Pick just about any year over the last decade and those who own businesses along Memphis' struggling "Crosstown" district have heard the rumors. The "sleeping giant" that is the former Sears building is about to awaken.
It's a 1.5 million square foot edifice more than 80 years old, covering 12 acres, chock-full of asbestos, rusted pipes, broken windows and planted squarely in a neighborhood that's seen nothing but decay since Sears opted to finally close their operation there in 1993. But, now a stellar group representing the fields of arts, education and healthcare are trying to entice the Memphis City Council to buy into a dream makeover that'll eventually turn that "sleeping giant" into a "mixed used vertical urban village," which is a much catchier description than just saying "humongous rat-trap."
Speaking of space there's plenty of it along that Cleveland into North Watkins stretch. Few businesses have managed to make it through what's been a commercial drought for years. Yet, the memories of a more bustling Sears-Crosstown neighborhood remain fond ones.
"When Sears was here you had good merchandising and a lot of people shopping. A lot of people out and about...and a lot of stores around it and a lot of inner action in the community," recalls former Crosstown resident Ossie Becton.
However, while memories cost nothing, creating future ones by renovating the Sears Building and hopefully enriching the neighborhood around it rings to the estimated tune of $175-million. While some City Council members indicated a willingness to help find, but not commit, $15-million to jumpstart funding, Councilman Harold Collins notes the project's backers may have to take a number.
"I told them. That's a great project. But, there are other great projects ahead and that they cannot just leapfrog all these other projects that people have brought to the Council asking for resources just like them," explains Harold Collins with the Memphis City Council. "I recognize that ALSAC and St. Jude and Methodist LeBonheur and all these people are great corporate citizens. But, they too have to recognize the city only has so much resources available and projects that are worthy of the city getting involved in. Gonna have to get in line like everybody else."