Development News

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Attracted to Downtown growth, mixed-use project going up at site of former Blue Monkey

Construction on a new $1.6 million Downtown mixed-use project at 529 S. Front Street could get underway by April.

Development group 529 S. Front Street LLC will build a three-story, 7,500-square-foot building with 2,600 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and two 1,250 square-foot apartments on each of the two floors above.

This week, the Center City Revenue Finance COmmission approved a PILOT to support the project. 

The commercial space with consist of a 1,200-square-foot deli and a 1,400-square-foot kitchen space. Larry Clarke is the architect of the floor plan designs.

“We’re hoping to have the commercial operation open by the end of the year,” said 529 S. Front Street LLC partner Mike Johnson, who is also co-owner of Blue Monkey restaurant and bar’s two area locations. “The kitchen will serve the deli and will also produce product for our two Blue Monkey locations and hopefully down the line other restaurants as well.”

The higher-end deli, which will be run by long-time Blue Monkey employee Brandon Moss (who will be a partner in the new operation), will feature Boar’s Head meats and premium bread, and customers will be able to buy sliced meats and prepared foods. Hours are expected to run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., serving breakfast and lunch.

A fire at the location on September 18, 2005 wiped out Blue Monkey’s Downtown location after it being open only slightly more than two years, forcing them to move to the property just to the north on Front Street.

“The fire was a total loss. We own the property, and we have been trying to position ourselves to develop it ever since,” said Johnson. “One of the things that slowed us down was the housing bubble. But we’ve had six consecutive record years at both of our Blue Monkey locations, and we finally feel like we’re in a position to do this thing.”

Getting the PILOT from the CCRFC was a necessary step. Without it, the project would not have been profitable and would not have moved forward.

The infill project sits just around the corner from the large-scale Central Station mixed-use redevelopment and future Malco movie theater.

“I think everyone is really optimistic about what’s going on down here at this point,” said Johnson, who cited the nearby Tennessee Brewery, Old Dominick Distillery and Central Station redevelopment projects. “This is the reason we came Downtown to do our second Blue Monkey location back in 2001.

We knew then that this area was on the cusp of breaking out.”

Dave & Buster’s expands to Memphis market with Wolfchase location

Restaurant and entertainment destination Dave & Buster’s has made its Memphis market entry with a sprawling 43,500-square-foot location in The Commons at Wolfcreek near Wolfchase Galleria Mall.

It is the second Dave & Buster’s location in Tennessee and the 108th location overall.

“We already have a successful location in Nashville, with the next closest ones being in Little Rock and Atlanta, so it made sense to bring us to the Memphis market,” said Dave & Buster’s Memphis general manager Chris Bruno.

The location touts its state-of-the-art D&B Sports Bar filled with dozens of massive HDTV screens and hundreds of arcade games.

“We have more than 200 video games, so we’re the ultimate destination to eat, drink, play and watch sports games,” said Bruno. “There’s really a little something for everybody, whether they’re coming in with their family or for a night out with friends, and we can also host corporate events from 20 to 2,000 people.”

A chef-crafted menu features shareable plates and appetizers like The Triple Play (buffalo wings, loaded crispy tots and natural white cheddar bites) and chicken & waffle sliders, specialty burgers, and entrees like rib combos, steak, chicken and pasta.

Local beers Ghost River and Wiseacre are featured on tap, and Bruno expects to add more local product in the coming months.

“All of our locations have local unique features about them,” said Bruno, who also worked for Dave & Buster’s in the Boston area and in Times Square in New York City. “In our dining room here, you’re going to see pictures of Elvis and Beale Street, and in our function rooms you will see the Memphis-Arkansas bridge and highlights of the local sports teams like the Grizzlies and Redbirds.”

More than 230 hourly employees have been hired to start out, along with 10 managers.

Dave & Buster’s is open from 11 a.m. to midnight during the week and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The return of Black Lodge Video brings innovation to analog retail

Black Lodge Video, an indie staple for renting hard-to-find movies is making its big comeback by late spring in the Crosstown area with an innovative new approach.

The new 8,000-square-foot location at 405 N. Cleveland Avenue will include a massive 30,000-plus film library, along with a fast-casual restaurant, a retro and console gaming arcade, and film and event space.

