development tends to isolate individuals not from each other but from many of their basic needs and activities, Schilling Farms will bring together as many of the strands of human activity as possible within the boundaries of its 443 acres. A variety of housing types will coexist with private businesses and retail enterprises. Public-use buildings like churches, schools, hospitals, and the YMCA will alternate with homes and businesses. The interconnectedness fostered by the mixed-use nature of this development may echo the principles of New Urbanism, but it also replicates the small-town ideal. The primary design goal of Schilling Farms is to create a community within its white picket fence border that evokes the small-town character of Collierville, and in doing so, it will incorporate almost every type of building and land use found in a small town.
Housing in Schilling Farms will come in many forms. At the southern end of the development, south of Winchester Road, is the Neighborhood, where most of the development’s larger, single-family homes will be built. Several of these homes have been completed, and they served as the location for the Vesta Home Show last October. Prices for homes in the Neighborhood are expected to range from $250,000 to $400,000.
Using pedestrian-friendly, new Urbanist principles, the Neighborhood’s driveways and garages will be located behind the homes, off of a rear alley system. The homes themselves will be set close to the street, with small front yards and porches whenever possible. Finished homes in the Neighborhood surround a large, open public space called McGinnis Park, which preserves a stand of 75-year-old oak trees. The park is named after Wiley Washington McGinnis (1875-1959), the man who first landscaped Collierville Square and the grandfather of former Collierville Mayor Herman W. Cox.
Directly behind the Neighborhood is Schilling Farms Middle School, which opened last fall to students in grades six through eight. The 97,000-square-foot facility is located on a 16-acre campus, and contains a media center, a gymnasium, a cafetorium with a stage, and computer labs that are wired for the internet.
Across Winchester from the Neighborhood will be the Madison, a 324-unit apartment community spread over 21 acres. Due to open in early 2000, the Madison’s three-story building will house one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, and the complex will also offer a fitness center, car wash, pool, and tennis court. North of the Madison is the Collierville YMCA, the first building at Schilling Farms, which opened in May 1999. Built on a piece of land donated by Schilling Enterprises’ Smith, the opening of the YMCA served as the official opening of Schilling Farms. "It was important for us to begin this project with a civic-oriented building," says Bloodworth. The first phase of construction on the YMCA included 30,000 square feet of space, including an indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna, nursery, and professional aerobics room. An outdoor pool and water park were added soon after. The third and final phase will consist of a large gymnasium, which will bring the YMCA to a total size of 40,000 square feet. One unique aspect of the YMCA at Schilling Farms is a partnership with St. Francis Hospital for an outpatient facility with a full-time staff that includes a physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech pathologist.
Adjacent to the YMCA is a recently opened Kid Tech Child Care Center, which can accommodate 219 children from six weeks to 12 years of age. Across Crescent Drive from Kid Tech is a large area reserved for office-distribution space, including a 25,000-square-foot showroom and distribution center for Orion Packaging Systems – a shrink-wrap supplier and distributor – to be completed in February.
This conflux of businesses, homes, and public-oriented building creates a kind of synergy, according to Bloodworth. An article of faith held by the planners of Schilling Farms is that in this age of long commutes and heavy traffic, people desire to live closer to their work. In theory, employees of Orion could live at the Madison, their small children could be cared for at Kid-Tech, and, after work, the Orion employees could walk across the street to pick up their children, take them to the adjacent YMCA for a quick workout, and then walk home. This duplicates the kind of convenience that’s a hallmark of small towns and heavily urban areas, but is unheard of in suburbia.
At the western edge of Schilling Farms, just north of Winchester Road, will be Legacy Farm, an apartment complex being developed by Atlanta-based Trammell Crow Residential. This $24 million project will house 370 units over 26 acres, and is being built around the development’s only existing lake. Also in the plans is Sterling Square, a 15-acre, 75-lot town home project being built by Patton, Taylor & Ryan of Germantown. Sterling Square will have an 1,800-square-foot minimum for homes and will feature a common area and pool house.
