Get Down Memphis
Posted on 2/18/2016

Tackling blight is tough.  The reasons for neglect are many and there is no singular answer that works to remedy it.  Often property owners believe that their property is worth more than it actually is and hold on to it for years, all the while letting the property continually decline in value.  Others have dreams of developing their properties but don't have the resources or wherewithal to make it happen.  Some neglectful owners know that once they spend money to improve their property, they’ll face higher property taxes. In some ways, they are being rewarded for keeping their properties at lower standards.  And, quite frankly, some property owners, many that live out of town, just don't care enough to improve their properties.

Whatever the reason, blight devalues surrounding properties and neighborhoods, which is at odds for Downtown Memphis Commission's mission to increase property values in Downtown.  Over the past few years, DMC has made it a priority to remedy blight throughout Downtown where approximately 8% of buildings and vacant parcels have been identified as blight.  Considering that staggering number, DMC has focused on bringing back to life some of the more prominent and historically important buildings.

James Lee House Bed and Breakfast, 690 Adams

The James Lee House has long been recognized by preservationists as one of Memphis’ top architectural and historic gems.  It is one of two structures in Memphis, and only one of 400 nationally, selected to be on the Library of Congress Historic American Building Survey. After being vacant for nearly 60 years, the 166-year old James Lee House in Victorian Village had fallen into disrepair.  The historic home was at great risk and on the radar of urbanists and preservationists. 

On behalf of the city, DMC issued a national RFP to recruit a developer who would be willing to take ownership of the property from the city.  The cumbersome process towards redevelopment required DMC to clear title issues and mediate negotiations with neighboring properties.  The project was awarded a $130k development loan from CCDC and 10-year PILOT from CCRFC.

Now the award-winning
 James Lee Bed & Breakfast is now a luxury retreat serving as a catalyst for other development in Victorian Village.  Additionally the property is off the city's books as a liability and is now generating revenue for both the city and county for the first time in decades.  

Pressbox Lofts, 195 Madison

This historic 6-story building built in 1913  was the original home to Memphis' oldest printing company, Toof Printing.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.   Although the property  sits on a prime location on the trolley line next to AutoZone Park and across the street from the Music Visible College, the has been vacant for decades.  To improve the exterior of the building, the property owner worked with Rhodes College and UrbanArt Commission to install a prominent  mural on the building facing AutoZone Park; however, the building remained vacant. 

DMC Issued blight notice letter to property owner and the owner responded favorably to a redevelopment project.    The project received a 15-year PILOT from CCRFC.  The building is now the award-winning PressBox Lofts, a mixed-use development with apartments and ground floor commercial space.  The project was recognized as the Project of the Year by the Memphis Business Journal's Building Memphis Awards.

The Chisca Apartments

This 100+  year old historic hotel had been abandoned and falling to blight for more than two decades.  Beyond it's prominent location as the cornerstone to South Main, Beale Street and The Core, the hotel had a special place in rock 'n roll history.  From 1949-56, its mezzanine was the broadcast base for WHBQ radio's "Red, Hot, and Blue" program.  It was from there that DJ Dewey Phillips broadcast Elvis' first record July 7, 1954.  And Elvis' first radio interview was also conducted in the hotel by Phillips.   With the building rapidly declining amid three areas of new development and growth, action was quickly needed to restore this landmark property before it faced the wrecking ball.

DMC launched a "Save Chisca" campaign to bring public awareness and support for redevelopment and prevent demolition.  DMC issued blight notice letters to the property owner and recruited a development team with historic preservation experience  and helped structure the redevelopment process.  The project received a 20-year PILOT and the Downtown Parking Authority purchased the adjacent garage for the project team to redevelop.  DMC also helped secure and administer CIP funds for blight remediation.

The project is well under construction to become a 149-unit residential apartment building with ground floor restaurant and retail space.

Former Burger King Building, 115 Madison

With lots of development activity and new businesses coming up along Madison, the old Burger King building, abandoned for at least 20 years, was an unsightly nuisance hindering more development in the area.