Locally-owned Black Lodge Video closed its Midtown location at 831 Cooper Street in 2014.

The two original partners, Matthew Martin and Brian Hogue, opened Black Lodge Video in 2000. After it closed down, Martin brought on additional partners to help build and develop the business. The six primary owners are now Martin, Nick Riley, James Bryce Blair, Scotty Theunissen, Keith Norman and Danny Grubbs.

“We’re going to be selling primarily memberships,” said Grubbs, Black Lodge operations manager. “Think of it as similar to a subscription [streaming] service like a Netflix or an Amazon Prime but in real life.”

Memberships will run approximately $10 per month.

“The video rental store – the Blockbusters of the world – those things have been dead for more than a decade. There are maybe only 400 video stores left in the country,” said Grubbs. “Even though original Black Lodge Video was a self-sustaining business, it wasn’t necessarily profitable.”

Martin, Hogue and Grubbs had discussed the possibility of starting an online streaming service back in 2012 and 2013 but quickly realized that was the wrong approach.

“Instead we decided to build a destination retail nightclub inside the original location,” said Grubbs. House parties there quickly swelled into the hundreds, too much for the house and surrounding neighborhood to handle, but out of the venture came ideas that would be applied to the Crosstown location.

The new layout of the Crosstown building, which had been the well-known Mary’s gay and lesbian bar more than a decade ago, has been designed by LRK. The major overhaul of the space includes installing a new roof along with plumbing and electrical systems. Chris Miner from Crosstown Arts is co-lead on the project helping Black Lodge to navigate the renovation.

Grubbs compares the new Black Lodge to the Nickelodeons from the early 1900s, with the goal being to create an atmospheric, comfortable, inexpensive place where people can go to hang out, grab a bite to eat and watch movies, play games or catch a live event.

“People don’t assume that video rental has a future, but we’re here to disrupt that notion and show people a really good time,” he said.

The store will hire 15 to 20 people by the time everything is up and running in the spring.

The Black Lodge folks have also stayed busy since the Midtown store shut down by partnering with the Memphis Public Library, Indie Memphis, and Malco Theaters – most notably in putting on the highly popular Time Warp series at the Malco Summer Drive-in. The 2018 Time Warp lineup representing the fifth year for the monthly series was just announced.

Frayser Community Development Corp. plans headquarters expansion, new home construction

A scrappy community development corporation in Frayser is expanding its headquarters and mission as the Frayser CDC preps to build ten new homes to support the neighborhood.

Frayser CDC Executive Director Steve Lockwood started out as the CDC’s only employee, working only part-time, and now the organization boasts 10 employees.

Founded in 2002,  the Frayser CDC has added new programs and increased its attention to homebuyer education. Its headquarters at  3684 North Watkins Street will see an 800-foot expansion in late 2018.

As a result of impressive growth over the past 16 years that has helped rejuvenate the local community and educate its citizens, the Frayser Community Development Corp. will be expanding its headquarters at 3684 N. Watkins Street later this year.

“It’s been a very nice location for us,” said Lockwood, who added that the CDC has been at its current location for a decade.  “We love the visibility, but it’s getting too crowded.”

The changes will include tearing out the concrete terrace at the back of the building and adding a new community meeting room with its own exterior entrances which will be twice as large as the existing meeting space, 

“That will allow us to do better, nicer and bigger functions,” said Lockwood. “For instance, a couple of years ago we turned down doing free tax service here because we just couldn’t handle it. We’ll make that offer again once we’re up and running.”

The Frayser Community Association, the neighborhood’s volunteer resident association, will hold its meetings there, and the CDC’s homebuyer education classes are expected to grow from 22 people to 35. Many larger community meetings are currently held at the nearby Ed Rice Frayser Community Center, which can sometimes be noisy due to basketball games and loudspeakers.

The existing meeting room will be converted into three new offices.

Triumph Bank is financing the expansion of the building, which was originally purchased with help from the city’s Department of Housing & Community Development. It had formerly been used as real estate office and originally was a Leader Federal bank branch.

The cost of construction is estimated at $110,000. Josh Somes drew up the floor plans, and a general contractor will be selected in the coming months after a bidding process.

