Kevin Thompson

Kevin Thompson is a managing director at Raymond James and a graduate of Rhodes College. He lives in Midtown with his husband and two children, and is a longtime volunteer for the Pink Palace.

Midtown needs better development guidelines

By Published: April 09, 2019 5:16 PM CT

How do we invest in our neighborhoods without damaging those qualities that create them?

New developments crop up daily which chip away at the value Midtown Memphis creates. These developments destroy existing structures and replace them with bland, panel-board construction that can be found in any generic city in America.

<strong>Kevin Thompson</strong>

Kevin Thompson

This doesn’t have to happen in Midtown for housing values (and taxes) to increase. Consider the difference between a planned community such as Seaside, Florida, and an overdone Disney sequel. We can simply look to our neighbors in Nashville to see what an overdone sequel looks like when implemented in an urban environment.

We prefer better planned, more restrictive development guidelines for our Midtown neighborhood. I represented the Belleair Woods Neighborhood Association in discussions with Vince Smith about his Poplar Art Lofts project at Poplar and Tucker across from Overton Park, and I would say that Belleair Woods is not supportive, but rather acquiescing to that development.

Our neighborhood remains concerned about the potential of our single-family houses being surrounded by six-plus-story buildings, especially given the unbridled nature with which the Land Use Control Board ignores the Midtown Overlay, a zoning plan that provides guidelines for development. We would prefer better planned, more restrictive development guidelines for our Midtown neighborhood.

Our concerns went unmet by the board, and we lacked the numbers to stage a large protest at a Memphis City Council meeting (which seems to be the requirement these days).  We preferred a lower-story building – we only have the Midtown Overlay as a basis to restrict height but were willing to go higher. We asked for transportation and water/sewer studies prior to approval; to our knowledge none were done. We wanted pedestrian-friendly retail space on the ground floor instead of fake garage fronting windows, and wanted an all-brick facade.

Mr. Smith did change the facade to be more in keeping with Midtown design, but the top two floors and much of the back lack brick. The traffic pattern was also changed so that cars will enter on Rembert and exit on Tucker. We hope this reduces some of the congestion caused by adding 110 units to a two-lane road. And he added additional retail space to the other corner of the building.

We appreciate his willingness to work with us, but we remain concerned about this development and the potential it brings for other developments to follow in its path – not just next door to our neighborhood, but throughout Midtown.  One can take a short drive down Poplar to see that most of the multi-family units are recessed and have a courtyard. And I believe all are at or under three stories with the exception of the Parkview Tower. We think these are better design guidelines for development in our neighborhood and serve as a basis for the Midtown Overlay.

We support increased density in Midtown. We also believe this can be done without losing the aesthetic qualities that make Midtown so attractive. As can be seen in a number of redevelopments in Midtown, good, smart development can increase density while maintaining historical facades with design that’s in keeping with the time period of the original developments.

 Memphis is at the precipice of an amazing transformation.  And with that transformation comes the challenge of integrating the culture that we are with the new one we want to be.  

The Daily Memphian welcomes a diverse range of views and invites readers to submit guest columns by contacting Peggy Burch, community engagement editor, at


Midtown Midtown Overlay Land Use Control Board Poplar Art Lofts

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