By Gaye G. Swan
– MUS Today Summer/Fall 2003 –
From New Urban to New Town, Henry Turley ’59 and Rusty Bloodworth ’63 are shaping the face of Memphis. Though they have different visions of development in our community, they have the same goal – to make Memphis a better, more diverse place to live. And thanks to their efforts, Memphis is enriched by the choices they provide.
Henry Turley, founder and president of Henry Turley Company, is something of a pioneer, and he expresses admiration for what he calls the “frontier culture” of Memphis – a uniquely free culture without a great deal of structure. It is this very freedom that has allowed him to pursue and develop what is now knows as “the new urban” experience, exemplified by Harbor Town north of Mud Island and South Bluffs in downtown Memphis.
“I wanted to provide a product to those who were looking for an urban experience, and I knew Memphis would be a better city if we offered more variety,” Turley said. “New urban is something of a combination of what is good in the urban form and what is pleasing in the suburban forms.
“When I was planning Harbor Town, I struggled with the form – should it be urban, with street grids and tall buildings, or suburban. It was only when I abandoned those existing forms and began to think in a freer way about the needs of my customers, that I was able to do this thing that ultimately became known as new urban. It is a combination, but it was derived from my trying to find various elements, patterns, and structures that would best serve our anticipated clientele.”
Rusty Bloodworth, executive vice president of Boyle Investment Company, agrees that more choices make Memphis a richer place to live. “We’ve had several business headquarters move to Memphis from out of town. You don’t get the heavy-hitters to come here unless they know they are going to be able to have a wonderful life. So it is important to have all the pieces that relate to a wonderful life available to them when they first come here to ‘kick the tire’ and see what Memphis has to offer.
“We believe the development of very high-end residential communities is important. We create many types of neighborhoods, but the high-end is critical for capturing new business from out of town. Harbor Town offers them a wonderful environment that they might not have had where they came from. Our River Oaks community [in east Memphis] that we’ve been developing since the mid-60’s also offers a possible fit, depending on their lifestyle and aspirations. We need all these wonderful communities.”
Boyle is in the process of developing large-scale multiuse communities, providing space for living, working, and recreation. Bloodworth has championed the development of these “new towns” since he became fascinated by the concept in college. “The idea of new towns goes back as far as Roman civilization but really became a factor in Europe at the turn of the century,” he explained. “London was filled to a dysfunctional point and searching for a solution. The choice was either tear down large sections – which was what the United States did in the 1950’s – and rebuild at a higher density or go out on the fringe. They decided to go out on the fringe and develop new towns that were like a necklace around London. The towns were (and are) somewhat independent of each other, with large open spaces between them. And that was the beginning of the new town movement.”
Bloodworth studied community development in Scandinavia, where the decision was made to ring Stockholm with new communities, following the new town concept. These new towns were each equipped to be a town in itself, while remaining a part of the larger city. “I lived in one of the little towns on the outskirts of Stockholm. It was just a dream place – everything was there, so well put together. Low-density, single-family detached town homes, all the way up to mid-rise with the town center offices, distribution, and mass transit – everything was thought through so well on a broad scale. I just got totally captured with what communities could be like.”
He continued, “When I was in college, I was so struck by the problem of urban growth. If you are growing at the rate that we as a metropolitan area have grown for the last 40 years, you do consume new areas. The real question is, how are you going to conceive of that growth; what is the nature of it going to be? Is it going to be isolated enclaves, or is it going to be a rich mixture of neighborhoods, civic, retail, and commercial uses that are all somehow woven together into a community that has a real sense of place. I have focused on that problem and that challenge on the fringes; Henry, of course, has tackled the problems of the existing city downtown:
In fact, the name Henry Turley conjures up the downtown area, so closely have the two become intertwined. He has successfully transformed old, deteriorating buildings into modern housing or office space, while keeping the look and feel of historic downtown. For this contribution to the real estate community, he was recently presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Memphis Chapter of Lambda Alpha International, a professional society. Current projects include updating apartments at 413 S. Main into condominiums and developing the Harbor Town Marina, with Patton & Taylor Construction Company as general contractor. Clyde Patton ’58 has a long relationship with Turley – his company was the co-developer and general contractor of the Memphis Cotton Exchange Building and the contractor for 8 Union Center and the Yacht Club Condos, among others. “Henry is an individual with the highest integrity,” commented Patton. “He also has a wonderful sense of humor. Anytime you embark on a project with Henry, it is an adventure.”
