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Plans approved for Mud Island Aquarium Museum and Downtown home for the Brooks Museum

A bold concept that includes developing a unique aquarium museum on Mud Island that could connect to a relocated Books Museum took its first steps this week. 

 The Memphis City Council approved plans for the $150 million aquarium museum along with improvements to Mud Island Amphitheater and a pedestrian bridge, as well as a new $80 million to $100 million Riverfront Cultural Center and plaza.

“We’ve been exploring different alternatives for some time now, and one of the premises particularly for what we are looking for on Mud Island is us Memphians finding a space where we really embrace what is unique about our city,” said Paul Young, director of the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development. “We felt like it is important to have something that draws people to Mud Island, creating something that is iconic and a destination, but also something that is who we are.”

The freshwater and saltwater aquarium, designed by world-renowned aquarium architect Peter Chermayeff, would feature exhibits showcasing Mississippi River history and wildlife from the headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.

Some of the existing museum on Mud Island will be preserved.

“The idea is not to tear everything on Mud Island down and build something new, it’s to build upon the existing assets. Some existing buildings will remain, and some new buildings would come into play,” said Young.

The aquarium museum would connect via a pedestrian bridge to the new cultural center and plaza, which could house the Brooks Museum, which is considering a move from its 100-year-old location at Overton Park. An existing Dowtown fire station would be demolished to make way for the center.

"We agree that an active, architecturally significant, and thoughtfully programmed asset of this type could anchor a critical juncture of the riverfront and deeply enhance the experience of all Memphians and its visitors," said Emily Neff, Brooks executive director and Deborah Craddock, president of the board of directors in an October 17 statement. 

Young hopes to create more anchors Downtown to create a seamless experience between South Main, Beale Street and the Pinch District.

“Having this anchor right at Union Avenue, Monroe and Front Street really changes the whole character and builds upon the work that’s happening with City Commons and the Cossitt Library,” said Young. “So there’s so much synergy where the cultural center would be.”

Mud Island Amphitheater will also be renovated and the loading area expanded to bring the facilities up to the modern technical demands of today’s concert industry.

Roughly $11 million in Downtown tourism and development zone surplus could be invested into the project. An application for TDZ amendment will be presented to the State Building Commission by the end of this month for possible approval in November. Upon SBC approval, the city will begin fundraising and financial due diligence for the projects, with Brooks handling fundraising for its portion. Private equity investors will also be recruited to help with the finances.

Construction could get underway as soon as the fall of next year if the appropriate funds are secured, and the projects could come online in the next three to five years.

Habitat for Humanity and Germantown church build 45th home

Germantown United Methodist Church and Habitat for Humanity's longstanding partnership has resulted in the construction of 45 homes for families over the past 32 years.

“We partner with many churches around the area, but I have to say our relationship with GUMC is very unique,” said Dwayne Spencer, Habitat president and CEO. “GUMC is our longest-standing partner and has worked with us to build more homes than with any other partner, corporate or faith-related.”

The 45th home built under the partnership is being dedicated to Janet Milewski, who was a coordinator at the church from 1989 to 1999. She passed away last year. The home is currently under construction in the Oakhaven neighborhood in South Memphis near the Memphis International Airport.

"Janet was an incredible leader, and she always believed that the Lord would provide as we kept working towards our goals,” said Doug Warner, longtime Habitat volunteer and advocate through Germantown United Methodist Church who knew Janet Milewski well. “Now we’re recognizing all that she did for all of us at Germantown Methodist and obviously for Habitat as well.”

The 1,700-square-foot, four-bedroom home will be completed in early November. The home buyer and Habitat volunteers help to construct the home.

“So much of solidifying Habitat as an affiliate here in Memphis started with Doug Warner and GUMC and was followed up by Janet and her husband, Bob, to get us where we are today,” said Spencer, who estimates that Habitat has assisted nearly 1,000 local families through home building and aging in place services. “We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

Habitat trains home buyers in financial literacy to prepare them for home ownership, and the buyer receives an interest-free, 30-year mortgage.

“It’s been a wonderful ministry for Germantown Methodist, and it’s meant so much to us as a church family to be able to do something like this on an ongoing basis,” said Warner. “It’s attracted people to our church. We’ve had people join our church because we have a ministry like Habitat that we offer to people to get involved with.”

He estimated that nearly 1,500 church members have been involved over time.

This year Habitat has built 10 homes in the Memphis area, and next year for Habitat’s 35th anniversary there are plans for 30 more homes thanks partially to New Market tax credits, which are designed to spur investment in communities that are struggling.