Corporate and office sites will develop more slowly than residential projects, but one office space set to open soon is the Schilling Farms Business Center, a 62,000-square-foot, one-story building that will be located along Schilling Boulevard East at the north end of the development. This building, due to be completed early this year, is a prime example of the concern for thoughtful planning and design control that governs Schilling Farms. In Bloodworth’s terms, the building will "address the street." In other words, where many buildings of this type are set far off the street, nearly hidden from pedestrian and driver view, the Schilling Farms Business Center will face the street with a shorter setback and its design will follow the curvature of Schilling Boulevard East. Though they are working with many different architects and developers to build Schilling Farms, Boyle exerts design control through ownership of approval rights and through a rigid set of architectural guidelines. Continuity of design, says Bloodworth, is an important part of building community in this mixed-use development.
Plans for other types of uses are also in development. SpringHill Suites by Marriott will build a hotel on a 3.39-acre site on Schilling Boulevard west of the YMCA. Current plans are for a 93-suite, brick-and-stucco, four-story hotel with an outdoor swimming pool. The hotel is set to open sometime this year. There are also preliminary plans for a 16,000-square-foot, two-story office building next to the hotel. In addition, Methodist Healthcare has purchased a 7.4-acre site at the northeast end of the property to develop health care facilities, phase one of which will be a primary care clinic. A 16-acre site at the southwest corner of Schilling Farms has been reserved for a church.
There are two centerpieces to Schilling Farms: the large, mixed-use area at the north center of the property, adjacent to Poplar Avenue, and Schilling Boulevard, the thoroughfare that will run around the mixed-use area and through the middle of the development, connecting the Neighborhood and Schilling Farms Middle School to the mixed-use town center.
Schilling Boulevard, a tree-lined street with large medians, is modeled after Belvedere Boulevard in the Central Gardens neighborhood in Midtown Memphis, which happens to be one of the first developments in which Boyle was involved. "Belvedere has influenced me a great deal," says Bloodworth, "and part of it is the wonderful character of the trees, and the fact that they were given room to grown."
Schilling Boulevard will be lined with six rows of trees. There will be two rows of oaks, which grow to around 100 feet, on each side of the boulevard, with sidewalks winding between the trees. There will be two rows of cherry trees, which grow to 35 feet, in the median. These trees will one day form a canopy over the boulevard that planners hope will replicate the beauty of Belvedere. The street will be bordered on one side by the three-story Madison apartments, lending a dimension of verticality meant to enhance the grandeur of the street.
The boulevard, like most of Schilling Farms, has been designed with the pedestrian in mind, as well as the automobile. The tree-lined sidewalks will not only be separated from the street curb on one side and any parking lots or other developments on the other. All streets will have public benches at convenient intervals. The straight portion of the boulevard – the section that connects the southern end of the mixed-use town center to the northern entrance of the Neighborhood – was carefully designed to measure 1,400 feet in length, the distance that planners estimate is comfortable for most people to walk. "We have to have the pedestrian respected here," Bloodworth explains.
The mixed-use town center will contain hotel, retail, and office space. It is not currently zoned for residential development, but Schilling planners hope that apartments can be worked into the mix eventually. An as yet unspecified civic building – which Bloodworth says should be the most architecturally significant in Schilling Farms – will lie at the terminus of the boulevard, with Schilling Farms Middle School at the other end. Development on this, the most urban area of Schilling Farms, should begin within the next 18 months, and Bloodworth promises that it will be the closest thing to New York City in the Memphis area. "What the town wanted was something that could be the core of the new Collierville," says Bloodworth.
By mixing the most attractive elements of New Urbanism with a commitment to preserving the heritage and small-town atmosphere of Old Collierville, the planners of Schilling Farms have created a new model for future development. With urban sprawl considered by many to be the most pressing problem facing cities in the coming years, it is a model that not only echoes the agrarian ideal of small-town living, but builds community while successfully incorporating the conveniences and necessities of modern-day life.