West Tennessee Best Practices

The location of Memphis in the southwest corner of Tennessee presents unique challenges to regional cooperation. The Memphis metropolitan region is home to 1.3 million people living across ten counties in three different states. Despite these challenges, the importance of Memphis as an economic and cultural center for the Mid-South has fostered many vital relationships supporting the realization of regional goals. Scroll through the page, or click one of the thumbnails below to jump to the Best Practice example.






1. Harahan Bridge Project – Tiger IV Grant

2. Memphis Aerotropolis – HUD Community Challenge Grant

3. Complete Streets Policy Development

4. National Scenic Byways Development & Implementation

5. Courthouse Square Revitalization: Ripley, Tennessee




Harahan Bridge Project—TIGER IV Grant


The Harahan Bridge, completed in 1916, is the second of four bridges to cross the Mississippi River from Memphis to Arkansas. It opened to train traffic in 1916 and the narrow, one-lane roadways were opened in 1917. The Harahan Bridge was the only automobile bridge that crossed the lower Mississippi until 1935. After the Memphis and Arkansas Bridge (currently I-55) was completed in 1949, the Harahan’s wooden surface was removed, but the structural steel remains in place to this day. In researching the bridge, we discovered the deeds of sale for the roadways from 1917. Although the Union Pacific Railroad owns the bridge, the City of Memphis and Crittenden County Arkansas own the roadways.

The City of Memphis collaborated with the Downtown Memphis Commission;, the City of West Memphis, Arkansas; Shelby County Tennessee; Crittenden County Arkansas; the Tennessee Department of Transportation; and the Harahan Bridge Project (representing private donors) to make a TIGER grant application in 2012. TIGER grants are aimed at improving corridors and thoroughfares dedicated to multiple forms of travel such as pedestrian and bicycle traffic. With the help of local and federally-elected officials, particularly Congressman Steve Cohen and Mayor A C Wharton of Memphis, the project was awarded a $14.9 million (TIGER) IV Discretionary Grant. With these federal funds in hand, combined with $20 million from the local partners, a new 10-foot-wide, 1-mile-long bike/pedestrian crossing will be built along the existing roadways of the Harahan Bridge. This bike/pedestrian connection between the cities of Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas will create a safe and legal way to walk or bike between these sister cities.

The Harahan Bridge Project is a component of the Main Street to Main Street Connector project, which is a 10-mile regional, multi-modal corridor that will increase and improve transportation between the Memphis metro area and Arkansas. The project includes upgrades to downtown Memphis’ Main Street and a connection from the bridge to Broadway Avenue in West Memphis, Arkansas.

By the end of 2014, along a two and a half mile section of the Mississippi River, there will be a convergence of public/private projects in Memphis. The Harahan Bridge walkway will be open, the Beale Street Landing will be complete, and the Bass Pro Pyramid will be renovated and open for business. These three large scale projects will transform the riverfront and bring thousands of visitors to the river and downtown Memphis.

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Memphis Aerotropolis—HUD Community Challenge Grant


Memphis is home to the country’s busiest cargo airport and is crisscrossed by highways and interstates stretching from coast to coast and North to South. There are six intermodal train yards within the Memphis MPO serving hundreds of miles of track. The fourth largest inland port in the country links Memphis to the Mississippi River, ferrying goods, people and raw products through the nation’s heartland. All of this, along with the people who have had the foresight to recognize such advantage in location and logistics has helped to make Memphis “America’s Distribution Center.” A moniker created in the 1980’s, it has helped Memphis lure distributors and manufacturers from all around the world. In our continually globalized world which creates a demand for goods to move faster and more efficiently, Memphis has an opportunity to continue to be a logistics powerhouse as “America’s Aerotropolis.”

An aerotropolis is a city or an economic hub extending out from a large airport into a surrounding area that consists mostly of distribution centers, office buildings, light manufacturing firms, convention centers and hotels. In this case, Memphis International Airport is at the heart and extends out like a web to encompass Shelby County, DeSoto and Tunica counties in Mississippi to the south, and Crittenden County in Arkansas to the west. This web consists of a network of current and proposed roads, highways, interstates, and rail lines. Memphis is a global hub of distribution and warehousing and Aerotropolis Memphis has strengthened that position by partnering with Aerotropolis Europe in Paris, and Aerotropolis Asia in Guangzhou, China.

