A plan in progress: A guide to Downtown developments on the south end

The South Main district of Downtown Memphis has its roots in the arts, but a new renaissance is occurring, fueled by real estate developers looking to capitalize on the neighborhood’s momentum. With all the dirt moving in the area, we bring you a comprehensive rundown of the development projects planned and underway.
Roughly $200 million in new projects are currently underway in the South Main district, a sign that investors and developers are buying into the emergence of South Main as one of Memphis’ most desirable and move livable destinations. And new development should bring at least 2,000 new residents to the South Main neighborhood over the next two years, according to Downtown Memphis Commission data.

Building a residential base downtown is part of Memphis' long game to success. Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris is excited about the new residential growth Downtown, particularly on the South end, primarily because of the new Memphis residents it will attract. DMC data shows that one out of three Downtown residents moved to the area from out of state, and new population growth is critical to Memphis’ advancement, Morris said.

“Downtown is key to that strategy because a lot of new citizens that have a choice about where to live in the country want to live in a densely populated, urban, vibrant place. Downtown is what we have to offer in this region for that product.”
Historic photo of the Chisca Hotel, built in 1913 at 272 South Main Street
Perhaps the most significant – both in terms of investment and prominence – is the redevelopment of the Chisca Hotel. The woefully blighted Chisca has been the object of derision for decades, but the eyesore currently is being transformed into a mixed-use development.

Morris admits that the Chisca’s renovation wasn’t a “done deal” until a few months ago, when it received full, private-sector funding. Construction contracts have been executed and work is progressing rapidly, Morris said.

“You’ll see a lot of work every day,” he said. “It will still take a long time because the building was in pretty bad shape. But it’s going to be fantastic and probably open sometime in the next year to 18 months.”

Main Street Apartment Partners LLC is leading the $27 million Chisca project. It will renovate the eight-story building into 150 apartment units, 5,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a 110-space parking garage.

Empty Tower No More
Another boon for the neighborhood came earlier this month when news broke that the long-vacant Horizon condominium tower would see new life.

A Mississippi-based developer paid $13.5 million for the building, which was left unfinished when original developer Bryan Co. defaulted on the loan in 2009.

Dawn Properties plans to finish the 16-story Horizon at 717 Riverside Drive, and then market its 155 condo units for sale. The fact that Dawn is based in Hattiesburg – and isn’t a local buyer – is significant to Morris.

“(Dawn Properties) believes we’ve made the South Main district, and Downtown Memphis in general, a very popular place to live,” Morris said. “They’ve seen the hard data and know that people want to live Downtown. The demand to live Downtown is stronger than it ever has been.”

The fact that the Horizon will be marketed as condos, and not apartments, is another vote of confidence for the market. Morris said Dawn is bucking conventional wisdom by selling the units as single-family residences.

“Downtown is bucking conventional wisdom generally,” he said. “Downtown’s population is rapidly growing and the property values are shooting up. Downtown Memphis is an outlier right now in terms of what’s going on in the community.”

Apartments Galore
While Chisca and Horizon may be the most visible, there are numerous other residential projects underway or planned in the South Main district. Developer Henry Turley's vision to see a residential community blossom on the south end of Downtown is finaly, it seems, becoming reality. When he began development of the large-scale South Bluffs community, Turley said he envisioned a residential community stretching from the Mississippi River to Main Street and encompassing the entire south end.

“We’ve always wanted to see the whole thing pulled together in a predominantly residential neighborhood, or an urban neighborhood,” Turley said. “We’re still working toward that goal.”

Turley and developer Billy Orgel are under construction on the $26 million South Junction Apartments, which consist of 281 units at southeast Carolina Avenue and Florida Street. The eight-acre South Junction development promotes urban living, sustainability and its proximity to the Main-to-Main Connector project as selling points. It is partially complete, with construction currently underway on the Front Street block.

Developers Robert E. Mallory, John H. Dicken Jr. and Vince Smith Jr. revealed plans this month for a $17.9 million, 145-unit project at 266 S. Front St. An existing one-story office building will be razed to make way for three new buildings: a 76,000-square-foot, three-story apartment building; a 60,000-square-foot, three-story apartment building; and an 8,000-square-foot, two-story commercial building.

Smith and Mallory are veteran developers who have been active in South Main. The pair recently completed Printer’s Alley, a mixed-use project at 347 S. Front with 30 apartments, nine townhouses and commercial space. They also recently pulled a building permit for The Annex Lofts, a 23-unit project next door to Printers Alley, at 345 S. Front.

Elmington Capital Group LLC is underway on the second phase of its affordable Crescent Bluff Apartments development, which when complete will count 172 units on East Virginia Avenue. Elmington also is bringing the 64-unit New Blossom Apartments online at 362 S. Second Street, located across from the Happy Mexican restaurant.
South Main Artspace Lofts is now in the pre-development phase, with art events held monthly
Combining the district’s artistic heritage with its residential boom is the Artspace project, which will transform the former United Warehouse on St. Paul Avenue into 58 live/work units designed specifically for artists and their families. The $20 million project also will include 5,000 square feet of commercial space, an outdoor arts garden and a community and gallery space.

Residential Isn't the Only Dirt Moving
With more people comes the need for more services. While most of the apartment projects contain a commercial component of some sort, there is other notable activity underway.

The Old Dominick Distillery is front and center for the neighborhood. D. Canale & Co. is resurrecting its spirits brand, shuttered in the days of prohibition, with a distillery and public tasting room at 301 S. Front Street.

The company will spend $5 million renovating a vacant warehouse to make room for Old Dominick, which is the Canale family’s way of “restoring and deepening our commitment to this city in a major way,” Chris Canale said.

The facility will be used as the production and bottling facility of a portfolio of ultra-premium distilled spirits and will begin operating late next summer. The public tasting room is expected open to the public in fall 2015.

The Canale project – along with other residential projects in the immediate vicinity – are repopulating the blighted warehouse district and injecting new life into the area. But two of South Main’s most venerable anchors aren’t standing idly by.

The National Civil Rights Museum recently completed a $27 million renovation and expansion. And the Orpheum Theatre is building a two-story, 39,000-square-foot Centre for Performing Arts. The $14.5 million facility will include classrooms, a large multi-use rehearsal hall, a state-of-the-art stage and a 356-seat theater.

The $40 million Main-to-Main Connector Project and Big River Initiative also contribute to the residential desire of the South Main district. The project includes 10 miles of streetscape, utility, sidewalk and roadway improvements from Uptown to South Main and the conversion of the Harahan Bridge for bicycle and pedestrian use.

Turley said the Main-to-Main investment was one of the reasons he and his partners decided to proceed with South Junction Apartments. They even piggy-backed on the plans by including a bike shed, racks, pumps and other bicycle maintenance equipment for South Junction residents.

Read more articles by Jane A. Donahoe.

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