Protect the Medical District with a Zoning Overlay

Over the next few weeks, the Memphis City Council will consider a Zoning Overlay for the Memphis Medical Center. As a business resident, developer and leader of an organization charged with expanding Memphis’ bioscience industry, the Memphis Bioworks™ Foundation is very interested in the overlay outcome. It is actually one of the most useful tools a community has to ensure development takes full advantage of its assets and meets its goals.


In selling and promoting Memphis as an ideal location for a bioscience business, one of our most compelling attractions is our urban medical district. Few cities have the benefit of a district in which so much medical activity is taking place and so much development potential exists, all in a definable urban setting. The Medical Center Zoning Overlay is designed to make sure that asset is preserved, protected and enhanced.

Many cities make the mistake of treating any development as good development. When you are trying to attract world class medical, research and support facilities, that simply won’t work. In a collaborative industry like biosciences, environment is important. The environment where people work, the environment where people live, and the environment where people learn are all important. We must also be aware that the Memphis Medical Center is a place where patients and their visitors need to feel comfortable. For someone facing a medical scare, personal comfort and confidence in their surroundings are critical.

There are a number of vacant lots and other open spaces in the Medical Center, and considerable renovation opportunity exists. The proposed Zoning Overlay will ensure that development and redevelopment take place in a way that promotes the look and feel of an urban medical center. This district should not look and feel like a suburban center with vast parking lots, huge planned developments and scattered one-off businesses that are in direct conflict with a comfortable pedestrian and traffic flow. Certainly things like strip clubs are inappropriate, but large big box retailers are as well.

The zoning overlay promotes pedestrian-friendly development, encourages more mixed-use projects, ensures new buildings are closer to the street than in suburban development, and plans for varied uses within the district itself. For example, it would allow for more residential space on upper floors in some areas, and would allow more building height in the core of the Medical Center while restricting it in neighborhoods.

University Place is a perfect example of a residential development that fits the area. We expect many people to make the Medical Center their home and place of business. This zoning overlay will promote development that not only makes that possible but attractive as well.

There is plenty of opportunity in the Memphis metro area for developments of all kinds, let’s let the medical district be just that, a district dedicated to the people who live, work, learn and seek care in an environment of medical and bioscience excellence. An urban medical core is a one-of-a-kind asset we need to develop and protect.

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