“It’s easy for us to qualify for New Market tax credits because we’re building in communities where builders aren’t going,” said Spencer.

Agricenter ShowPlace Arena ready for modern-day makeover

Renovations will get underway by the end of the year on three projects at the Agricenter ShowPlace Arena, marking the first improvements to the facility since it was built in the 1980s.

“Our showplace arena is 27 years old and it’s had no capital improvements to it since it was built,” said John Charles Wilson, Agricenter president emeritus. “Over the years, we have been losing customers because off our aging facility, so we decided to either close it down or make some improvements to it.”

For years during the 2000s, the venue had been used for paintball events and had sustained quite a bit of damage. Eight years ago, Wilson began meeting with Shelby County commissioners and was able to secure $3 million for long-range plans. Agricenter worked with Populus, which designs arenas around the world, in coming up with a plan to bring it back to modern-day standards.

“Over the past three years, we were able to get an additional $3 million from the State of Tennessee, so now we’re ready to start the first phases of $17 million in improvements to the facility,” said Wilson.

The approximate cost of the Phase I is $6 million. Work on the warm-up arena is expected to take six months while the main arena will take 18 months.

Features of the warm-up arena will include a completely new exterior skin, along with new office space, meeting rooms, restrooms and showers and a patio and entryway gate. Fleming Architects created the designs, and F & F Construction is the general contractor.

Work on the ShowPlace Main Arena includes bringing the whole building up to code including ADA compliance, seating, new and larger concession areas, and restroom improvements.

“We’re trying to turn this into a multi-use arena, using it for equestrian events, cattle shows, cheerleading events and eventually graduations,” said Wilson. “We have a dirt floor now, and we will have the ability to put a flooring over the top of the dirt. It’s just like walking on a tile floor.”

Plans for the ShowPlace Main Arena were drawn up by Evans Taylor Foster Childress Architects, and construction will be done by Jaycon Development Corporation pending Shelby County Commission approval.

In a separate third project, new steps will also go in leading from the parking area to the arena.

“It’s something that’s been desperately needed ever since we’ve been operating it,” said Wilson, who is excited about the facility’s future. “Shows that we’ve had in this past, like the Paso Fino [Horse Association] show, are looking at us again. I think with the service we’ve given to people in the past, they are willing to look back to us again. And with a new fresh look to the facility I think we’re really going to be on the move.”

Archimania moving headquarters to new mixed-use development in Cooper-Young area

Buildings at 663 and 673 Cooper Street will be repurposed as a mixed-use development to house headquarters for architecture firm archimania. 

Archimania design firm partners Todd Walker and Barry Yoakam plan more development in the years to come, including a possible 12-story mixed-use project Downtown.

The pair, operating as Fillament, LLC, received approval on October 10 from the Downtown Memphis Commission for an 11-year PILOT for a new $2.87 million mixed-use project at 663 and 673 Cooper Street, where they will renovate two existing vacant buildings built in the 1960s into approximately 11,000 square feet of office space, along with new construction of six studio apartments.

Archimania will move its offices from the South Main area of Downtown, where it has operated for the past 22 years.

“We’re not really separating Downtown and Midtown because we see it all as the city core – one is vitally important to the other. We have about 26 people in our office, and half of them live in Midtown and half live downtown, so they do things in both places,” said Walker, who believes some of the six apartments in the new mixed-use space could be rented to archimania’s employees.

The project’s six newly built rental apartments will range from 425 to 590 square feet.

The building at 663 Cooper was formerly the Sheet Metal Workers Union office and the one at 673 Cooper was formerly an insurance office. The interiors of both will be torn out, including all mechanical and electrical systems.

Related: "Shuttered buildings for workers unions tell of changes in local economy"

A trellis with a solar energy canopy will connect the two buildings and should produce more electricity than the buildings will need. The goal is to achieve Net Zero Certification, which would make the project the first of its kind in Memphis funded by the Downtown Memphis Commission.

Walker sees Cooper as an innovation district, with the idea that it can be the next main urban connector of the city. He hopes it will become less strip-oriented.

Construction should get started by late December and be finished by the middle of next year. Grinder Taber & Grinder is the general contractor handling the work.

Filament also redeveloped First Congregational Church in Central Gardens and is in the process of developing three properties into rental units further east along the Greenline. Walker sees more development activity in Filament’s future.

