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Union Row developer rolls out pledge for 28 percent MWBE participation

A massive $990 million development is taking shape in Downtown Memphis that promises opportunity and innovation for the entire city.

On Thursday night during an event at 341 Union Avenue, developer Big River Partners, along with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, announced Phase I plans for Union Row, the largest mixed-use development transformation in Memphis.

Nearly 500 guests gathered for details in the space that was once a Cadillac dealership – organizers showcased vintage Cadillac cars in the building for the occasion.

Union Row, which covers 29 acres in the city’s gateway, is bounded by Union Avenue and Beale Street on the north and south, and Danny Thomas and Fourth Street on the east and west.

Phase I site plans include two new hotels, two apartment buildings with attached parking garages and 100,000 square feet of space for retail, office and lab use. The site will also include a grocery store. Mammoth site drawings were hung along a wall at the event.

Phase I also contains a comprehensive strategy to include Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) with the goal of 28 percent participation. A representative from the city’s Office of Business Diversity & Compliance was on hand to assist interested MWBEs.

Big River Partners recruited long-time businessman Carl Person to lead MWBE inclusion over the life of the project.

“I’m taking this personally,” says Person. “We’re developing a strategic plan on the front-end to keep minority businesses in the planning from the beginning.”

StartCo, a business developer and start-up accelerator, is assigned as Innovation Partner to assist small, medium and large startups with access to capital and other resources that increase capacity.

“We’ll guide entrepreneurs to capital resources and ensure that diversity and inclusion are weaved into the practice of innovation,” stated StartCo president, Andre Fowlkes.

StartCo will also provide direction to growing startups at Union Row so that they can remain sustainable and create hundreds of new jobs.

“I’m so excited I could pinch myself,” says Kevin Adams, Big River Partners’ managing partner.

Adams is leading redevelopment of the blighted area, which will increase density through high-rise housing. Union Row will unfold with construction of the parking garages followed by 711 residential units. Among mid-range and luxury-level units, Union Row will provide 20 percent affordable apartments, according to Adams.

Next, the hotels will be built — the brands may be announced as early as next week.

Phase I is expected exceed $500 million of the total $990 million price tag.

“We couldn’t do this without our partners and financial incentives,” says Adams. “The biggest obstacle to overcome was pulling together the land.”

Union Row Phase 1 is supported by $100 million in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars from Shelby County and a $50 million loan from the Downtown Memphis Commission for parking garages. The State of Tennessee approved a modification to extend the TIF for 30 years.

Big River Partners is also seeking New Market Tax Credits, a federal program to spur business and real estate investment in low-income communities across the U.S. Adams noted that he’s collaborating with partners to consider future redevelopment in parts of Whitehaven and North Memphis, and is finalizing a plan for new senior living units in East Memphis.

“This will be something great that all of Memphis will be proud of,” Strickland said of Union Row. “The City Council and County Commission are equal partners … none of this could happen without them.”

At the close of the event, Strickland invited local and out-of-town financiers to invest dollars in Memphis during its economic development renaissance.

(For more information about Union Row, visit URMemphis.com.)

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