Young developer wants to improve neighborhoods with small scale projects

Over the past several years, Memphis has earned spots on lists that promote the city as an up-and-coming travel destination, a great place to start a business and a top choice for millennials to make a home.

Developer Austin Magruder, 27, said he chose Memphis for all three reasons, and he works to move the city from emerging hotspot to an established regional epicenter.


“I think Memphis is one of the few cities where somebody my age can have such a big influence and really make a difference, whereas in a larger city, I think it takes longer and it shouldn't always be that way,” said Magruder.


The young architect and developer got his start in the University District in 2016. Now Magruder is expanding PKM Architects, his family’s architecture business, by concentrating on small scale development in Memphis neighborhoods. Most recently, he rehabbed a building in the Edge District to be a mixed-use property.

Tiger Flats and the University District

At 25 years old, Magruder partnered with PKM Architects to buy a blighted apartment building located at 650 Minor Road near The University of Memphis. He renovated the 22-unit structure and rebranded it as Tiger Flats.


“It was big enough to where it was scary, but not too big to not manage,” he said. “It was just a beautiful building that had been just run down over the years and is situated in a great neighborhood.”


When Magruder bought the apartments, half of the units needed major renovation and structural repairs. The building is now 95 percent occupied with 60 to 70 percent students. PKM Architects, which manages the property, raised rents from $450 to $800 per month.

In addition to renovating for existing tenants, Magruder saw an opportunity to make the location appealing for young professionals and U of M upperclassmen and graduate students.


“I think there's so much more work to be done,” said Magruder, who also serves as a board member for the University Neighborhoods Development Corporation. “University of Memphis is in a transition of becoming a destination campus, whereas before it was a commuter campus … It could be one of the hottest parts of Memphis in the next five or 10 years,” he said.


The Family Business

Tiger Flats was Magruder’s first project with PKM Architects, which is located at 676 Marshall Avenue in The Edge District. Magruder's grandfather, Pat Kelly Magruder Sr., founded PKM Architects in 1963 in West Memphis, Arkansas. In 1994, Magruder’s father, Pat Kelly Magruder, Jr., took over as president of the firm.

Pat Magruder Jr. (left) Austin Magruder (right) continue the family business Pat Magruder Sr. started 60 years ago. (Submitted)

In 2015, Magruder Jr. approached his son, then a recent University of Arkansas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, about launching a joint project to begin his career in urban development in Memphis and deepen the firm’s involvement in small scale development work.

“It gives us a different avenue to build wealth instead of just working every day,” said Magruder Jr. “Here was an opportunity to continue the business in whatever form it takes, whether more development or more architecture. Right now, we’re able to focus our energy where it has the most potential," he added.


Austin Magruder, who was working for an architecture firm in Fayetteville, Arkansas and interviewing for jobs in Chicago and Seattle, decided to make the move home when his father proposed a new avenue for the family business.

“His selling point to me was, ‘If you find a good project, I will invest with you and help you do it and we can work together.’ So, that's when we found Tiger Flats,” Magruder said. “At that point we purchased that and renovated that, and now we own and operate it.”


Magruder now serves as a managing partner of real estate and associate architect at PKM Architects where he leads development projects, project designs and client relations.


The firm’s architecture and development projects and consulting are concentrated in Eastern Arkansas as well as the University District, the Edge District and other neighborhoods of Memphis.


“We split our time about 50-50 between development and architecture,” said Magruder. “On the architecture side, it’s mostly commercial. We do work for school districts or private developers. We do development consulting for clients who live out of town but still own property in Memphis. We're working with people in L.A., Louisville and Atlanta.”


Magruder likes that combining skills from development and architecture allows him to oversee projects from beginning to end through managing design, construction and leasing operations.


“The advantage of being developer and architect, we get to see the project all the way through, and then we get to own and operate it,” he said. “But I think the most important thing is being involved in the site selection and the programming of the building because we can choose very specific sites, and then completely transform neighborhoods by architectural interventions.”

Learning to Think Small

In 2017, Magruder attended a bootcamp focused on small scale development which paved the way for a project in the Edge District that currently houses the PKM Architects' headquarters.

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative brought Incremental Development Alliance to Memphis through a grant from Kresge Foundation and partnerships with the City of Memphis, Urban Land Institute, the Downtown Memphis Commission and Neighborhood Preservation Inc.


“He actually was like one of our pioneers in that [program],” said MMDC program associate Mariko Krause. “There are 30,000 vacant properties across Memphis, and they're typically smaller lots, 50 feet-by-100 feet, that are just kind of scattered throughout the city.”


Having developers in communities who take on micro-projects that large developers may not pay attention to is important, Krause said, because projects are more thoughtfully designed to fit the neighborhood.


“A lot of times the large developers aren't paying attention to those lots. So, the theory is that an ecosystem of small scale developers, ideally ones who are in the neighborhood like [Magruder], can focus on these smaller properties and projects,” she said.


Citing areas like Uptown, Smokey City and the Edge District, Magruder said Memphis has plenty of neighborhoods that match the focus of the workshop.


“There are swatches within Memphis, pockets and neighborhoods and nodes that really fit their sort of logic of development.”


Moving to the Edge

In January 2017, PKM Architects moved from Arkansas to Downtown at Emerge Memphis and in August 2018, the firm moved again to the Edge District.

Austin Magruder had a leading hand in shaping his family firm's new headquarters. He led development for the 13,000-square-foot building at 676 Marshall Street in the Edge District.

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PKM renovated the single-level structure, which was constructed in 1949 and previously served as a paint shop, and renamed it The Marshall. The building houses PKM Architects and creative agency Baby Grand. The Marshall offers additional commercial space and five studio apartments for rent. Austin Magruder is one of the residents.


“As we’ve gotten to know the neighbors and the culture in the district we've just fallen in love,” he said.


He hopes his broad set of skills will be an asset to help facilitate transformation between Downtown and the Medical District.


“The Edge could be the next Overton Square. That’s the way we like to think of it,” he said.
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Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi is a freelance journalist, brand writer and tech strategist based in Memphis, TN.