Opportunity in challenge: The coming redevelopment of Central Station

A proposed $55 million facelift may be on the way for Central Station that promises to enhance South Main with a movie theater, hotel, and public plaza offerings.
The 17-acre site of Central Station is on its way to being redeveloped as a multi-use Downtown hub. Components of the proposed plan include a small movie theater, boutique hotel, grocery store, around two hundred more apartments, restaurant and retail offerings, as well as significant civic improvements.

The proposed plan was presented by Henry Turley Co. and Community Capital at a March 27 meeting of the Memphis Area Transport Authority’s Finance Committee. The plan will go before the full board on April 27.

The developers have been working on the plan since MATA put out a Request for Proposal around a year ago.

“What some see as challenges, in terms of this big institutional old building, we see as opportunities,” said Alex Turley. “We’re looking for any opportunity to make connections.”
The $55 million project is being backed by several major private sector developers, many of whom have been banking on Memphis for many generations. Kemmons-Wilson Company is in talks with various national hotel brands about establishing their boutique flag, according to Turley. Kemmons-Wilson Cos., known for founding Holiday Inns of America two generations ago, will be the local operator of the estimated 130-room hotel.

The hotel is slated for the main terminal and the existing tower, with opportunities on the lobby level for a hotel restaurant and bar and maybe additional retail. “Space will be utilized in context of the hotel with exterior spaces leased out to restaurant or shop owners,” said Archie Willis, president of Community Capital. Pending approval, Willis said that design development will get started around the third quarter of this year and extend into early next year. Construction would begin in mid-2016 and continue for a year, hopefully terminating in time for Elvis Week 2017.

Malco Theaters, Inc. is on board for building a small five-screen movie theater at the Powerhouse and the surrounding property on the corner of Front St. and G.E. Patterson. “You can imagine the up-and-down neon sign along the pipe. It will be a really iconic,” said Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission. “The theater will be targeted to sophisticated adult crowds,” he added. Willis said that the cinema will be the first phase to start construction. Design work will begin in the second or third quarter of this year with construction completed by the end of 2016. The apartments could come together at the same time.

At least 200 apartments would be built in the southwest annex, and occupants in the existing 60 apartments would need to be relocated. Turley hopes that most of those people will stay Downtown and move into the 1,150 new apartment units that will come on the Downtown market in the next year and a half.
A small-footprint grocery store, run by the Canale family, is also under discussion. However, that component is the most tentative. “It would be enhancing the existing Memphis Farmers Market and enhancing what they can do and having that neighborhood more vibrant of course with more residential units,” Morris said. “(A grocery would) work with the farmers market and the farmers there, so you have more of a full time access to food.”

“There aren’t a lot of mixed-use developments you can point to in Memphis. [Central Station] will be an anchor for the area. It creates opportunities Downtown to have some more offerings for our growing population,” Turley said. “It’s the stuff that people continue to ask for, the stuff that people have to drive for.”

Several other public improvements are under consideration. A market plaza would connect G.E. Patterson to the southern edge of the property opening up to the theater and apartments. The Memphis Farmers Market would be relocated to the Front Street edge, and the four market canopies would be used for covered parking out of season.

“Right now if you walk south of G.E. Patterson on Main Street, you see this wall, and you feel like at some point you might end up in Mississippi. It's disconnected, somewhat of a barrier,” Turley said. Additionally, the tunnel on Main Street under the train platform would be transformed into an open area with small shop opportunities. The concourse would be a welcoming entryway for pedestrians and bikers, especially travelers on the Main-to-Main Intermodal Connector project.

The G.E. Patterson and Main Street trolley and bus stops would need to be moved or consolidated. The adjacent Memphis Police Department precinct is being relocated to an empty MATA building in the Pinch District, and the Amtrak facilities would see improvements.

$52 million is accounted for through private investments with the remaining $3 million in grants with a $600,000 local contribution.

The other pieces will come together following meetings with the MATA board and the DMC board and cooperation with funding agencies for the public improvements.

“Our goal would be to present a place that's fully developed where there's no fallow land. We've been studying the property for a couple years, and we thought it was important to get our anchors in place in the different uses,” Turley said.

The DMC has been helping the project along as an intermediary between the developers and MATA. “We're involved in the current legal structure of the property, and we anticipate being involved in the future legal structure somehow,” Morris said.

“It continues and really capitalizes on some momentum that's been generated in the past five years in the South Main district,” he continued. “It's a good sendoff,” he said of his plan to step down from the position at the end of the year. “But it also makes me jealous of the next person who takes this job.” 


Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.
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