“We own a piece of property at 52 South Front Street. Before the Recession it was proposed as a 12-story condo tower. We inherited the property from a developer after their plans didn’t go through, and we’ve held it since 2009,” said Walker. “We’re waiting until the timing is right. We see it as upscale apartments or upscale condos, and it would have some mixed-use in it.”

He thinks it could be two to three years before that project comes to life.

“I think we’re going to see even more empty nesters Downtown than we have now, and they are really going to be interested in something with a lobby, a concierge, and maybe a bar inside. The idea is it might be something more like you might see in Chelsea in New York City,” said Walker.

Rhodes College unveils cutting-edge science facilities

Rhodes College has opened Robertson Hall, a $34 million, 54,674-square-foot home for biology and chemistry research. A recent grand opening ceremony also included the debut of the newly renovated Briggs Hall and the Bill & Carole Troutt Quadrangle.

Construction of the new Robertson Hall is part of a long-term strategic plan that the college made a decade ago.

“This was the final capstone project that we were leading up to. It was a big push to really bring all of our science facilities into the modern era,” said Dr. Milton Moreland, Rhodes Dean of the Faculty and professor of religious studies.

Over the last five years, the college has opened up new facilities in environmental studies, neuroscience, physics. The latest addition will benefit those studying computer science, biology and chemistry.

Robertson Hall, named for Lola and Charles Robertson in honor of their dedication to the sciences, features four biology faculty and two chemistry faculty with six teaching labs, five research labs and three classrooms.

Construction, led by general contractor Grinder Taber & Grinder, began in 2015. The building sits where there had previously been a small parking lot.

“We lost about 20 parking spaces and gained a 55,000-square-foot science facility, so it was a good trade-off,” said Moreland.

A monumental glazing floor-to-ceiling glass system at the main entrances facing west provides abundant natural light to the interior spaces and beautiful exterior views. The building includes energy-saving features like thermal glazing, automated LED lighting, and Energy Star-rated equipment and appliances.

The building features unique seating areas for student collaboration; custom-designed furniture, cabinets, and storage units and a walk-in cold laboratory that allows experiments to be conducted at refrigerated temperatures.

“We’ve grown as a school, and more and more students who come to Rhodes are interested in various aspects of science research,” said Moreland. “So being able to offer those students the best labs and the best research opportunities was a high priority.”

Briggs Hall, which had previously been used as a bookstore, mail room, and place for student projects, was completely renovated to become a computer science building and virtual reality lab.

“It’s very exciting open both buildings at the same time,” said Moreland. “It’s the end point for our whole campus revitalization project.”

Memphis Theological Seminary building new chapel in Midtown

The idea for a new chapel at the Memphis Theological Seminary’s Midtown campus at 168 East Parkway South came about eight years ago when the late Dr. Ralph Hamilton and his wife, Barbara, visited the campus.

Upon seeing the current chapel, which is on the second floor of the Beaux Arts mansion in a converted ballroom, Mrs. Hamilton commented that all seminaries should have a freestanding chapel.

The Hamiltons subsequently gifted $3 million to MTS for the construction of a new chapel.

“The chapel that we have currently will not even seat the whole student body,” said Keith Gaskin, MTS vice president of advancement. “We were already thinking of campus expansion and had been buying some of the homes behind us on Union Avenue.”

The new 300-seat chapel will become the new home for the Seminary’s weekly chapel services.

“However, it will be more than just a chapel. It’s going to be a learning space. It will be open for community use for public forums and lecture series in areas like social justice, and it can be used for musical events,” said Gaskin. “It will also be another revenue source for us for renting out for weddings and other special events.”

Memphis Theological Seminary is an ecumenical graduate school of theology, currently with 270 students, that educates men and women of all races and denominations. MTS was founded in 1852 in McKenzie, Tenn., and the seminary moved from Bethel College to Memphis in 1964. MTS purchased the Beaux Arts Mansion, which was built by Joseph Newburger in 1912.

“The new chapel will change the footprint of our campus. We’re trying to give it more of a traditional campus feel,” said Gaskin. “Hopefully in the future there will be another phase of development where we will bring in modern classrooms.”

The architect on the project is Curtis H. Doss with McGee, Nicholson, Burke Architects, and the general contractor is Chris Woods Construction. Work should be completed by December 2018.

The new chapel will also provide the opportunity to showcase several artworks donated to the seminary last year and will also feature a 1924 M.P. Moller organ donated by the former Union Avenue Methodist Church. Similar Moller organs are installed in chapels at Camp David and Lincoln Center in New York City.

“We hope to be able to add some new coursework in theology and music,” said Gaskin.