Also later this year, the CDC plans to build 10 new homes in the Rugby subdivision of Frayser.

“We’re really excited about it. The subdivision is an older area that’s had a lot of losses through demolition and fire,” said Lockwood. “We think the market is strong. We have the 10 lots for these initial houses, and we’re acquiring more lots on the assumption that we will build more new houses next year.”

Lockwood had hoped to be breaking ground before now, but funding issues have slowed things down a bit.

“We had trouble finding qualified buyers, trouble finding banks that want to loan – all of that has improved significantly in the past year and a half,” said Lockwood.

The new homes will be the first that the CDC has built in about nine years because the market has simply not been strong enough.

“We do it to build houses and put families in them and also to change the whole market and the perception in the neighborhood,” he said.

First Central BBQ under new partnership opens this spring

Central BBQ is expanding its Memphis presence in the coming months and will be moving into markets outside of Memphis thanks to a new partnership with Kemmons Wilson Companies.

The newest Central BBQ location will open in East Memphis at 6201 Poplar Avenue in late spring or early summer in a building that most recently housed LYFE Kitchen and before that a Steak & Ale.

“I think it’s going to be awesome. I think it’s just going to kill it at that location,” said Craig Blondis, co-founder of Central BBQ.

He expects to receive a lot of business from people living in the neighborhoods to the south and east of nearby Memphis University School on Park Avenue.

“It’s feeding a whole new customer base considering where our other locations are,” said Blondis. “The volume of traffic on Poplar alone is something you can’t complain about.”

Work being done to the approximately 5,000-square-foot building includes adding smokers and a larger walk-in cooler-freezer combo, along with decorative touches.

Blondis expects to hire 40 to 50 people by opening day.

The new restaurant will be the fourth Central BBQ in Memphis, including spots at 4375 Summer Avenue, Downtown at 147 E. Butler Avenue, and the original in Midtown at 2249 Central Avenue. It is the first location under a new partnership with Kemmons Wilson Companies, which is the funding capital arm of the joint venture and controls a majority interest in all locations going forward.

“With this being the first one that we’ve done with our new venture, it’s taking a little longer because we want to make sure we’re getting everything in place and doing it right the first time because this will be the footprint for what we do going forward outside the Memphis market,” said Blondis, who expects the size of the East Memphis location to be consistent with other Central BBQ’s going forward.

Kemmons Wilson will head up future expansion efforts for the brand, with Blondis and Central BBQ co-founder Roger Sapp serving in an advisory capacity. Blondis and Sapp will retain ownership of their current Memphis locations, catering kitchen and food truck.

The pair have also recently branched out into other endeavors, including opening Sunrise Memphis with partner Ryan Trimm at 670 Jefferson Avenue. The trio are preparing to open 117 Prime Steakhouse at 117 Union Avenue later this month.

MEMpopS opening Collierville location, expanding mobile presence

Local gourmet popsicle makers MEMpopS are expanding again, this time with a new brick-and-mortar location opening in March in Collierville along with a beefed up mobile fleet for events across the area.

“When I started this, I didn’t know what would happen, so it’s been really cool who watch it catch on and for people to get excited,” said owner Chris Taylor. “People have their favorite flavors, and some of the regulars always love to try the new flavors we come up with.”

The new location will be the company’s third store in as many years, joining its successful Crosstown Concourse and East Memphis stores. The new 1,000-square-foot store will be located at 3670 Houston Levee, just south of Poplar Avenue.

“We do a lot of events in Collierville and have gotten a lot of positive feedback,” said Taylor. “Out there, we won’t be making popsicles. We’re going to do all of our production between Crosstown and East Memphis. So in Collierville there will actually be more seating because our kitchen will be really small.”

Taylor expects to hire six to eight people for the new location.

Ingredients for MEMPopS fruit- and cream-based popsicles are sourced from local farmers when seasonally available. Wildly creative flavors range from hibiscus lemonade to bananas foster to toasted marshmallow to drunken pear and many more, and new flavors are always in the works.

“Flavors change sometimes every day,” said Taylor. “We’re getting a little more creative because we have more time now. We currently have a lot of really cool cream pops.”

