The following is the conversation by our very smart readers and sparked by our recent post, City Council Members Take Aim At DMC and RDC:
The truth is that downtown Memphis looks pretty much the same as it did in 1977. The skyline has hardly changed except for the Pyramid and former Morgan Keegan building. We have two totally empty and deteriorating skyscrapers in the Sterick and 100 Nirth Main. It’s still pretty empty and devoid of street life. Downtown is emblematic of a city in decline. Embarrassing.
What I find to be poorly done is the whole riverfront area. So much wasted potential there. But then you need a vibrant downtown behind that and we just do not have that.
Agree about the Sterick building and 100 North Main. They are both fire traps and just beyond rehabilitation. What ever happened for the plans to build the One Beale tower?
I have been trying to get information regarding One Beale and the trail goes cold. It would be useful if DMC posted periodic updates regarding this, as well as empty Sterick and 100 N. Main. They should not ignore the big elephant in the room as all three hold significance to the downtown skyline. Maybe they have done so and I just have not found it yet.
Don’t get me wrong, much has happened in the past couple of years in the downtown area that, while overdue, is not to be taken for granted. Somewhat fragile since we all know things can always go the other way.
I have to go back to the beginning of this post, to glimpse into the past. Forty years ago , people probably couldn’t have imagined downtown to be what it is today. I only wish the momentum to pick up significantly at this point.
The downtown skyline of Memphis is totally underwhelming. Blessed with a beautiful natural setting on a bluff above Ole Man River. However, the man made part is dated and just plain ugly.
Steve Redding says:
Anonymous, do you prefer the downtown of 1977 or 2017?
One Beale won’t happen. No real demand and developers (Carlisle) won’t risk speculative big bucks in downtown Memphis. Soon the city is going to have to take some type anti-blight, public safety action against the owners of 100 N Main and Sterick.
Didn’t downtown still have Goldsmiths, Lowensteins and Gerbers back in 1977? I think so. It would sure have been more active along Main St then than it is today with broken trolleys, empty storefronts and not much more than a big Bass Pro Shop way up Main.
Granted, it’s very unfortunate Sterick and 100 N Main are in the shape they are but to say Downtown was more vibrant in 1977 than now is just trolling. Again, like the article says- Beale was boarded up, Peabody was boarded up, there was no nightlife or many people living there. I understand the Sterick is a very complicated issue due to ownership/size of the building and hopefully 100 N Main has something done eventually. Is no one going to mention the Tennessee Brewery or Chisca renovations? Complete eyesores that have been success stories. Or all the redevelopment of S Main which has created an entirely new district of nightlife/retail in the past 15 years? Of course not, because it’s easy to point out negatives.
Thank you, Dan, which is why it is more important now than ever to put focus on the positives. The redevelopment/revitalization of downtown is why we have chosen to live in the 38103 zip code area of Memphis.
We moved from Nashville seven months ago.
Paul Taylor says:
Both Boyd and Spinosa owe their council seat to Fred Smith and the Chamber of Commerce.
“Spinosa said FedEx vice president Richard Smith is his campaign’s finance chairman.” – Commercial Appeal
From Spinosa’s official bio: “Councilman Spinosa is a lifelong Memphian and a believer of hard work and positivity” “Serving as an exemplary example to the rest of the city, he is active in the community by volunteering his time.” So he believes in “positivity” and he’s an “exemplary example to the rest of the city” So clearly he’s a policy wonk and an intellectual.
Fred Smith is a Trump man and he controls Memphis and the Chamber. A majority black city is run by a old white male land owner who supports policies that harm the majority. So it’s the same as 100 years ago.
Linda R says:
The DMC and RDC are more proof that nothing ever really has a chance at getting done well in Memphis. All of these groups and efforts over 40 years and very little has happened. Politicos of the very worst kind.
I work at City Hall and can tell you it’s just really bad even during the week. Very little to go out of the office for at lunch. The north end of Main Street from City Hall to Union especially is rundown and derelict and just a disgrace to the city.
Ray Brown says:
“…over 40 years very little has happened.”
Let’s think about that a bit. Here’s a (very short) list:
South Main Arts District
Re-opening the Peabody
New restaurants including McEwan’s, Felicia Suzanne’s, Aldo’s, Majestic Grille, Belle.
Converting vacant buildings for housing throughout downtown such as the Commerce Title building, the Chisca Hotel, the Lincoln America Tower, and the Lowenstein building.
Converting vacant buildings for new boutique hotels such as the Napoleon.
New performance venues such as the Halloran Center. Entertainment venues such as Ghost River brewing, Loflin Yard, and Old Dominick’s.
Almost all of these investments were aided by the persistent, patient work of the Downtown Memphis Commission.
Yes, the department stores, shoe stores, fur stores, dress shops, and hat shops are gone from downtown Memphis, just as they are from almost every other downtown in America. Multiple factors aided that transition including our local preference for travel by automobile, the national expansion of the suburbs and the resulting migration of retail, a desire to flee school desegregation, and yes, the panic that followed the subsequent civil disturbances associated with Dr. King’s assassination.
At this point the evolution of American downtowns, including our own, we must all accept that downtowns will never again be the retail centers that they once were. In fact, retail in general is shrinking, thanks largely to our own preference for the convenience of online commerce. Likewise, with no viable transit system on which to rely, Memphians’ dependence on auto travel has driven many formerly downtown employers to seek suburban sites that offer “free” parking for employees. (As an aside, consider how inconvenient is can be for those employees to find a place for lunch.)