Construction of the chapel is one piece of the seminary’s “Ministry for the Real World” comprehensive capital campaign. With a goal of $25 million, the campaign has raised more than $15 million so far in outright gifts and pledges.

Empty Downtown building to be repurposed as boutique hotel

Mississippi-based JVD Enterprises and Vibrant Hotels Inc. are reviving two hotel projects that have been stalled for several years. 

Vince Vaghela, president of Vibrant Hotels, is thrilled with the upturn in the local economy over the past several years. His development company now has two hotel projects in various stages of development, with one to be completed next spring and another on the way by early 2019.

The newest project for Vibrant, which operates under the JVD umbrella, is a full-service Aloft boutique hotel that will go into the 12-story Tenoke Building at 161 Jefferson Avenue at the corner of B.B. King Boulevard.

“We’ve been trying to get this moving for quite a while now,” said Vaghela. “I got involved with the building back in 2009. We were trying to bring the hotel projects when the economy shut down. We tried a couple of different flags and it was just hard to lift the project up. We were able to hold onto it, and we’re really happy that it’s finally working out and we have everything lined up.”

The 156-room Aloft, which is a Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide brand, will feature penthouse suites, a restaurant and bar called WXYZ, banquet space a private viewing theater, state-of-the-art exercise facilities and a rooftop restaurant and bar.

“Aloft is a great brand with a very contemporary style. It attracts millennials and a younger crowd, and we think is a good fit for the downtown market,” said Vaghela.

Related: "Long-stalled hotel projects finally getting off the ground"

The adjacent one-story building at 191 Jefferson Avenue will be torn down, and a new one-story building will be built in its place to be merged with the Tenoke Building to create a new address at 63 B.B. King Boulevard.

“We will also have some retail space in the new single-story building,” said Vaghela. “The Tenoke Building is in very good shape. The inside is nice and clean.”

Byhalia-Miss.-based JiJi Construction LLC will be the general contractor, and Buffalo-based MWT Architects created the floor plans.

Vibrant filed an $8 million building permit application late September, and Vaghela hopes to have approval in the November. He expects to be able to start construction by the end of November or early December.

JVD is also working on a full-service 129-room Holiday Inn in Southeast Memphis just off of Winchester Road. That hotel features more than 4,500 square feet of meeting facilities and banquet space, a full-service restaurant and bar. Vaghela hopes to have it open for business by spring of 2018.

Booker T. Washington's new resource center provides an information hub for South City

Booker T. Washington School has expanded its role in South Memphis with the opening of a community resource center.

Housed in the lower level of the school, the center includes eight desktop computers and nine laptop computers with internet access. Residents in ZIP code 38126, the poorest area of the city, will be able to attend computer training classes, access the internet, complete employment applications and earn certification training.

The resource center is a collaborative effort of the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis and their community partners including Memphis Housing Authority, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Shelby County Schools, Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE and the City of Memphis.

This is a big start in community development,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said at the grand opening, held September 29. “The partnership means so much to the future of this neighborhood.”

Alisha Kiner, principal of Booker T. Washington, said the school will provide extended counseling services, classes on financial aid and virtual college tours at the new center.principal of Booker T. Washington, said the school will provide extended counseling services, classes on financial aid and virtual college tours at the new center.

One of the goals for the effectiveness of the center is to seek input from the community, especially regarding the upcoming South City neighborhood redevelopment.

“We have a hub in South City, where people will know when and where to come for education, employment services, and social services information,” said Shante Avant, deputy director of WFGM and chair of the Shelby County School board.

Related: "Sweep it clean: The leader behind Booker T. Washington's comeback story"

“We want to have conversations with the community to see what they need, not what we need,” Avant said, adding that the center’s approach is two-generational, meaning both parents and children benefit and are involved. 

Eva Mosby, director of Urban Strategies and community partner with the project, agrees that communication is key. Residents of the South City area will be notified about the center through25 community organizations who maintain a database in the 38126 ZIP code.though 25 community organizations who maintain a database in the 38126 ZIP code.

The community partners are united under a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant, given by HUD. The funding supports the physical redevelopment of Foote Homes, Memphis’ last traditional housing complex and complementary neighborhood services and case management for residents.

 “We work closely with the Memphis Housing Authority in case management.  We remove barriers to determine to see what those residents’ needs are,” Mosby said.

Urban Strategies provides resources for former residents of Foote Homes who seek new housing, to obtain a GED, gain employment or need assistance with resume development. 