For Valentine’s Day, MEMpopS is taking preorders for chocolate dipped and drizzled strawberries.

Adding to its mobile presence, which had consisted of two converted mail trucks and one Airstream, Taylor recently purchased a 1963 Airstream trailer.

“We plan on having a bigger mobile presence this season than we did last season,” said Taylor. “My plan starting out was to do as many events as possible so people would see the name, try the product, and then at that point come into one of the stores.”

MEMpopS gives back to the local community by collecting tips for a designated monthly charity, as well as at special events and other functions. In 2017, MEMpopS helped raise more than $35,000 for local charities and schools.

New artist live-work lofts opening in South Main District in March

A Downtown housing development seven years in the making is nearly ready for first move-ins by March. The South Main Artspace Lofts mixed-use project, developed by Minneapolis-based nonprofit developer Artspace, Inc., will include 58 live/work spaces for artists and 12,000 square feet of event and commercial space.

The $17 million project at 123 St. Paul Avenue is the developer’s first in Tennessee and 49th project overall.

“Our mission is to provide affordable space for artists, their families and arts organizations,” said project manager Alyssa Kelley. “Over the years of getting the project up and running and under construction, the neighborhood has transformed significantly, but affordable housing is still desperately needed in the area.”

Related: "Three ways to keep housing affordable for artists"

The South Main project, which represents a partnership between the developer, the City of Memphis and the Hyde Family Foundation, includes both historic rehab of the former United Warehouse and new construction in its former parking lot.

“Parts of the building were in really good shape,” said Kelley. “The interior layout is pretty open, so it didn’t require a lot of interior demo or reworking of the space because it was already so conducive to building apartments within it.”

Historic tax credits were used as part of the funding.

Rents will range from $500 to $850 per month for studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans measuring 600 square feet to 1,750 square feet, with a cap on rates for the first 15 years of the development. Applicants must be deemed eligible based on income, and dedicated artists of all kinds are welcome.

Related: "The Artspace odyssey: A new artist community comes to South Main"

“You can be the traditional artist – painter, sculptor, dancer – or you can be a spoken word artist, a tattoo artist, a culinary artist, you can build canoes, just about anything you can think of,” said Kelley.

Construction by Montgomery Martin Contractors has been underway since 2016. LRK created the designs, with commercial and community space on the ground floor of the new building and shared studio space. One retailer will be announced in the coming months, and a resident gallery will be featured in the basement of the warehouse.

“We’ve had exceptional local philanthropic support in Memphis,” said Kelley. “Memphis is by far and away one of the most generous communities that we’ve worked in.”

Crosstown Brewing Co. opens next month

For Crosstown Brewing Co. co-founders Clark Ortkiese and Will Goodwin, the next three weeks will include a flurry of activity leading up to the grand opening of their new craft brewery and taproom on February 16.

The pair have been hard at work for the past several years planning, designing and building on a parcel of land adjacent to the west of the Crosstown Concourse mixed-use redevelopment.

“Most breweries start out relatively small,” said Ortkiese. “We asked everyone we knew who had ever owned a brewery about what they would do differently if they could do it over again, and they said they would start bigger.”

Related: "More openings on tap at Crosstown Concourse over the next year"

Lifelong friends Ortkiese and Goodwin began as home brewers about seven years ago. At that time, they were both at spots in their careers – Ortkiese in the steel industry and Goodwin in the stone industry – where they wanted to do something on their own.

“If we hadn’t started a brewery, we would’ve started some other business,” said Ortkiese. “We’re both entrepreneurial in spirit, and beer just happened to be something that we were totally passionate about.”

Hunter Fleming, principal architect with Facture Design LLC, created the floor plans for the 10,300-square-foot brewery, which was built from the ground up. Designs for the taproom were expanded from the initial idea of 1,800 square feet to nearly 2,800 square feet, including the addition of a giant cathedral-style glass wall behind the bar looking into the production area.

Ybos & Sons is the project’s general contractor, and Hope Martin is the interior designer putting together the industrial modern aesthetic.

The production side of the building features plenty of room for future growth.

“We’re sized for expansion and built for expansion,” said Ortkiese.