Admittedly, much remains to be done in order to achieve a greater degree of downtown vibrancy. However, if those Memphians who decry the current state of downtown would, instead of yearning for an impossible return to imagined past glories, regularly visit, experience, and support the downtown we have, their mere presence would add vibrancy, and would spur the additional investment they seem to want.
In other words, as a city planner friend once said, “To get the city you want, you have to begin by using the city you have.”
Ray, unfortunately there are few reasons Memphians need or want to go downtown. The developments you mention are small potatoes when you compare our downtown to what’s happening and continuing to happen in other cities. Forgive me for bringing up the dreaded comparison of Nashville, but their downtown is just 100% more developed and vibrant than ours. There are literally dozens of huge new hotels, restaurants, condos and the crowds there are huge any day of the week. There were 240,000 people in downtown Nashville for July 4th with the largest fireworks display in the country. Same thing happens at New Years. Their Music City Center has sparked a lot of this driving big time visitor traffic and a active street life. Retail is returning too with the H&M department store just announced as one of the anchor tenants for the 5th & Broad development where the old convention center was located. Memphis downtown can’t even come close.
Well who can compete with Nashville at the moment outside of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami?
In the southeast no city besides Miami can. So it’s not just Memphis.
Ray Brown says:
Anon 1: You’re quite correct. Memphis is not Nashville. If you prefer it, I invite you to move there, pronto.
However, for those of us who do love Memphis, there are indeed reasons to go downtown. Apparently, given the steady expansion of apartment developments both large and small, a growing number of young adults think so too. (I know, I know…”Nashville has more, and better”.)
Perhaps, instead of focusing on what we are not, we should decide to be the best Memphis we can be for the people who already live here, and want to. A psychologist friend once told me that the surest way to make yourself unhappy is to compare yourself with someone else. Apparently, many Memphians seem to enjoy being unhappy. How unfortunate that they are unwilling to contribute to making Memphis better.
Go to a ball game sometime. It might cheer you up.
Ray Brown says:
Great article! And some lessons for us to learn.
Ah, a Fox watcher. Well, that explains everything.
Question. What exactly are the main reasons that downtown has not developed as much as it might have? The north end seems especially in need of help. Bass Pro is mostly cut off from most streets.
Maybe it is time to change a few things. Perhaps, you need real activity on Main Street mall. Open it up to street traffic. Bring Memphis in May back downtown into the streets. Use Mud Island as a venue for concerts and charge at the entrance. Instead of concentrating all your “upscale” grocery stores out in East Memphis/Germantown, perhaps bring one into the Medical District.
Your transit system could be re-designed. Instead of concentrating your bus transfer points close to the airport, one should have been north/northeast of there close to Poplar @ Highland for a more North/South East/West orientation in the city.
Perhaps Beale needs more than just music and alcohol. Good restaurants, ice cream shops, things to round out a visit to a tourist attraction.
I know that there is a push to develop the Pinch but be careful. Too much bad design has occurred across most of the country. Keep it real and make it Memphis.
Tons of things that can be done and I sure that the locals have a lot more suggestions/improvements.
Mark Drews says:
Good points Outsider. Agreed about Beale Street. Right now it’s not family friendly. Better quality music bars and good restaurants are badly needed. Right now it just doesn’t seem very authentic.
Something needs to be done about North Main before tackling the empty lots of the Pinch area. This will take decades and St Jude alone won’t be the magic answer. Bass Pro attracts shoppers but I doubt many visit the rest of downtown. They just get on the interstate and head east or back to Arkansas.
Pet friendly gathering spots like Loflin Yard. I personally would prefer a cat cafe. South “Mane” Cat Cafe or “Cat Square” feline film festival.
Just dreaming out loud…
I don’t how many “external” visitors that Bass attracts but have you’ll ever considered have some type of tourist bus/trolley that would stop at the Bass store? Perhaps if visitors spend a certain amount of money they could ride for free to all the downtown attractions? Sorta of a get on and get off at any stop along the way. But make it a circulator, so that the tourists would know that it would circle back to Bass. In some ways, Bass could act as a paid parking lot for visitors.
Also, if you really want to jump-start the Pinch, build a walk-way across those tracks and put some restaurants over there. Surely, there could be a decent Bar-B-Q restaurant that would open up there. A mix of designs, (historical and modern), would make the Pinch more interesting to visit. Could Memphis relocate one of its many museums to that area?
By the way, some of us on the East side cannot wait to play U of M in basketball again……..
If you consider downtown from a tourism, dining, spectator sports, or even residential inventory perspective, downtown is probably as strong or stronger than its even been in the past 40 years.
But…there are major issues in other aspects related to downtown that have remained unresolved for many years, despite isolated success stories. My priorities would be:
- End-to-end connectivity, usefulness, and integration of the riverfront (plus Mud Island) into the modern urban lifestyle (as well as connectivity to the rest of downtown).
- Adaptive re-use of the “big empties” (namely Sterick and 100 N. Main) in a fashion that hopefully brings more office jobs back downtown, among other potential re-uses.
- A larger-scale convention hotel to attract bigger events (perhaps at One Beale, perhaps elsewhere).
- Stable, long-term, forward-thinking management for Beale Street so that it remains a culturally relevant and economically viable tourism magnet for years to come.
I believe that a strong civic push behind these four priorities would strengthen downtown and would spur the market to fill the remaining holes (Pinch, etc.) in the area in a useful, complementary fashion.
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