Bryant Park

Frayser Town Center Would be Based on Manhattan Park

July 29, 2014
Bill Dries, Memphis Daily News

The town center plan for Frayser that debuted this past weekend at the first annual “Frayser Day” celebration is built on the model of Bryant Park in Manhattan only on a smaller scale to fit the Frayser Plaza Shopping Center.

But the Frayser Neighborhood Council group behind the revitalization plan and Frayser Day doesn’t lack for ambition in pursuing the plan. The group will be back at City Hall next month seeking some city funding to begin to put their detailed seven-year plan into action.

The group got turned down by the Memphis City Council at the end of the city budget season in their multi-year multi-million dollar request.

In August, they will have the plans for the town center drawn up by urban designer and architect Ray Brown. The center is at Frayser Boulevard and Overton Crossing.

Bryant Park is a 10-acre privately managed park in Manhattan that includes the main building of the New York Public Library, including the library’s underground archives that the park was built over.

The restoration of Bryant Park began in the 1980s by a citizens group that began to reclaim the park with a crime problem with a bookstore, a few other shops and some landscaping and entertainment in the park.

Frayser Plaza, like Bryant Park, would have a library as a centerpiece – in this case a “signature” library the group hopes to move up the city’s priority list to replace the tiny Frayser Branch library on Argonne that is among the most heavily used libraries in the city’s system despite being the smallest in square footage.

“The library becomes a place for all ages to participate in the life of the community as well as a place of learning and study,” Brown said. “There were four things around every town square. … Around the market place, you had a place of learning, you had a place of exchange, you had a place where decisions were made and frequently you had a place of worship. … It’s really going back to the roots of civilization to create a town square.”

The plan doesn’t include any churches. There are several churches in the immediate vicinity. But in Brown’s plan, the library would be at the center of the shopping center footprint on a public greenspace or square with a police mini precinct toward the back of the property and a multi-story medical building with retail on the ground floor. A town hall or meeting center to include a performance center would be on the corner of Overton Crossing and Frayser Boulevard.

A transit hub would be on the opposite side of Frayser across from the town square that is in the center of the shopping center acreage. There is now a mix of open lots, some existing businesses and boarded-up businesses across from the shopping center.

“Obviously there is going to be some concern on the part of existing businesses that this will take away from their potential revenues,” Brown said. “But we didn’t build a grocery store, so Kroger isn’t threatened. We didn’t build a Walgreens so they aren’t threatened.”

The shopping center was opened in 1965, seven years after Frayser was annexed and in the boom as Frayser’s residential footprint spread to the east and into Raleigh.

The shopping center is one of three on Frayser Boulevard between North Watkins and Rangeline Road owned by Tenalok Partners Limited of Houston, Texas, according to records in the Assessor’s office.

Tenalok owns another smaller shopping center at 1780 Frayser Blvd., west of Frayser Plaza at North Watkins Road. It also owns the Frayser Shopping Center on the northwest corner of Frayser Boulevard and Range Line Road that is anchored by a Kroger supermarket.

The Frayser effort is part of a White House initiative that includes a federal grant for the planning process that has taken place to date. Frayser is the largest neighborhood in the program, of several across the nation.

The group’s pitch to the council earlier came not only as the council grappled with controversial health insurance and pension changes. It also came months after Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. had pitched a three-part plan to establish town centers with local government facilities at three other retail centers that has had a mixed reception at best.

“Our timing was extremely bad,” said site director Shep Wilbun, who is a former city council member.

Brown said the kind of retail that developed in Frayser as residential development continued to grow in the area never amounted to a center of the kind he’s mapped out. And given the area’s population, he added it is warranted.