Crosstown will begin canning operations in late February or early March. For distribution, which will include to local restaurants and bars at first, the brewery will produce its Traffic IPA and Siren Blonde Ale.

“For taproom sales, we’ll always try to have five to 10 beers available, while out in the market you’ll probably always see two with maybe some seasonals working their way in from time to time,” said Ortkiese, who is a certified cicerone.

The taproom will accommodate 150 to 200 guests, with roll-up garage doors that open up to a patio space. Eventually, there will be a large green space extending out from the patio where patrons can hang out and enjoy yard games like cornhole.

Crosstown Brewing will be open Wednesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.

“Being a part of Crosstown is fantastic,” said Ortkiese. “The focus on the arts and education make it a cool and worthy place to hang out. There’s a sense of purpose here that we really appreciate.”

Lafayette's reclaiming roots with upcoming expansion

Lafayette's Music Room in Overton Square will be expanding by mid-February, moving its stage back to its original spot from the early 1970s when mega acts like Kiss, Kansas, and Billy Joel played before becoming huge superstars.

Lafayette’s re-opened at 2119 Madison Avenue in Overton Square three years ago, after originally being a popular spot in the early 1970s.

“For those guests that enjoyed us back in ‘70s, this is going to bring back some fond memories for them,” said Lafayette’s general manager Julian Salley. “The really cool opportunity we have here is to create something awesome for local Memphis.”

Lafayette's offers nightly live onstage music along with a full menu by executive chef Jody Moyt.

For the upcoming 1,300-square-foot expansion, the venue’s current stage setup will be pushed back 20 feet into its original space, which had been occupied in recent years by The Attic clothing store. The additional space will allow for a new green room area for performers and will increase capacity by up to 80 guests (the current capacity is 275 guests).

The general contractor on the project is Dale Wells.

Last May, Lafayette’s upgraded with the addition of indoor/outdoor bars serving two stories of patio space in the historic building.

“It opened up the building a lot more, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when we have major rock acts onstage. You know when we’re open in Overton Square because we’re shaking every brick on the street,” said Salley.

Lafayette's Music Room will remain open while the upcoming expansion is underway.

Additionally, a portion of the space that had been occupied by The Attic will be converted to a new concept, Midtown Mercantile, which will be a retail shop providing a curated collection of one-of-a-kind local gifts and designs from beloved Midtown institutions.

Four big developments Memphis anticipates in 2018

The development surge continues across the Mid-South this year as several high-profile projects are expected to make a big impact. Here’s a look at a few that will change the way we live, eat, play and get around in Memphis during 2018.

Central Station

The $55 million mixed-use redevelopments of historic Central Station and the surrounding area on South Main iEW progressing on schedule with some portions on track to open later this year. The adaptive reuse project, which includes the existing seven-acre Amtrak station, will include the renovation of the historic Central Station tower (which had previous housed 50 apartments) into a 135-room boutique hotel and commercial space, as well as the conversion of the adjacent Powerhouse into a six-screen Malco Theatre.

“Malco is aiming to open this year to take advantage of the big holiday season for movies,” said Alex Turley, vice president of real estate for the master developer of the Central Station project, Henry Turley Company. “We should have the transit elements complete in ‘18 as well.”

The Central Station project is part of the larger redevelopment of an area that was previously heavily industrial and blighted with vacant properties in spots over the past two decades. Last year, construction crews began making streetscape and parking improvements outside the station.

“We saw an opportunity to create a ‘Welcome to Memphis’ experience,” said Turley. “With the building being repurposed as a hotel and Amtrak coming in twice a day, people get off THE train and suddenly they end up in this place where they can stay, this active place where they are welcomed to the city in an exciting way.”

The return of the Downtown trolley system

Following an initial projected re-opening for late 2017, last month the Memphis Area Transit Authority announced plans to delay the return of the vintage steel-wheeled trolley car system on Main Street until April in order to fully complete the repair, restoration, and safety testing of the trolley cars.

Six trolley cars are needed to restart passenger service and only three were fully rehabilitated as of early December. The remaining cars are currently being rebuilt at Ida Grove, Iowa-based Gomaco Trolley Company. The three remaining cars will be delayed due to an unexpected discovery of wood rot and other necessary repairs to the trolley underbodies, roofs and floors.