After many unsuccessful requests to the owner to bring the property into compliance, DMC was forced to pursue legal action. Faced with prospect of having to spend funds to make improvements, the owner became more open to selling the property.  Neighboring property and business owners approached DMC with funding to buy the building, along with plans to demolish it and install a pocket park in its place.  To make that happen, DMC took ownership of the lot using the collected funds and negotiated with private donors for development of the park.

The building has been demolished to make way for the park, which is being designed by the PARC Foundation.  The park is expected to open this year and will programmed with music and other activities.

Crosstown Concourse

With more than one million square feet of space, rehabbing the former Sears Crosstown building seemed next to impossible.  Thankfully a strong private sector group stepped up to preserve the building.  Over the past few years as development plans were being designed, the group successfully established the building as a center for arts through creative and collaborative programming.

The redevelopment plans for the facility are amibitious, and to ensure its financial success, CCRFC crafted a PILOT policy targeted to assist the redevelopment of the building, allowing for a 20-year PILOT and bond issuance to fund part of the redevelopment costs.    With funding secured, the "Crosstown Concourse" project will soon be a mixed-use vertical urban village, complete with residential, retail, and office space, and a focus on arts, education and healthcare.  The project will be catalytic in redeveloping the rest of the Crosstown neighborhood.

The Barking Lot, Corner of Jefferson and Main

After a building collapsed from a fire, the hole that was left on the corner of Main Street and Jefferson was commonly called The Pit.  This eyesore on the trolley line was surrounded by a chain link fence and broken sidewalks, and served as a dumping ground for trash.   DMC partnered with the property owner to transform this postcard of blight into a green space designed for residents and offices workers.  DMC negotiated a deal with the property to fill the pit, fix the sidewalks, remove the chain link fence, and create a dog and art park with a landing pad for food trucks.  DMC now leases the lot and maintains the park with the help of private donors, much to the glee of dog owners and dogs.

Collapsed Building, 296 Monroe

Another victim of a fire, this building on Monroe near AutoZone Park collapsed, leaving rubble and debris pouring out on to the street,  It stayed there for over 4 months despite several complaints by neighboring businesses and residents.  The DMC issued a Call to Action to DMC asked members of its board and affiliate boards to reach out to stakeholders and elected officials to put pressure on regulatory agencies to force the owner to clear the debris.  Thanks to the relentless efforts of the board members, three weeks after the initial call to action, the rubble was cleared.

Collapsed Building, 296 Monroe

Another victim of a fire, this building on Monroe near AutoZone Park collapsed, leaving rubble and debris pouring out on to the street,  It stayed there for over 4 months despite several complaints by neighboring businesses and residents.  The DMC issued a Call to Action to DMC asked members of its board and affiliate boards to reach out to stakeholders and elected officials to put pressure on regulatory agencies to force the owner to clear the debris.  Thanks to the relentless efforts of the board members, three weeks after the initial call to action, the rubble was cleared.

Russell Hardware Building, 316 South Main

Amid $500 million in new development projects, South Main is thriving and vibrant - except for a noticeable blemish on Main Street at 316 South Main, known as Russell Hardware.  Despite many offers on the building and notices from the DMC, the property owner has chosen not to sell the building in hopes of moving forward with their own development concept.  To address the unsightliness of the building in the meantime, the DMC installed a mural on the building to celebrate South Main's history as a railroad hub.  DMC continues to reach out to the property owner to put the building back into active use.

Tennessee Brewery, 495 Tennessee

This massive historic structure built in 1890 is one of the most intriguing architectural buildings in Memphis.  It served as home to the Tennessee Brewing Company and at one point employed 1500 people.  Despite efforts by owners to sell and/or redevelop the building, the complicated nature of turning the building into a profitable use has caused the building to remain vacant for decades  with the prospect of demolition being considered a likely outcome.

After the success of "Untapped" last summer, an event series that effectively showcased the potential of the Brewery, DMC helped recruit a developer who has subsequently purchased the building.  DMC is currently negotiating with that developer to save and redevelop building.

The new owners of the Tennessee Brewery have announced their $28 million renovation plans for the 125-year old structure.  The Brewery will include 58 residential units with ground floor commercial and office space.  The team will also be constructing a new neighboring 4-story building called The Wash House that will include 90 residential units.   In sum the project will include 148 new apartments and 349 parking spaces. 

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