Historic preservation win on Cotton Row receives award from Tennessee Historical Commission

What’s happening: The rehabilitation and redevelopment of the historic J.N. Oliver and Stewart buildings in Memphis’ Cotton Row Historic District received recognition from the Tennessee Historical Commission this month, receiving a 2023 Certificate of Merit Award from the state’s historic preservation agency. The historic buildings were at the risk of demolition after a decade of vacancy and disrepair before a reported $29 million rehabilitation project redeveloped the buildings as apartments with ground floor commercial space.

Backstory: According to Historic Memphis, the Joseph N. Oliver Building, the larger of the neighboring structures, was built in 1904 in the Beaux-Arts style as a cold storage facility. The three-story Stewart Building was built in 1900. After a decade of vacancy gave way to disinvestment and decay, the Commercial Appeal reported in 2019 that local developer Billy Orgel purchased the buildings for $1.2 million in hopes of rescuing them from the previous owners’ desire for demolition.

[Related: Read “Former Downtown fire station to ignite musical creativity” on High Ground News.]

Why they won: Orgel would be successful in his quest to revitalize the historic buildings, redeveloping the neighboring structures as a residential and commercial mixed-use development in the Cotton Row Historic District. It's now branded as 99 Front, more information of which is available online.

According to the Tennessee Historical Commission, the 2023 Certificate of Merit Award was given to the “J.N. Oliver and Stewart Buildings in Memphis for the completion of a rehabilitation project of two buildings within a National Register of Historic Places District for commercial and residential use.” Other winners this year include restoration work at the Belmont Mansion in Nashville and the mapping and documenting of the Brewer’s Chapel Cemetery in Chapmansboro.

What they’re saying: “Our state benefits greatly from individuals, businesses, and organizations who work to protect and enhance our treasured heritage,” says Executive Director and State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick McIntyre. “From a distinguished professional who worked for decades in support of historic preservation – to the transformative adaptive reuse of a former hosiery mill in Cleveland into housing – we are honored to recognize this inspiring group of recipients.”

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