Testing on the rail system was conducted throughout the second half of last year, and minor repairs and adjustments are being made.

MATA suspended trolley service in June 2014 following fires on some of the vintage rail cars. Since then, MATA has used hybrid buses on Main Street followed and rubber-wheeled imitation trolleys.

Crosstown Arts, Crosstown High and more

The remaining pieces of the Crosstown Concourse mixed-used redevelopment will open this year. The $115 million, 10-story complex is revitalizing the surrounding area by bringing together a wide variety of businesses, retailers, restaurants and residents into a building that had sat dilapidated and dormant for several decades.

Early this year, Crosstown Arts will begin occupying approximately 40,000 square feet, which includes exhibition space, 13 apartments for artists-in-residence, a 28,000-square-foot performance space and membership-based artmaking labs, which include wood and metal workshops, a digital media lab and a recording studio.

"As construction projects across Crosstown Concourse wrap up, we're beginning to see the fully realized vision of this vertical urban village — a place where diverse interests combine to form new connections. And 2018 promises to carry that vision to fruition as Crosstown Arts, Crosstown High, the Concourse Theater, Crosstown Brewing Co., and other new tenants open their doors to the public,” said Bianca Phillips, communications coordinator for Crosstown Arts.

In the coming months, Crosstown Arts will open a music venue and plant-based cafe/bar in its space on the second floor, and just downstairs, it will open shared art-making labs where both professionals and hobbyists will have access to digital arts, music, wood/metal working, printmaking and photography equipment.

“In the summer and fall of this year, Crosstown Arts will welcome artists from all over the world for its expanded artist residency program,” said Phillips.

Crosstown High recently selected its fall freshman class of 150 students through a lottery system and is gearing up for an August opening. Crosstown Brewing Co. is on track for a February taproom opening, and Concourse Theater, a new 425-seat performing arts theater, will kick off its first season of music, independent film and performing arts in the fall.

The new Collierville High School

Tennessee’s largest public high school opens in Collierville this fall near the intersection of Sycamore Road and East Shelby Drive, where an estimated 3,000 students will attend the new $93 million, 450,000-square-foot Collierville High School.

The school will feature a state-of-the-art library, a 3,000-seat gymnasium, a cafeteria and auditorium that will seat 1,000 apiece, as well as a 5,000-seat football stadium and an indoor practice facility with artificial turf.

“The new Collierville High School demonstrates the Town of Collierville’s continued commitment to an exceptional educational experience. Like many elements of the Town, this new facility will be innovative, combining technology with a highly trained faculty and staff,” said John Duncan, Collierville's director of economic development.

“Our citizens, business partners and community leaders expect high-quality products and services. The new Collierville High School promises to exceed all community expectations.”

The new school will replace the existing high school which which had become overcrowded.

City fights blight for MLK Day of Service

Community leaders, residents and volunteers from local businesses braved the cold on Monday, January 15 and took to the streets to clean up blighted properties in neighborhoods across Memphis for the second annual MLK Days of Service, led by Volunteer Memphis.

More than 100 service projects were planned for the four-day event running from January 12 to 15 Many projects were postponed due to the winter storm. Corporations and members of SoundCheck, the Greater Memphis Chamber's young professional council, volunteered with Jacob’s Ladder, the neighborhood’s nonprofit CDC in the Beltline area in Midtown.

Jacob’s Ladder executive director Bill Marler, and his wife, Lana, formed the 501c3 in the mid-2000s, and since then they have been hard at work bringing change to the Beltline’s one-square-mile area just to the east of the Fairgrounds and north of Southern Avenue.

“Our efforts have been a long-term blight eradication, and that’s included about 40 demolitions of whole structures, cleanup of about 140 lots and maintaining those, and even rebuilding 25 homes,” said Marler.

“We cleaned up many lots that were just in terrible shape. So we’ve been scrubbing the neighborhood.”

Many lots have code violations, including some that operated as chop shops.

“Ultimately, we will repurpose the lots, but we want to see what they look like first,” said Marler.

