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.”

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.