Mosby said since 2015, the rate of employment in South City has increased from 30 percent to 50 percent. She sees that increase as related to the efforts of the WFGM’s Vision 2020 strategic plan to reduce poverty by five percent over the next five years in the 38126 ZIP code.

Related: "The Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis has a bold vision to stamp out poverty"

In addition to the opening of the resource room, the Women’s Foundation presented its second annual back pack drive for students of ZIP 38126. The foundation distributed 600 backpacks to students at Booker T. Washington and 400 backpacks to students of LaRose Elementary School.

The backpacks included a resource packet for parents with information for employment training and health and wellness services.  Each school also received school uniforms for their clothes closets.

Each child also received a computer tablet, sponsored by the Memphis Housing Authority.

The partnership has yet to hire a staff person to manage the center, Kiner said.

Porter-Leath opens Early Childhood Support Center, merges with Books from Birth

With the mission of assisting at-risk children and families of Shelby County, Porter-Leath has consolidated many of its administrative functions into a new Early Childhood Development Center in Southeast Memphis.

The organization also recently announced a merger with Books from Birth, which mails free books to children across Shelby County.

Porter-Leath has grown its preschool program from 900 students in 2013 to more than 6,000 today.

“With that growth, along the way we’ve wanted to make sure all of our preschool children were enrolled in Books from Birth,” said Hughes. “That way we know they are getting the literacy materials that they need at home.”

Books from Birth, an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, provides age-appropriate books for nearly 70 percent of Shelby County children under age five. The 46,000-plus children enrolled in the program will not see a disruption in service.

Related: "Parents as first teachers: The cornerstone of a healthy society"

“We also want to make sure we are using our really wide-ranging early childhood network, including our community partners, so they can enroll all of their children,” said Hughes. “Our next goal is to have 50,000 children enrolled in the program.”

Books from Birth executive director Jamila Wicks will stay on as program director and other Books from Birth staff will remain as part of the Porter-Leath development team.

Late September, Porter-Leath opened its new 30,000-square-foot Early Childhood Support Center at 3400 Prescott Road, allowing the unification of more than 100 staff members that had previously worked from five different locations. Books from Birth’s operations will be housed at the new facility.

Related: "State-of-the-art early childhood academy set to open in South Memphis"

“Administratively, Books from Birth will enjoy the support of our finance team, HR team, performance and quality improvement team, IT services, and development department,” said Hughes. “Now we will all be one team under one roof.”

The building for the new Early Childhood Support Center, which is located near to the Memphis International Airport, was formerly used as a FedEx training facility. After purchasing the property late last year, extensive renovations were completed over the past four months by Walker & Associates.

“This new center will help to ensure that we are supporting all of our early childhood programs that serve more than 50,000 children in Shelby County every year,” Hughes said.

Industry leaders encourage students to pursue careers in manufacturing

Memphis' strength as a manufacturing hub will be on display October 6 when 600 Shelby County Schools students will visit 14 Mid-South factories to learn about careers in the industry. 

For the fourth consecutive year, the Greater Memphis Chamber, the Workforce Investment Network and the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce have organized student doors in recognition of National Manufacturing Day.

The importance of introducing kids to the local manufacturing industry is multifaceted, according to Ernest Strickland, Greater Memphis Chamber SVP of Workforce Development.

“We want young people to know there are great career opportunities within the manufacturing space. We want them to know there are opportunities right here in Memphis and Shelby County," he said.

"And we want them to understand what field are needed for those occupations, giving them a better understanding of how the lessons they are learning today will lead to them obtaining those opportunities of tomorrow."

Participating schools this year include Booker T. Washington High School, Cordova High School, East High School, Germantown High School, Kingsbury Career Technology Center, Kirby High School, Manassas High School, Sheffield High School, Southwest Career Technology Center, Whitehaven High School and Wooddale High School.

Each high school will tour a different Memphis-area company, which this year includes Barnhart Crane, Coca-Cola Company, Competition Cams, Expedient Data Center, Flextronics LTD, Jordan Aluminum Extrusion, Medtronic, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc., National Guard Products Inc., Olympus Surgical Technologies America, Owens Corning Roofing and Asphalt, SFI Tennessee and Steel Warehouse Company.

South Pemiscot High School from Missouri will also tour Olympus Surgical Technologies America, located in Bartlett.

“One thing we have going for us is we have a lot of young people. Other communities are really envious of the number of young people that we have, and we’re wanting to get them plugged in to opportunities so that they can see Memphis as a place where they stay, live and work," said Strickland, underscoring the Chamber's priority in retaining Memphis' youth to enter the workforce.

