Mud Island is anchored by the new urbanism success story that is Harbor Town. Harbor Town consist of low-rise multi-family residential and single-family residential with a core of retail shops to serve a very walkable community. A Montessori School sits at the eastern end with a boutique hotel at the west. The northwest edge of the "Island" is populated by several apartment complexes overlooking the Mississippi River Park with more single-family residential development tucked behind along the Wolf River lagoon. To the south side of the "Island", we have the historic Mud Island River Park and the Mud Island Amphitheater.
The DNA's North District consists of the homes and apartments of Uptown. Additional Single-Family Residential exists in the northeastern portion of the district near the Wold river. There are retail shops bordering along Thomas Street and A.W. Willis Avenue, but the retail core is in the historic Pinch District, including proposed redevelopment of the Great American Pyramid. There are industrial and municipal buildings along the Wolf River Lagoon and along North Main and North Front Streets. The North District includes the St. Jude Research Hospital campus and Bridges.
The Center packs in a lot of Downtown & the Medical District. Also known as The Core, the Center District encompasses the original DNA boundaries and includes the majority of the retail and hospitality businesses in Downtown Memphis. Newly expanded borders also bring in the Medical District areas and the Edge District, which have long been considered "downtown" by the Downtown Memphis Commission and the city. Along with our City, County, State, and Federal agencies, including Center City, Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Library, the Center contains the historic Beale Street entertainment district. Residential living is mostly in high-rise apartments and condominiums.
DNA's South District includes the South Main Historic District of shops, art galleries, and former warehouse and industrial buildings converted into private homes. The district includes the residential development of South Bluffs and the homes along the high bluff overlooking Tom Lee Park and the Mississippi River.
In the late 1970's, a band of residents decided to form a neighborhood association. Not that unusual an idea, except there were only three places to live Downtown: 99 Tower built in 1968 (now Renaisance Apts), Timpani Building, a co-op built in 1975 by 4 young downtown enthusiasts, who lived there for more than 30 years, and River Row Condominiums built in 1978. The entire population was less than 200 people. At that time, we didn't have the Peabody Hotel, FedEx Forum, AutoZone Park, The Memphis Pyramid, the Riverwalk, Trolleys, and much more!
The neighborhood association became official when it registered with the state as a non-profit in 1981. Within a year, another five residences joined those original three residences, and the population doubled. It set a momentum that has never stopped and neither has the Downtown Neighborhood Association.
In those early days, just as today, DNA was there to say “hold up, let’s do this instead” or “that needs to be changed”. Imagine what might have happened if DNA hadn’t said “hold up” to a large, rowdy night club that wanted to take up a block near the Orpheum, or the adult entertainment place that thought “no one cares about Downtown, we’ll go there!” Boy, were they surprised when DNA got involved to stop them. And DNA didn’t just halt at stopping one club; they changed the laws and ordinances that would protect the neighborhood from future threats of that kind.
And it wasn’t just threats, sometimes things needed to change just for progress to occur. The first couple to buy a building in South Main were told they couldn’t stay there because of zoning. They had to go to city hall and register as the night watchmen for their building in order to sleep there. It took a while, but by working with DNA, that zoning got changed. That couple formed the foundation for the Arts District you know today.
THE VOICE OF DOWNTOWN
In the late-80s and early 90s when the groundwork was being laid for the downtown we know today, DNA was there. By that time (thanks to stellar leadership) DNA was being recognized as a group to pay attention to. When DNA spoke, people listened. It became the “Voice of Downtown.”
Almost no project was initiated without asking for DNA’s input. That included the trolley. MATA wanted to put big, noisy diesel buses right outside the doors of major residences. DNA joined a group that was proposing electric trolleys instead of buses—and the rest is history.
The Bluff walk was another project that was changed due to DNA member input. The plan proposed a suspension walkway that protruded out from the bluff. It was not very attractive and made for a place for less than desirable things to happen underneath. The plan was changed to the beautiful and well-functioning bluff walk we have today.
It wasn’t always big projects that got DNA’s attention. There were times DNA’s voice was needed to help out our fellow residents. For instance there was a long-time downtown restaurant that wanted to build a rooftop deck to showcase music. The only problem was that a small condo unit had been built across from the restaurant the year before. The nine condo owners asked that the deck not be built because of the noise it would create. They were getting nowhere. They asked DNA to help. DNA intervened and the rooftop deck was scratched. It set the precedence for businesses and residents working together downtown.
Today the DNA is a flourishing community organization with hundreds of members! In 2021, DNA is proud to announce we are at our LARGEST MEMBERSHIP IN DNA HISTORY! Members consist of businesses, individuals, businesses, and non-profits from across downtown. The organization is a mix of young and old, local and new-to-Memphis, long-time member and brand new DNA-er. DNA provides lots of opportunities for members to stay engaged and influence Downtown issues.
Each month, DNA hosts a membership meeting at a local business and invites a city leader to come speak and answer questions. DNA also distributes a monthly newsletter, DNA's Biweekly Newsletter #KeepingDowntownInformed, with the latest news and events to make sure members know what's happening in their community. DNA leaders and members also serve on the boards of other downtown organizations of influence to amplify member voice. Of course it's not all serious business - DNA also promotes a vibrant social community through fun events and monthly happy hours.
In 2021, DNA celebrated its LARGEST membership numbers EVER in it's history! DNA now has over 500 members!!! DNA continues to unite citizens to help address things they are concerned about as well as things they wish to see happen in their neighborhood. Recently DNA stopped a large billboard style sign proposed by Memphis River Parks Partnership from being installed on Mud Island, helping preserve the ambiance of the treasured Mud Island. Additionally, DNA led the effort to "Save The Mud Island Amphitheater" by bringing this beloved music venue to the forefront of peoples attention and minds. DNA hosted a community engagement event where they gathered input on what the community would like to see happen to this site. After collecting data and sharing it with Mayor Strickland, DNA was happy to share that the Mayor soon after allocated $4mil toward restoring the amphitheater in the near future. DNA also stands to protect downtown families and children. DNA was one of the parties who advocated for temporary speed bumps to be installed to deter drag racing - these bumps, while sometimes pesky, sure have slowed down traffic and may have even saved some lives. DNA continues to work closely with MPD to make downtown the safest it can be.
DNA has evolved and grown over the last four decades, but has remained true to its founding intent: to build a true and vibrant neighborhood downtown. Today the DNA still sponsors programs and activities (DNA Spring Movie Series, DNA's Fight The Blight, Etc) that promote the quality of life of Downtown Memphis and safeguard the unique ambiance of our neighborhood.
Click the link below to find out more on the history of our great city!