The Memphis Aerotropolis initiative is funded by a $1.26 million HUD Community Challenge Grant, and will focus on economic development efforts that will retain and expand the number of commercial and industrial jobs in existing employment centers; redevelopment efforts that will reduce the percentage of housing units with serious building code violations; and transit improvements that will increase ridership while reducing vehicle miles travelled and shorten commutes.

Conceived and developed by the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, the Memphis Aerotropolis will spur business attraction and retention, and boost job creation. The City of Memphis applied for the funding for the project and is managing the project, with assistance from the Chamber of Commerce. It will improve the connecting roadways from the airport to business parks, residential areas and the commercial and entertainment district of downtown Memphis while mitigating congestion through improvements in overall infrastructure. It will increase cargo and passenger service coming through the airport and help the region to build on its already known and respected reputation as America’s Distribution Center.

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Complete Streets Policy Development


Millions of public dollars are invested in infrastructure to build roadways that will be used solely by automobiles, discouraging other transportation uses on many streets and roadways. In Memphis, where obesity rates are among the highest in the country, the need to emphasize walking and biking is paramount as a public health strategy. Efforts are under way in Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee to design streets to be accessible and safe for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders regardless of age or ability. Known as “complete streets,” these streets create a more pedestrian-cyclist-and transit-friendly environment that encourages people to take alternate modes of transportation.

The Memphis/Shelby County Complete Streets Policy Development Project was designed to provide safe, attractive, and comfortable access to roadways for all users, regardless of the choice of mode. The final scope of the policy includes all of Memphis. The project aims to engage a two step process: crafting a policy that can be implementable, and fostering community advocacy and education programming about complete streets and their many benefits.

A broad based coalition was formed with the Urban Land Institute and Livable Memphis, a program of the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, along with additional partners that include the Memphis Regional Design Center, Department of Civil Engineering, Memphis Area Transit Authority, University of Memphis Department of Civil Engineering, Memphis City Engineers, Shelby County Engineers, University of Memphis Partnership for Active Community Environments, the Memphis/Shelby County Health Department, and Healthy Memphis Common Table. This coalition is working together to increase the access for all users of Memphis and Shelby County’s streets.

An Executive Committee including key players and financial supporters led the effort and a policy development team was created. The team recognized that it would not be feasible or prudent to simply implement another city’s complete streets policy and expect it to work in Memphis. The Memphis/Shelby County Complete Street Policy had to be customized to the wants and needs of its own residents. From the beginning, involvement with the Memphis and Shelby County Engineering Department was vital, as it would be tasked with the implementation of the desired changes and improvements should the policy be passed. From the start, the policy development was meant to be a proactive and positive effort, and to be locally informed and relevant.

The project received $10,000 through an Urban Innovation Grant from the national Urban Land Institute. Another $5,000 came from coalition partners, as well as a National Association of Realtors Smart Growth grant for $15,000. The money was used for coalition education and advocacy, and to fund policy development.

The policy development team crafted two policies: the Memphis Complete Streets Policy and the Shelby County Complete Streets Policy, which were similar but uniquely focused on the needs and wants of the two constituencies. In February 2013, Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton signed an executive order for the Memphis Complete Streets Policy. The next step is the creation and adoption of the Complete Streets Technical Design Manual to aid in implementation across Memphis. In October 2013, the Coalition received $48,000 in funding from the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan to develop a design and implementation manual.


A Lesson on Complete Streets
As a member of the Smart Growth America Coalition, the National Complete Streets Coalition works to change the way most roads are planned, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to enable safe access for all users. The National Complete Streets Coalition brings together public interest groups such as AARP, the National Association of Realtors, and the American Public Transportation Association, as well as practitioner organizations such as the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Planning Association, and the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. It works for the adoption and effective implementation of Complete Streets policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
What are Complete Streets?
Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

What does a “Complete Street” look like?
There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.

A Complete Street in a rural area will look quite different from a Complete Street in a highly urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

Source: National Complete Streets Coalition—Smart Growth America

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National Scenic Byways Development and Implementation

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The Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee, Inc. (MRCT) has received three FHWA National Scenic Byways program grants that are successfully advancing economic and natural resource conservation along the Great River Road region of Tennessee. The Mississippi River Corridor – TN is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization and its mission is to identify, conserve and interpret the region’s natural, cultural and scenic resources to improve the quality-of-life and prosperity in West Tennessee.