More importantly, crime in the area has dropped more than 80 percent since 2006, while just across Southern Avenue crime rates have stayed the same.

“Now that we’ve had a ten-year effort of cleaning, crime has dropped, and the neighborhood’s starting to be safer and friendlier to families,” he added.

Over the years, the CDC has formed strong partnerships with local organizations like Clean Memphis, City Beautiful and the Memphis Police Department.

For Monday’s MLK Day of Service, Jacob’s Ladder and Clean Memphis organized several projects that addressed clearing 17 formerly blighted properties that were recently bulldozed this past November and December. While the winter storm shortened the project list for the day, which had included planting grass on the lots, work was still accomplished by a dedicated group of 25 who cleared several lots.

Entrepreneur opens child care centers in underserved communities

Jamese Couch is proof that following your dreams and working hard really pays off. She recently opened up her second learning academy in the Memphis area, this time in Frayser at 3458 North Watkins Street and is in the process of completing renovations there.

Couch opened her first child care center, Fundamentals 1st Learning Academy, in Orange Mound at 2904 Lamar Avenue several years ago and has grown it to 98 children since then.

“In both Frayser and Orange Mound, there is a need for those children to be educated because for whatever reason I feel that they don’t get some of the same opportunities and they aren’t introduced to some of things children are introduced to in other areas of the city,” said Couch, owner and director of the centers and certified child care provider.

The new center is named Lion and Lioness Learning Academy. Couch purchased the property last year from the previous occupant.

She plans to make repairs to the two buildings, which total more than 4,300 square feet, as well as remove tree stumps and paint. Inside, floors need to be stripped and new walls will be installed to create a new classroom layout similar to the 4,100-square-foot Fundamentals 1st in Orange Mound.

Children at the two centers range from six weeks to 12 years old. Before and after care is available for school-aged children, while many of the children under 5 stay at the center all day.

“These are not centers where they are just being babysat. They are getting challenged every day and being prepared for kindergarten once they’re ready to start school,” explained Couch. “We have a structured curriculum that they follow daily and they have homework, which helps to get the parents involved.”

The centers also provide transportation to and from school for the students.

“I felt the need to open centers where the pricing wouldn’t be so expensive where parents couldn’t survive because they had to pay for childcare,” said Couch.

Couch employs 13 child care providers at the Lamar location and has hired five people so far for the new academy, which already provides care for 30 children.

Her next goal is to form a nonprofit that assists teenagers before potentially opening a third early childhood facility in a different part of the city.

117 Prime steakhouse opening Downtown

The ownership group behind Sweetgrass in Midtown and Sunrise Memphis is almost ready to open up its newest venture, 117 Prime, possibly as early as next month. Renovations are underway at 117 Union Avenue on the new steakhouse and bar, which is newest creation of BST, LLC, made up of Chef Ryan Trimm and Central BBQ co-founders Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp.

The Belle Bistro had previously operated out of the space, which is owned by Sapp, but the upscale Southern food concept never fully took off.

“So we decided we would close it and reopen as a steakhouse,” said partner Craig Blondis. “After the Butcher Shop closed Downtown, there really isn’t options for steak Downtown. We’re going to do some dry-aged meats. Some of our selections will be prime cuts. I don’t see the need for prime on every cut of steak. We’re trying to keep it at a price point that’s not too outrageously expensive.”

The shotgun restaurant space stretches from Union Avenue to the alley in back, with the steakhouse in the front and access to a tavern/whiskey bar in the back. The renovations, which include installing all-new flooring, make the spaces flow together. 

Related: "Central BBQ owners to open new restaurant concept; plan expansion outside of Memphis"

Hiring will begin soon.

BST’s new Sunrise Memphis restaurant at 670 Jefferson Avenue opened a month ago, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Sunrise features breakfast and a “meat and 3 [sides]” lunch menu with sandwiches.

Following 117 Prime, BST is finalizing details to handle the food and beverage portion of the new Hotel Indigo, which is going in at the site of the former Econo Lodge at Third Avenue and Court.

“We’re thinking about doing it as an upscale 1950s diner, with polished aluminum trim around the bar stools and a contemporary classic feel,” said Blondis.

