News

Behind Closed Doors: French Fort Marine Hospital Video – Local Memphis.com
Q&A with French Fort developer Lauren Crews – Memphis Business Journal
“Untapped” Inspires New Downtown Revitalization Project – Choose 901
City South Ventures Looks to Previtalize U.S. Marine Hospital in Advance of $165M Development – High Ground News
Ideas Unveiled to Transform Memphis’ French Fort DistrictThe Commercial Appeal
French Fort Plan Calls for $150 Million DevelopmentMemphis Daily News
First Look at Renderings of $138M French Fort DevelopmentMemphis Business Journal
Marine Hospital Adrift Since Closure, But New Owner Has Redevelopment Plans – Commerical Appeal
An Inside Look Into the U.S. Marine HospitalMemphis Flyer
Rehab on the River – Memphis Daily News
Good Old Brand-New – Ranting. Dan Conaway

A Special Place Along the Mississippi

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 Ryan Poe

Staff writer-Memphis Business Journal
Aug 15, 2014,

 

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Lauren Crews’ startup incubator was the back seat of his dad’s cigar-smoked Lincoln, trying to top his brothers’ ideas.

He grew up choking in that car, windows rolled up, hearing his brothers bounce their ideas off of his dad, who operated import and export company Great Southern in Downtown Memphis.

“Some people play slug bug,” Crews says. “We were playing that.”

His three brothers went on to found their own companies — including what is now MCR Safety, a large protective equipment maker in Collierville.

Crews has launched 13 companies in his lifetime, but he’s still looking for his legacy project — the one people will remember him for. And he thinks it could be his City South Ventures’ $138 million redevelopment of the French Fort neighborhood, which is on the Mississippi River just south of Downtown.

The project, which could span three phases in 17 years, is more of a vision than anything else at this point. Crews still has to line up development partners and public and private financing.

“I’m not in any hurry,” he says. “And I don’t mean to sound cocky or out there. But I think French Fort is such a special place, a hidden gem, and the same (goes) for the Marine Hospital. I think if we market this right, at some point we won’t have to go begging for money.  We’re going to be able to choose who we go into business with.”

Crews cares about the project — more than he should, according to his father.

“He’d say, ‘Keep your heart out of it,’ Crews recalls. “Well, I haven’t done that, and, frankly, it’s cost me a lot of money, opportunities and time.”

 But Crews says he can’t help but get passionate about these kinds of creative visions.

“You have people who are visionaries, who are willing to put everything on the line, likeWalt Disney,” Crews says. “There’s got to be these crazy people every once in a while.

“That’s the way I’m wired. That’s what turns me on. If it’s not a creative challenge, I’m bored.”

The challenges have loomed big for the French Fort redevelopment. Crews says there are many people — “Debbie Downers” as he calls them — who can’t see the vision.

That has depressed Crews until recently, when more than 275 people showed up to a public meeting about the project when he’d only expected 10 to 12.

“I needed that boost,” he says. “It boosted my confidence considerably. Who wouldn’t get that? It was confirmation. Support’s beginning to grow. But, at times, I’ve questioned myself because I have everything in it.”

Crews has been trying to redevelop the Marine Hospital campus in the neighborhood since before the recession, which killed his and a partner’s plans for luxury condos at the site. The U.S. Marine Hospital will be the first project and the catalyst for the entire redevelopment.

Quitting has always been a temptation he’s faced. But Crews thinks back to a hellish 90-day canoe trip he took alone down the Mississippi River.

“I’d get frustrated, throw my paddle down and say, ‘What am I doing? You talk yourself out of it,” he says. “Then, you get to thinking and say, ‘Well, I’ve come this far.’”

Crews has come far, putting his own money and time into the project. But what keeps him going is how far he’s come in the planning and the vision for what the project could do for Memphis.

“There’s no doubt that my passion shows,” he says. “It shows in everything I do. But I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about a project. And the thing is, I’m not going to have anyone but passionate people around me.”

He wants French Fort to be community-oriented, like Harbor Town, with higher density and more connection to Downtown Memphis.

The biggest challenge could be the public side of the financing, he says. When the city’s budget is tight, sometimes the emphasis is put on cutting costs instead of improving cash flow.

“It’s easy to cut costs,” he says. “I can fire you. I can cut your pay. I can cut quality. But the hardest thing to do is to look forward and increase your cash flow. To do that, you need a comprehensive plan. You have to be patient, you have to work at it, and you have to stick to your guns. I think if we have more projects like this, we’ll come a long way.”