The Mississippi River Corridor’s diverse initiatives are dedicated to the economic development, land conservation, environment and wildlife preservation of the six counties that border the Mississippi River along the entire western border of Tennessee. The six counties that comprise the Corridor are Shelby, Tipton, Lauderdale, Dyer, Lake, and Obion.

The organization is led by a robust Board of Directors and serves as a model for regional engagement and a facilitator for important and strategic partnerships from government, private and philanthropic sectors that are supporting successful implementation projects in each county.

The potential economic impact of their innovative projects is a windfall for the region. The Corridor regularly attracts thousands of tourists and regional travelers as a designated FHWA National Scenic Byway along the ten-state Great River Road. Recreational and outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, biology and botany researchers, families, and students of all ages benefit from the Corridor’s magnificent trails and scenic vistas, interpretive centers and recreational facilities.

The Mississippi River Corridor works to celebrate and conserve the unique natural beauty and rich history of the wilderness, recreation lands, working farms and forests, parks, and wildlife habitat in the 650,000-acre alluvial valley basin from the River to the famous Chickasaw Bluffs.

The Corridor is a complex and ever-evolving project that involves uniting hundreds of key stakeholders and property owners within the region to preserve the area’s important and significant resources like vegetation, wildlife, soils, water, trails; sites of historical, geological and archaeological interests; and scenic views, vistas and areas of high aesthetic value. The MRCT provides managed access to this unique region for recreational and educational experiences along the Mississippi River.

Not only is this a critical initiative for the preservation of the region, its wildlife and natural amenities, it is equally important in the economic development of the distressed counties in western Tennessee that are experiencing a major loss of employment opportunities and contain high concentrations of employment in declining industries. Development of amenities within each county is underway to support the influx of visitors and new development ventures that will positively impact job creation, capital investments, income levels, and local and state tax revenues. Examples of these and the communities in which they are located follow.


Union City, TN – Obion County: Discovery Park of America

Discovery_Park2This world-class educational and entertainment complex is composed of a 100,000 square-foot Discovery Center and features a multi-storied oval shaped structure with 10 exhibit galleries for science, nature, technology, art and history. The immense building sits on a 50-acre site that also contains a 19th Century gristmill, extensive landscaping with Japanese, European and American gardens, historical log cabins and a 100-year old church. Work began on this extraordinary regional resource in 2007 and has a price tag of almost $ 80 million dollars. The funding is supplied primarily by The Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation. Over 250 local and regional citizens serve on a multitude of committees and provide the heart and soul for the project.


Tiptonville, TN – Lake County: New Interpretive Visitors Center for Reelfoot Lake State Park

The MRCT will begin construction on a new state-of-the-art Interpretive Visitors Center at Reelfoot Lake State Park in early 2014 after receiving a $1,890,000 grant award from the FHWA National Scenic Byways program, TDOT and TDEC. Located near the Great River Road – National Scenic Byway in Tennessee, Reelfoot Lake is the largest natural lake in Tennessee and was created by the New Madrid Earthquake in 1811-12. The Interpretive Visitors Center will tell the history of this unique region with highly interactive interior and exterior exhibits as well as providing an “outdoor classroom” for this amazing wildlife habitat and scenic paradise. It will also serve as a visitor orientation gateway for three states in the NW region of Tennessee and create a way station for hikers, bicyclists, birders, campers, historians, and educations traveling along the ten-state Great River Road NSB.

Lake County, the home of Reelfoot Lake State Park, is located in the most economically challenged area within the State of Tennessee. The new Visitors Center is expected to bring thousands of additional visitors to the State Park and will provide a significant revenue increase for the citizens that live along the Mississippi River in Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.


Dyersburg, TN – Dyer County: Dyersburg River Center, Park and Water Trail Projects

The MRCT Dyersburg River Center, Park and Blueway (water trail) initiatives were created three years ago to establish new community awareness, economic development revenues, health and wellness benefits, additional tourism dollars, educational venues, and to provide needed conservation and restoration efforts for the Forked Deer and Mississippi Rivers. With the construction of the Dyersburg River Center, floating boat dock, restroom/shower facility, walking trail and Blueway, the MRCT, Dyer County Government and a multitude of community partners, will be able to engage and train students, serve individuals of every capability, provide new outdoor activities, and teach river advocates best practices for canoeing and kayaking.

