UTHSC Among Economic Engines Driving Memphis Medical District Revitalization

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Dr. Ken Brown addresses the forum on "Remaking the Medical District" on Thursday.
“We’re excited about what the future holds,” UTHSC’s Dr. Ken Brown said, addressing a forum on Thursday about “Remaking the Medical District.”

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative is “the perfect storm” of like-minded entities coming together to improve our community, Dr. Ken Brown, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer of  the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, said Thursday.

Speaking at a forum hosted by The Daily News on “Remaking the Memphis Medical District,” Dr. Brown said UTHSC started its master plan for strategic and intentional growth of the campus a long time ago. But joining with other institutions in the district magnifies our efforts.

“We’re excited about what the future holds,” he said. Dr. Brown is vice chair of the Medical District Collaborative, a new nonprofit community development entity charged with making the area, which is between Downtown and Midtown and roughly bordered by Poplar Avenue, I-40, Vance Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard, economically prosperous, clean and safe.

Methodist Healthcare’s Michael Ugwueke, left, was a panelist at the Medical District forum along with Dr. Brown.

Along with Dr. Brown, the forum at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art included keynote speaker Tommy Pacello, president of the Medical District Collaborative, Michael Ugwueke, president and chief operating officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and Mike Todd, president and founder of The Edge District.

Pacello said ongoing and planned construction and expansions at health care and academic institutions in the area make the time right for moving the district as a whole forward. “These institutions are economic engines,” he said. “It’s about health care, education, research interacting and intersecting with the community,” he said. “If we get the institutions working together, the whole thing begins to hum.”

Ugwueke said his institution is “heavily invested in the district,” citing the planned expansion of Methodist UT Hospital. “We want to make sure we are a part of developing and working with other partners to bring life into the district.”

Pacello and sign
Tommy Pacello, president of the Medical District Collaborative, was the keynote speaker at the forum.

Pacello said large and small improvements will carry the district forward. Street clean ups, urban art projects, safety improvements and community events are some initial steps. Also on the drawing board are major initiatives, possibly including housing incentives to bring residents back to the area, buy-local and hire-local programs and financial incentives to draw businesses, and transportation improvements to make getting around the area easier.

Dr. Brown said residential investment in the district is a key factor for UTHSC as it recruits the best and brightest students, who are generally looking to live near the university. “There isn’t residential capacity in the district,” Dr. Brown said. “That’s what drove us to pursue the public-private partnership.”

He added, “We have 3,500 students all the time. I think if they could live in the district, they would.”

UTHSC’s continued recruitment of top-tier faculty and staff is also vital to advancing the district, and boosts the economy of Memphis and the surrounding area.

“Recruiting those high-end, talented people into the area is how our role plays into the economy of the entire community,” he said.