On the tours, the students will get exposure to state-of-the-art equipment and processes and they will have the chance to talk with current employees about careers in the industry.

In 2014, Memphis’ gross metro product topped nearly $8 billion with 900 manufacturing firms employing more than 44,000 people. Nationally, manufacturing supports more than 18.5 million U.S. jobs.

“We’re in a unique position in Memphis. Because of our strong logistics infrastructure, more companies are wanting to locate their manufacturing closer to where they’re going to ultimately distribute their goods from,” said Strickland.

“So we’re able to leverage our logistical strengths for attracting and retaining manufacturing companies.”

South City adaptive reuse project reinvigorates old warehouse space

A major adaptive reuse project in downtown’s South City area is underway at 158 Vance Avenue, where Oden & Associates Inc., a B2B marketing and communications firm, will relocate its headquarters early next year.

Oden & Associates joins a host of redevelopment projects in the area, including the rehab of the historic Clayborn Temple, redevelopment of the Universal Life Insurance building and the demolition of Foote Homes. 

“It’s really an exciting venture for us,” said Bret Terwilleger, COO and chief creative officer for Oden.

“I think any time an organization lays claim to owning its own building and driving those stakes in the ground, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It brings a lot of pride for the management group here and for the employees.”

Oden, led by Terwilliger and Principal/CEO William F. Carkeet, purchased the South City property for $500,000 a couple of years ago. The firm is moving from Pembroke Place across from the Peabody Tower, where it has operated for the past 22 years.

“We’re anchoring that corner, and our hope is that it will infill between us and South Main,” said Terwilliger.

“We’re going to bring life and vitality there with people coming and going. It will no longer be just a deserted building on the corner. I hope it will be the beginning of a new era for that area.”

Oden’s buildings had previously been used by Color Craft commercial printing company and have been vacant and dilapidated in recent years. The nearly 80-year-old warehouse and office space sits across the street from the Memphis Machine Works industrial space and is just two blocks south of the FedEx Forum.

Other properties in the neighborhood have been redeveloped recently, as the area has evolved into mixed-use with homes, office space, industrial buildings, hotels and restaurants. One block to the south at 115 Vance Avenue, the Hollywood Disco building has been refurbished and is up for lease.

To the west, developer Orgel Family LLC is renovating the Memphis Firehouse No. 3 for the Memphis Music Initiative nonprofit to occupy by early next year. The COGIC Christian organization owns several parcels to the south of Oden’s new property, and their future use is uncertain at this time.

Related: "Former Downtown fire station to ignite musical creativity"

Architecture Inc. handled the redesign of Oden’s property.

“Coming up with the design for this project involved the fact that it is actually six additions that have been linked together through the years, so some of the real challenges were figuring out how to make those joints and junctions part of the floor plans while also creating one big floor plan that says Oden all the way throughout instead of it being so disjointed,” said Architecture Inc. principal Valentina Cochran.

One of the Architecture Inc.’s specialties is adaptive renovation and restoration work, and the firm is responsible for projects like reconfiguring the former Prince Mongo’s building at 56-62 South Front Street and the historic Kress Building at 7 North Main Street.

The Oden property consists of two major structures joined by a smaller connecting space. Oden will move its offices into the larger 17,000-square-foot space, and the smaller 14,000-square-foot building is being converted into a 34-spot parking garage for the company’s employees.

“The open one-story office floor plan will feature large and small collaborative areas scattered throughout the building, with a general flow of foot traffic through the space,” said Cochran.

Architecture Inc. worked to preserve some of the historic elements of the property, including the black Art Deco front door and interior brick walls and vaults.

Demolition on the interior just wrapped up this week, and Montgomery Martin is the general contractor that will be completing the construction.

“We’ve gutted the whole building, and it looks totally different in there now,” said Terwilliger. “There had been three different ceilings that had been added over the years, so with all them removed you can now see the exposed timbers. It’s starting to come along the way we had envisioned it.”

In addition to the interior work, a new roof will be installed on the older office space building.

Total renovation costs are estimated at $3 million, and Oden hopes to move in by March of next year. With room to grow in the new building, the firm plans to expand its staff in the coming years.

Comic shop owners expand with mini golf, haunted houses, and more

Jupiter Comics and Collectibles co-owners and brothers Zack and Joshua Bicknell are taking their business to new heights with a massive expansion.

After being located inside a small space in a strip center on Poplar Avenue in Collierville for the past three years, the Bicknells decided move to Moscow, Tenn., where their 20-acre property will include a larger comic shop, the Jupiter Café, an arcade, party rooms, a 16-seat theater room, and outdoor patios as well as a mini-golf course, a haunted corn maze, haunted forest and haunted houses.

