Now that the Tennesse Brewery has been promised a future, a father and a son are laying plans for the next chapter in the building's history. Outlines for a mostly residential renovation have been released, but first, the beloved pop-up beer garden festivities will return for some final "good times" before construction launches.
Social media lit up once again last week with a now familiar image: the iconic façade of the Tennessee Brewery building. During the very successful “Tennessee Brewery Untapped” event last spring, visitors exercised their amateur photographer skills and captured the unique space in a seemingly endless stream of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram photos. The most recent photos taking over news feeds is emblazoned with a graphic reading “Spring 2015: The Revival. Back by Hopular Demand.”
It’s an appropriate way to announce the return of this do-it-yourself revitalization effort; the beer garden’s original popularity felt viral in nature. What began with a grassroots campaign to save an historic building almost certainly slated for demolition, ended with a more than month-long raucous party in a typically quiet corner of Downtown.
An estimated 35,000 people came through the 5,300-square-foot courtyard of Tennessee Brewery Untapped in the spring of 2014 during the six-week event, a number that surprised even the organizers. That makes the reboot this year a natural choice, but one vital thing has changed. The building has already been “saved.”
After the Victory
Last year’s Untapped event was designed to highlight the long-vacant 65,000-square-foot building and to help the public reimagine a forgotten space. The hope was that, by demonstrating the building’s possible new uses, an investor would purchase the property to rehab it, not raze it. Now that the building is safely in the hands of developer and cell phone tower entrepreneur Billy Orgel, a proposed $27.5 million revitalization project has been announced.
Billy's son, Benjamin Orgel, partner in TNBG LLC, is spearheading the Untapped Revival events, in partnership with Logan Scheidt and Paul Stephens. While his father’s team finalizes construction plans, the younger Orgel will host a series similar to last spring’s festivities.
His passion for project was apparent in his recent public statement. "When I left Memphis four years ago to attend the University of Texas in Austin, I never would have dreamed that visionary projects like the revival of the Tennessee Brewery could be possible,” he said. “Since I've come home, it's clear to me that this town is teeming with creativity and vision that is totally unique anywhere in the country. The 'Untapped' event was one great example of this, and it's the kind of thing I want my future in this city to be all about.”
Billy Orgel purchased the local building at 495 Tennessee Street for $825,000 in November of 2014, and current plans call for one commercial space and up to 58 residential units in the seven-story brewery renovation and six floors and 90 residential units in the coming adjacent Wash House building. The plan also includes a four-story, 348 space parking garage across the street.
At a meeting last week in the nearby Emerge building, Billy Orgel said more details would soon be released about the Untapped Revival, to be held in April or May this year, once again coinciding with Memphis in May events.
He was joined by Looney Ricks Kiss partner Tony Pellicciotti and showed a documentary created by Brian Manis about the building and gave more details on the construction project.
So it seems this iteration of Untapped is more about celebration than civic change. It is also a way to keep the public engaged and excited about the coming, mostly residential development, during its inevitably lengthy renovation.
The Future of the Legend
Leaning on the history and authenticity of the space is obviously important to Billy Orgel. At the community meeting, he passed around a rusted cone-top can of Goldcrest 51—one of the brands of beer previously produced in the brewery—and a copy of a 150 page book by a Little Rock author detailing some of the building’s history.
Tennessee Brewery plan overhead from LRK
Nearby residents peppered both Orgel and Pellicciotti with questions about the development plans during the Q&A. Will the new building include a grocery store? Had microbreweries been considered as a commercial tenant? What is the status of the artesian wells on the property? What are the plans for the (now beloved) graffiti in the space?
At this point, there are far more questions than answers.
Billy Orgel said that nothing was planned yet, but that the development team had talked with local restaurant owners about the possibility of including a coffee shop/grocery store combination in the project. He also said that the team had taken some local microbrewers through the space, the three artesian wells had been previously plugged, and that he wanted to preserve some of the graffiti (he has a particular affinity for the exterior mural and the “Dr. Ramos” painting on the fifth floor).
He emphasized, though, that he wanted input from local residents throughout the process, and that anything decided for the buildings would have to be the right fit for the neighborhood.
Billy Orgel said that in the most optimistic scenario, construction would be started at the end of 2015 and the space would be occupied by the end of 2016.
“This building has been horribly neglected,” Billy Orgel said. “It’s beautiful to look at, but it’s been neglected.” Only one window, he noted, remained intact in the entire structure.
Tennessee Brewery plan elevations from LRK
LRK drawings of the project were released in January, detailing the units envisioned, as well as the economic impact projected. During the construction period, an estimated 307 jobs will be created and the work will have an estimated $43.8 million impact. Once the facility is operational and housing the expected 213 residents, it will sustain 51 jobs and have annual impact of $4.9 million.
Billy Orgel stressed that the drawings displayed were conceptual, and he reiterated the need for the parking garage as part of the project. Pelliciotti discussed the challenges that come with restoring such an old building while maintaining its historic character, all while building a brand new structure next door with the same look and feel. This struggle is not new to LRK; Pelliciotti is also involved with other large historical renovations, namely Sears Crosstown and Chisca Hotel. In fact, Pelliciotti told the group, he had actually completed his thesis on the Tennessee Brewery while in college.
The New Party
The team behind the original Untapped—restaurateur Taylor Berger, commercial real estate broker Andy Cates, attorney Michael Tauer and Kerry Hayes and Doug Carpenter of Doug Carpenter & Assoc. — enlisted a revolving legion of volunteers to clean and refurbish the 5,300-square-foot courtyard that saw much of the action last spring. A stage was built, furniture was fashioned out of repurposed wood and electricians brought in to add lighting. During the events, attendees consumed beer with proceeds going to local charities, Sache printed and sold t-shirts, and local bands performed regularly.
No details have surfaced yet about the 2015 redux, but the team has implied the event will stay true to its DIY roots. We can expect beer and local music in a uniquely Memphis space.
The team seems committed to honoring the sentiment of what is possibly the building’s most memorable graffiti: “Invest in good times.”