Highland Streetscape Plan Unveiled at Community Meeting

September 23, 2019 - Highland Street will soon be getting a facelift, thanks to the Highland Revitalization Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

The University Neighborhoods Development Corporation (UNDC), which holds the TIF, has been working with Looney Ricks Kiss for the past eight months to develop a schematic design to make the street more pedestrian-friendly and to better connect the area to the surrounding neighborhoods. The Highland Streetscape Improvements intend to reimagine Highland between Midland on the north and Kearney on the south.

“Everything that we do has a common goal of promoting economic inclusion, shared prosperity and student success,” Cody Fletcher, executive director of the UNDC, said. “This project furthers those goals and will serve as a catalyst to bring more students, visitors and businesses to the University District.”

Jonathan Flynt, associate at Looney Ricks Kiss, presented the initial design at a community meeting held recently at the University of Memphis Research Foundation Research Park.

 “We know there’s a lot of good things happening on Highland, but we also know there are some gaps and issues to address. We took all of that into account (when creating the design),” Flynt said during the meeting.

The design includes appropriate improvements that will generate value, enhance access and promote quality of life issues.

“Instead of Highland being a division, it (the Streetscape plan), unifies two sides of the street,” Flynt said. “This plan is still flexible enough to where we can incorporate a lot of these ideas on an opportunity basis.”

Among the initiatives are plans to slow traffic, landscaping, improved sidewalks, public art installations and an improved railroad crossing at Highland Street and Southern Avenue.

“We need to figure out the average travel speed. Once we figure that out, we need to slow traffic down to the speed limit,” Flynt said.

Flynt noted that the plan’s purpose is not only to connect businesses to each other but also to connect Highland to the community.

“We want a street that works for students, visitors, employees, property owners and business owners,” Flynt said.

Southern Avenue west of Highland Street will also see enhancements including landscaping and improved sidewalks. Flynt referred to Southern as the “bridge” from Highland to the neighborhoods on the west.

“If we aren’t bridging these neighborhoods, we aren’t using our full potential,” Flynt said.

 Next steps in order for the project to come to fruition include a more comprehensive parking study. While parking can be an issue, Flynt explained that several lots remain underutilized.

The UNDC is a separate nonprofit entity whose mission is to build a thriving campus and community environment by improving the physical and economic infrastructure of the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Memphis.

“The Highland Streetscape project creates a canvas to attract companies and students to the University District,” Fletcher said.

In addition to Looney Ricks Kiss, Kimley-Horn and Associates, Malasri Engineering and Alta Planning + Design are involved in the project.