Related: "Jupiter Comics brings superheroes to the suburbs"

They purchased the property two years ago.

“With 20 acres out here, we’re going to be able to offer so much more than we would in just one little building in Collierville,” said Zach Bicknell.

“We originally planned to rent the building next to us in Collierville but couldn’t work out a deal with our landlord. And we had this piece of property off of Highway 57 that was initially going to be used for a haunted house park, so we decided why not put the comic shop, restaurant and arcade out here too.”

With the goal of becoming a destination for birthday parties and gatherings of all kinds, the Bicknells designed a barnyard-themed mini golf course, along with party rooms, a 16-seat theater, and a full-scale arcade.

“We have it set up so people can rent it out for sporting events, and a few fire departments have already contacted us about having Christmas parties,” said Bicknell. “And for children’s parties, we invested in five bounce houses and big slip and slides that parents can rent out.”

Behind the main building is a cityscape for children to play within, and parents can sit on the back porch to watch them play. A haunted house and forest, to open next fall, will be at the back of the property with a corn maze on the side of the property.

“As we get money in from those businesses, we plan to add one or two haunted houses every year because we have the land for them,” said Bicknell. He attended Disney’s college intern program at Disneyworld in Orlando in 2011 and learned how to manage a theme-park styled business before opening his own comics business in 2014, he said.

The former Jupiter Comics location included a smaller version of the Jupiter Café, but the new incarnation will feature an all-new menu and a much larger kitchen. All food will be handmade, including burgers, pizza, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, breakfast items, ice cream, fudge, fried Twinkies and Oreo’s, fried pickles and green tomatoes, a children’s menu and fresh baked, decorated cakes for birthday parties.

“We love comics, and my brother has always wanted to be involved in the restaurant business,” said Bicknell. “The big dream is to have a haunted house theme park in the back. There aren’t many places in Memphis that perfect haunted houses and scare stuff. With this property we can hit everything instead of just one or two things.”

Jupiter’s comic store is open now, and a grand opening for the café and other parts of the property is anticipated for November.

South City school to benefit from long awaited playground

After 10 years of planning, the Circles of Success Learning Academy in South Memphis is building a new playground thanks to approximately $85,000 in grants from the BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee Health Foundation and a DC-based non-profit called KaBOOM!

Since being awarded the grant in July, Anthony Scherrod and Joseph Golden, teachers at Circles of Success, and the principal Sheri Catron Cooper, have hosted planning and committee meetings with community stakeholders and residents to figure out the needs for the playground.

KaBOOM! is a non-profit specifically dedicated to creating place of play, especially in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Golden said a focus group of 30 students at the school submitted drawings and ideas for the playground to KaBOOM! representatives including additions for monkey bars and climbing walls.

He said students are excited to see their ideas come to life.

Cooper, who has been the principal for the past 13 years, said she was elated when she found out they received the grant.

“They could hear me down the hall way because I was screaming when I found out we got it,” she said. “I did the first plans for a playground in 2007. It’s been 10 years I’ve been wanting a playground but because they are so I expensive, I started looking for grants.”

The 15-year-old charter school is housed in the 125-year-old St. Andrew AME Church at 867 South Parkway East. Circles of Success inherited the playground already on campus, which was used by a now-closed daycare.

The 247 students in Kindergarten through fifth grade at Circles of Success couldn’t use the pint-size equipment. Students at the school were having recreational activities indoors or free play on the church grounds.

“We’re excited to be able to offer play to our students and children in the general area,” Cooper said. “Children need to play, especially outdoors. The playground is also where the can develop friendships and learn team work.” 

Scherrod said the playground will be maintained by the school and they plan to have students help keep it clean. He said the surrounding parks are not always child friendly, which is why it’s so important that the new playground is being built.

“Anyone in 38106 and 38126 zip code and beyond can come to this playground,” he said. “We recruited parents and residents to help us with the planning process and to give feedback. We don’t want people to think it’s just a school playground.”

Circles of Success is requesting 200 volunteers from the community to help build the playground. There are two prep-days, Wednesday September 27 and Thursday September 28 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on both days. From 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, September 29, volunteers are invited to help with final phases of construction for the playground.

The students at Circle of Success will be offsite during construction on September 29 and return at 2:30 p.m. to a fully erected playground and ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Volunteers can sign up here.