Further out, the team expects to open another Sunrise restaurant in 2019 next to the original Central BBQ location in Midtown.

In late 2016, Blondis and Sapp partnered with Kemmons Wilson and struck a deal giving Kemmons Wilson majority ownership of the restaurant locations going forward. In the spring, the newest Central BBQ location will open in East Memphis at 6201 Poplar Avenue, which formerly housed LYFE Kitchen.  

Midtown's first significant housing development in 10 years breaks ground

Developer Belz Harbour LLC, a partnership between Belz Enterprises and Atlanta-based Harbour Retail Partners, broke ground Thursday on a highly anticipated mixed-use project in the heart of Midtown at the corner of Union and McLean avenues.

Demolition work has recently been underway at the site to remove the Towery Building and the former Artisan Hotel, which had sat dilapidated for the past several years.

The $35 million project, the first major residential apartment building in Midtown in the past 15 years, is slated to include 173 one- and two-bedroom residential units, with designated garage parking, direct and secure elevator access from the garage to the residential floors, a pool, a gym and a resident lounge, along with more than 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 75 parking spaces. The apartments will range from 500 square feet to more than 1,300 square feet.

“We see this project as fitting a huge need for housing in Midtown that has been created by the successful revitalization of Midtown’s Cooper-Young and Overton Square districts, the growth and success of Methodist University Hospital’s main Midtown campus, the Sear Crosstown development, and the continued growth of the Medical District,” said Belz Director of Development Adam Groveman.

LRK Architects created the site plans, Focus Design Interiors is leading the interior design efforts, and Montgomery Martin Contractors is handling construction, which is anticipated to take 14 to 18 months before completion. Some of the residential units should come online before the retail is finished, according to Groveman.

The high traffic Union-McLean intersection boasts the busiest Starbucks and Walgreens in the city.

“This speaks to the retail strength of the Union Avenue corridor and why Union has become a ‘must’ place for retailers and restaurants,” said Groveman.

Members of the Belz family purchased the land in 1958, and it was developed as a Holiday Inn and adjacent office building beginning in 1967.

Not far away, Makowsky Ringel Greenberg, LLC is planning a multifamily project on the block from McLean to Idlewild on the south side of Madison Ave. The $14 million project will include 2,500 square feet of commercial space, 72 one-bedroom apartments, 32 two-bedroom apartments and four studio units.

Local entrepreneur plans "affordable" shipping container apartments

By December 2018, a vacant lot at 26 N. Bellevue Avenue in the Medical District could be occupied by an innovative housing complex. 

Local entrepreneur Fred Spikner has proposed building apartments in shipping containers. 

The project joins other recent developments that utilize shipping containers like the Shab Chic Marketplace at the Edge, which is a retail village that just opened up in the nearby Edge District, as well as OUTMemphis’ building a youth homeless shelter with the containers.

Spikner also owns Spikner Embroidery and Screen Printing and Park Place Recycling, a recycling company he started over four years ago.

Related: "Spikner stitches together separate recycling and embroidery businesses"

“From there, we had been recycling all types of products and shipping them overseas using the containers,” said Spikner. “I wondered how we could repurpose some of the things we used.”

The idea for the project came to Spikner because Park Place Recycling was reusing the shipping containers to create recycling containers for use at schools and neighborhood recycling centers.

His proposed three-story residences will include 14 “containiums”, which are made up of 40-foot and 20-foot containers. Square footages will range from 640 square feet to 800 square feet

He sees potentially doing more projects of this type, and he’s looking at South Memphis and Midtown as good starting points.

“We want them to be in small places, and we want to show we can make these small homes fit in any space,” said Spikner, who says the containers are also ideal for use as “man caves” or storage spaces in the backyard or even as a garage.

“We’re taking these containers and making them look really nice,” he said.

Spikner purchased the half-acre parcel on parcel on Bellevue several years ago and had planned apartments initially.

Local architect Josh Bellaire created the designs for the new building.

Spikner is hoping for approval from the city’s Board of Adjustment in late December, and construction could get underway by next August. Castle Black is signed on as the general contractor.

“We want to create some affordable housing around Memphis. Not everyone makes $20 an hour,” said Spikner. “I think it will be great in this economy.”

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