"The Downtown Neighborhood Association is a non-profit, community organization comprised of hundreds individuals and business members. DNA is the oldest and largest downtown association that works to promote, enhance and protect the quality of life in the downtown area. DNA also maintains and fosters a spirit of community for downtown residents, businesses and visitors."
DISTRICTS OF DNA
Mud Island District
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.
Uptown / Pinch District
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 Central District
The Central District packs in a lot of Downtown & is also the most dense area of the city. It encompasses the original DNA boundaries and includes the majority of the retail and hospitality businesses in Downtown Memphis. The Center contains the historic Beale Street entertainment district along with our city, county, state, and federal agencies including Center City, Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Library. Residential living is mostly in high-rise apartments and condominiums.
The Edge/Medical District
This unique and diverse district has undergone a major redevelopment and re-birth in recent years. However, it's historic landmarks like those located in Victorian Village and other communities in the district are well preserved and flourishing! Home to Sun Studios, UT Memphis, and several medical institutions, this district is one of the fastest growing areas of our city. Several hundreds of Millions of dollars in investment are happening throughout this district.
The South District
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.
HISTORY OF THE DNA
In the late 1970s, a band of residents decided to form a neighborhood association. Not an unusual idea, except there were only three places to live Downtown: 99 Tower, built in 1968 (now Renaissance 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, 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 nightclub 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 stop at halting 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 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 when 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 precedent for businesses and residents working together downtown.
Today, DNA is a flourishing community organization with hundreds of members! In 2021, DNA grew to its largest membership in the organizations's history! Members consist of businesses, individuals, and non-profits from across downtown. The organization is a mix of young and old, local and new-to-Memphis, long-time members, and brand new members.
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 ensure that 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.
DNA continues to unite citizens to focus on community issues and ideas. Examples include organizing the community to push back against an undesirable, large billboard-style sign proposed by Memphis River Parks Partnership from being installed on Mud Island. By uniting citizens and businesses who spoke out in large numbers against the project, the project was voted down, and the community helped preserve the ambiance of the beloved Mud Island. Between 2020 and 2022, the DNA helped lead the community in several projects and initiatives including:
- Creating a committee and emphasis to save the Mud Island Amphitheater
- Stood with the Uptown neighborhood to stop a 7-story parking garage from being built in their neighborhood
- Helped deter drag racing/crime during the crime wave post-covid reopening
- Helped neighborhoods get speed bumps installed to slow down traffic and make their streets safer
- Launched the Outdoor Spring Movie Series
- Launched the DNA app
- Helped community organize to get Riverside drive reopened
- Launched the "Fight The Blight" initiative
& much more!
DNA is continuing to lead the effort to save The Mud Island Amphitheater by bringing this beloved music venue to the forefront of people's attention and minds. DNA has hosted several community engagement events where we 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 allocated $4 million toward restoring the amphitheater in the near future. This project remains a focus for the community as we press city leadership to restore and revitalize the historic, one-of-a-kind music venue.
In 2023, the organization faced tough times and fell out of compliancy with the state and lost our 501c4 status at the federal level. The DNA as we knew it only existed in our hearts and minds, but not on paper. However, the new leadership set to take charge of the organization in 2024 knew they had a responsibility and obligation to the people of downtown to get the organization back on its feet again. The incoming DNA President and one of the organization's former Presidents put their heads together to see how the organization could be saved. In January 2024, a new 501c4 was filed and new identity for the DNA was created. DNA was relaunched and revamped! A new "founding board" for the new 501c4 was formed with new bylaws and new organization structure to better serve the people of downtown. Under this new organizational structure, a new position was created within the organization: an Executive Director. Like most neighborhood organizations, an ED serves as the "go-getter" for the organization and represents the organization on a day to day basis.
DNA is prioritizing crime and safety for the 2024-2026 term and will be working with stakeholders 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.