Memphis, Tenn.–University Place, a multi-generational community of 405 affordable and market-rate apartments and townhomes just a stone’s throw from downtown Memphis, has become Tennessee’s very first completed development to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s new LEED for Neighborhood Development certification. And architecture and planning firm Architecture Inc. had more than a little bit to do with the multi-structure property’s notable achievement in the sustainable building arena.
Built with the assistance of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Hope VI grant, not only is the two-year-old University Place a green first in Tennessee, it is one of approximately a dozen completed LEED-ND projects in the world. McCormack Baron Salazar Inc.–which developed University Place and now holds the distinction of being the first developer to obtain LEED-ND certification for two properties–had the wisdom to tap Architecture Inc., an old hat at LEED-certified residential design and Hope VI multifamily projects, to spearhead the redevelopment of what had been the Lamar Terrace Housing project near the University of Tennessee Medical School and Methodist University Hospital District.
Architecture Inc., faced with an obsolete, ramshackle residential compound that was originally erected in 1939, had its hands full in terms of taking the first step toward making its new concept for an attractive green residential community a reality. “Our starting point was a 30-acre site that contained antiquated public housing units with bunker-like architecture and a dilapidated hospital,” David M. Schuermann, Architecture Inc. co-founder and principal, tells MHN. “We started out with urban blight, then we abated it, and we had to go through all that just to get to point zero.”
With quite a bit of acreage available, the firm then tackled the issue of making constructive use of the massive amount of land. “We wanted to lace those 30 acres back into the neighborhood so that it becomes part of the community,” he says. Executing the reintegration plan, however, was not without its challenges. “We were starting absolutely from scratch, so we had to work with a lot of agencies including HUD, the local housing authority, the Office of Planning and Development, the fire department. We worked with someone else on the style and location of curbs. So at any given point in time, we would have to deal with conflicts between one agency and another.”
Once the necessary approvals were in place for the property’s infrastructure, Architecture Inc. then got down to the business of rebuilding the housing. The first phase of the construction endeavor produced the 118-unit Senior Living at University Place, a three-story building featuring a wide range of amenities—from a fitness area and a billiards room to a beauty salon and even a visiting physician’s medical exam room—reserved for the 60-plus set.
“Each block at University Place has play yards and tot lots to make it a family-friendly place with mixed-income residences that all look like market-rate units, and when you put the seniors component in there, it becomes a good neighborhood-rebuilding technique. We’re all about rebuilding neighborhoods.”
The integration of mixed-income households and multiple generations was of great importance, but the general idea of building a sustainable community was always a major part of design and construction activities. “When we laid the whole thing out, LEED-ND did not exist,” notes Schuermann, “But we saw by what we had done that we would qualify for the LEED-ND Pilot Program.” University Place received high scores from USGBC in the category of Neighborhood Pattern and Design, a nod to the restoration of the historic street grid and the compact design that allowed for the evasion of unnecessary land use. Among the community’s most prominent green features is a one-acre pond that doubles as a coveted amenity and a means of stormwater retention.
Ultimately, the elements that qualified University Place for LEED-ND certification also combine to create a highly desirable residential community, whether tenants are aware of the property’s impressive green rating or no. “The response is, there are no vacancies,” Schuermann says.” As soon as we constructed one building, it was fully leased, so the response has been very positive. If we had more land at the site, we could build 400 more units and probably still wouldn’t find the bottom of the market.”