Why choose downtown? I chose to work downtown because I didn’t think we should throw away a perfectly good part of the city,” said Turley. “I didn’t think it was a sensible, or even a possible, course that we could follow. There would always be a vestigial society or community there that would not go away, and that, through abandonment and lack of investment, would become a problem for the city. The area, if neglected and ignored, would become a negative place. I thought that was just impossible – that the consequences would be tremendous. Although individually people could abandon downtown, and by extension the whole inner city, we as a society couldn’t. It would stay with us, and if ignored and not cared for, not loved, then it would become a problem for us. I didn’t think that was even feasible. At one time, it was common wisdom that you could abandon your downtown and your inner city – that it was a wise and proper thing to do – but I could never convince myself that it was right. In fact, I thought quite the opposite was right. So I set my sights on creating a new and different downtown.
“Another one of my underlying premises for choosing downtown was to try to help build a place where shared interests could be realized,” Turley continued. “A clear example of a shared interest is the Grizzlies. Another is the Redbirds. Their being downtown is a statement that they are a shared or transcendent value for the community. They transcend the parochial interest and become instead the interest of all citizens of the community. I’ve always thought downtown should be built that way. It should be built not as an exclusive but an inclusive place. Not as a place that discriminates in one way or another but that encourages interaction – a place where you do things together. An example is where you share your enthusiasm for your sports team. Sports can do for a city what I want downtown to do for the city: to bring people together around a shared thing, a shared value, a shared place.”
Although their concepts are different, their values and aims are very compatible. Bloodworth said, “There is both a tension between suburban growth and the downtown’s inner cities, but there is also a symbiotic relationship that is usually fairly hard for people to grasp. You could never have had what we have downtown – the rebirth that we’ve had, that Henry has been so critical in – had we not, as a community, grown to a larger scale. Atlanta, for example, enjoyed a great rebirth in its downtown area about 20 years ago. It was clear to the leaders that for the downtown area of Atlanta to enjoy rebirth, the entire pie had to get large so that at some point there would be demand for the downtown again. So the mayor actively supported the development of suburban areas. They allowed a lot of business growth to occur fairly easily. Once the overall level of development reached a certain critical mass, the downtown effort would be a lot easier to sustain.”
What’s up next for these community developers? Both have learned much from previous efforts to assist in ongoing projects. “Along the way, we practiced and learned,” said Turley. “We learned certain things that make it easier to build other parts of the city that have been similarly abandoned, ignored, neglected, and left unloved. We took downtown, figured out how to do it, then took those lessons to try anywhere in the inner city. It’s hard to do, and we still have a long way to go.”
Turley is currently involved in developing a community called Uptown, a run-down area of downtown and North Memphis encompassing neighborhoods and housing projects from the Wolf River Harbor to Ayers Street and from Third Street to Chelsea. The new development will provide many new beautiful and affordable homes, plus the demolition and redevelopment of Hurt Village and the restoration of Lauderdale Courts. The plans call for an improved infrastructure, streetscapes, and parks – and public safety, education, and transportation programs.
“Uptown comes from the original concept of not throwing away parts of our city; parts of our history,” Turley explained. “We want to build places where we can live an even richer life, together – as part of a richer experience. The premise of Uptown is to build a place where those of lower income can be integrated into the flow of society and economy. Of course, the challenge is to convince those with options to move there – those who could choose to live elsewhere – that this might be an interesting and fulfilling lifestyle.
Challenges await Bloodworth as well. “Before I worked here, Boyle had developed Farmington, one of the first large scale new community developments. It was an early mixed-use development. That led us to Ridgeway Center, then to Humphreys Center [both landmarks of east Memphis]. Today, we are doing Schilling Farms, Porter Farms, and Price Farms on over 700 acres, working on Spring Creek on the edge of the county (900 acres), and on a 600-acre large scale, multi-use development in Franklin, Tennessee.
“We try to learn through this process how to put together communities with many different types of uses – 14 different uses, rather than the four or five uses of some of our earlier communities. If you add, say, a church, a YMCA, office space, a distribution center, and retail space to the different kinds of housing, it is a much richer way of developing 500 acres of suburbia. In the Schilling development, we have a school, parks, single family and multifamily housing, retail outlets, retirement housing, a hotel, corporate offices, banks – it is really almost a complete community.”
Community – a sense of belonging, of kinship, of shared interests and values – is the foundation on which both men have built their efforts. More than just shared spaces, the areas Bloodworth and Turley have developed are neighborhoods in the true sense of the word. Turley concluded, “I am pleased when customers tell me, ‘this is a wonderful place to live. It offers me opportunities I didn’t know were available anywhere, in any neighborhood. In fact, this made me understand neighborhoods and communities. This is a better place.’”