Funding for the project has been provided to the MRCT by: The Walton Family Foundation, the TDEC Recreational Trails Program, and USDA. Enhancement of amenities to support the influx of visitors and regional citizens to the MRCT Dyersburg River Park, and new economic development ventures associated with the complex, will also positively impact job creation, capital investments, talent retention, healthier lifestyles, outdoor recreational activities, and local and state tax revenues.

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Courthouse Square Revitalization: Ripley, Tennessee

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An hour north of Memphis, near the Arkansas state line, sits the small town of Ripley, Tennessee. The county seat of Lauderdale County, Ripley is home to the Lauderdale County Tomato Festival, a 30 year tradition that highlights the role the crop has had on the community.

In recent years the recession and depressed economy severely impacted Ripley and Lauderdale County. Many of Ripley’s industries and local businesses closed their doors, leaving many residents without a job. Ripley has had an unemployment rate that is significantly higher than the national average.

Downtowns can play an important role in a community’s efforts to boost the local economy and improve a town’s quality-of- life. These commercial cores usually account for as much as 30 percent of a community’s jobs and 40 percent of its tax base. Downtown is also a community’s crossroads – a place in the hearts and minds of residents that evoke strong emotions and help define a community’s identity. In 2011 Ripley became a member city of the Tennessee Main Street Program, a coordinating partner of the National Main Street Center, to gain resources and technical assistance for downtown redevelopment. By aligning its downtown redevelopment with the strategies and beliefs of the National Main Street Center’s “Main Stree Approach to Downtown Revitalization,” Ripley developed a comprehensive downtown revitalization plan that includes a return to community self-reliance, local empowerment, and the rebuilding of traditional business districts based on unique assets (see sidebar). Ripley has emphasized its distinctive architecture, pedestrian-friendly environments, and local ownership as assets in the redevelopment process.

With a high unemployment rate and stagnate economy, the city and the Ripley Downtown Development Corporation also needed a catalyst to spur development and job growth in the area, which came in the form of a new state program, the Courthouse Square Revitalization Pilot Project Act. Chosen as one of six county seats with a population of 120,000 people or less, Ripley created a designated downtown and tourism zone around the county courthouse that was to be redeveloped. Through this program the state returns around five percent of the sales tax generated in this specified zone to Ripley to fund the redevelopment process. Each new business in the zone increases available funding so the program also helps to encourage new businesses to locate in the downtown area. The zone includes the court square area, the property around the courthouse, and Washington Street from court square to Kellar Street. Ripley also received $2.95 million from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for repairing and improving streets and sidewalks and a $35,000 USDA Rural Development Grant for general funding of the project.

The redevelopment process was divided into three phases, with the completion of the entire project scheduled to end in 2023. Phase I, completed in 2010, emphasized sustainable design strategies, and the impact it’s made on the health of the community is evident. Ripley’s court square is now more pedestrian-friendly due to recently implemented traffic calming techniques. Traffic signals that once allowed vehicles to enter the square without stopping were changed to stop signs. Traffic lanes were narrowed and trees and other landscape improvements were added. Some walkways were widened into plazas with plenty of seating to encourage people to congregate and socialize. These plazas and all areas of the square are now connected with extra-wide crosswalks to make it easy and inviting for pedestrians to stroll and shop without feeling the need to get in a car and drive. The new streetlights in the revitalization area complement the 1930s era courthouse and direct light down for pedestrian safety while reducing night sky light pollution. The lighting in the courthouse is 75 percent more efficient than the previous lighting. Increasing the landscaped areas and reducing impervious paving has reduced the amount of stormwater entering the drainage system and helps to recharge the local aquifer.

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Phase I also included the renovation of the Lauderdale County Courthouse. The Art Deco style building, which was erected during the 1930’s by WPA, is a cultural icon for the area and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The renovation included replacing old windows with energy-efficient ones and updating the HVAC system. These changes have made the building more energy efficient, ultimately reducing the courthouse’s energy consumption by 35%.

Phase II will focus on the other areas of the downtown zone, improving the streetscape along Washington Street from the court square to Kellar Street. Phase III of the downtown revitalization plan will include adding a rail museum, children’s park, and a skate park to the downtown district. A six-mile walking trail loop will also be created to link the downtown area with the park.

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