Dorothy Day House builds a village for homeless families on Peabody Avenue

With to a recent $500,000 challenge grant from the Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Dorothy Day House, a nonprofit shelter that helps intact families who are experiencing homelessness, is getting the chance to expand its services to more families in need.

“For years, we’ve dreamt of having a village – having houses in close proximity so that we could have a larger physical presence in the city,” said Sister Maureen Griner, Dorothy Day House executive director. “Even the possibility of that was vague because so many people don’t want homeless people in their neighborhoods.”

Dorothy Day House had attempted to buy a house further west on Peabody many years ago and had met stiff opposition from some in that neighborhood.

Related: "Dorothy Day House meets homelessness and the need for living wage in Memphis"

“When we heard that Church Health Center was moving to Crosstown, we went to them to find out what they were doing with their buildings,” said Griner.

The three houses that Dorothy Day House decided were best suited for family use included 1178 Peabody Avenue, 1161 Peabody Avenue and 321 Bellevue Boulevard just around the corner. Church Health donated the home at 1178 Peabody to the organization, and Dorothy Day House is purchasing the other two.

The Assisi Foundation grant will be paid in two installments over the next two fiscal years as Dorothy Day House raises $250,000 in new matching pledges for each phase. The grant furthers Dorothy Day House’s progress towards its goal of raising $5 million to pay for the expansion.

“We have a capital campaign that we launched in September of 2016,” said Griner. “Over a five-year period, the purchase and renovation of the three houses will cost $2 million, the new staff will be $1 million, and operational costs for the four houses will be about $2 million.”

The organization provides whatever families need to get back on their feet, including food, clothes, shoes, and even haircuts, and then helps them find jobs, reliable transportation and an apartment or house. Once they find a home, Dorothy Day House furnishes it for them.

Dorothy Day was an activist during the Depression who lived in New York City. She was very concerned about the homeless that were standing in soup lines, so she opened her own building. Day was anti-establishment, believing neither the government nor the church should take care of the poor.

“So in the spirit of Dorothy Day, we don’t take government money that has red tape of lots of paperwork,” said Griner, whose group gets one no-strings-attached grant from the Shelby County Commission every year.

Looney Ricks Kiss handled the designs for the first home to be renovated at 1178 Peabody, and Montgomery Martin Contractors is doing the construction work. Griner hopes work will begin in October on the very dilapidated home. The interior will be completely reworked, including busting out walls to enlarge the kitchen.

“We’re really starting from scratch,” said Griner. “All of the heating and air, electrical, and plumbing need to be replaced.”

Each of the new homes will house three families, so along with Dorothy Day House’s original property at 1429 Poplar Avenue, the expansion will quadruple its capacity for serving entire families experiencing homelessness.

On October 29, Dorothy Day House will hold a comfort food festival fundraiser at Overton Square, and its annual Christmas wreath and garland sale kicks off in October throughout the city.

Belly Acres founders open Tennessee Taco Company

Overton Square restauranteurs are dipping their toe in East Memphis with a new concept.
Ben McLean and Chef Rob Ray recently opened Tennessee Taco Co. at 3295 Poplar Avenue.

The pair plan to grow the fresh street taco concept to more locations in the future, as well as expand their successful Belly Acres
Citfied Farm Fresh Burger Restaurant, which opened in Overton Square in 2014.

“Ben and I have always wanted to do something else, and we were headstrong on doing a taco shop,” said Ray.

Tennessee Taco Company’s menu includes 24 different kinds of tacos, including beef, chicken, pork, seafood and vegetables, along with burritos, quesadillas and skillets. Other menu options include salads, nachos, "pots o’ tots", fresh guacamole and desserts.

The restaurant’s bar features frozen margaritas and beer from all of the local breweries.

“We’re trying to have as much local products as we can, and even our cast iron is from Lodge out of Tennessee,” said Ray.

The reworking of the layout of the restaurant, which features a wildly colorful Day of the Dead theme, was handled in-house.

“Ben and I really pull in our family whenever we open a restaurant. Ben’s brother, Spencer McLean, did all of woodwork, and my dad made all the tables,” said Ray.

The restaurant has already hired more than 30 employees, and Ray expects to hire a few more in the coming weeks.

McLean and Ray plan to expand Tennessee Taco Co. to more locations in Memphis, in other parts of the U.S., and internationally.

“We want to keep Belly Acres within the Mid-South, but with Tennessee Taco Company we expect to have a much broader reach,” said Ray. “The sky’s the limit. At this point, I’m not sure if we’re going to franchise or own them outright.”

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