Development booms in the Edge District

The Edge District, a wedge-shaped neighborhood that lies between Downtown and the Medical District, is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in recent years with a flurry of new construction and ongoing redevelopment of historic buildings.

“This has always been a neighborhood that’s prime for redevelopment,” said Tim Baker, owner of Edge Alley, a coffee shop that opened in the Edge District in 2017. “We’re really glad to see all of the activity in the neighborhood, and we’re very excited about all of the residential and all of the business opportunities that are coming.”

The Memphis Medical District Collaborative is the glue that connects the Edge District's growth with the larger vision for the Memphis Medical District. The MMDC formed in 2016 to strengthen the surrounding area of the eight major medical and education anchor institutions that lie within the 2.5-square-mile of the medical district. That footprint covers six neighborhoods, including the Edge District, which is located between 4th Street, Jefferson Avenue, Union Avenue and Manassas.

The site of the upcoming automotive museum at 645 Marshall. (Brandon Dill)

The MMDC's goals include leveraging the value that the institutions are creating by increasing the area's housing supply, strengthening the commercial corridors and enhancing the district's safety and security.

Nearly 900 units of housing are under construction or in pre-development in the medical district area, and the highly anticipated Wonder Bread factory redevelopment project in the Edge District at 341 Monroe Avenue will make up roughly 286 of those units.

Related: "DSG plans to transform Edge District with live-work-play concept"

“We think it will be a great asset because one of the things we see in the Medical District overall is that we’re at about 98 percent occupancy rate of the residential options here,” said MMDC President Tommy Pacello.

“One of the frustrations that we constantly hear from the employees, students and institutional leadership is that there are not enough places for them live that are close to where they’re working and studying.”

The $73 million Wonder Bread factory redevelopment, which sits on approximately 10 acres along Madison and Monroe Avenues, will also include office and retail space as well as public greenspace. Plans include the adaptive reuse of more than 150,000 square feet of existing structures, some of which are more than 100 years old, as well as ground-up construction.

“The Edge District overall has always had a lot of artists and manufacturing – furniture makers, music makers, beer producers – and I think we tried in our work to add layers to that,” said Pacello.

New creative firms like Karen Adams Designs at 647 Madison Avenue, event planners like LEO Events at 407 and 411 Monroe Avenue, and coffee roasters at 600 Monroe Avenue like Edge Alley have set up shop or are moving into the district, and a new beverage maker is expected to be announced in the coming months.

Construction takes place at the former Wonder Bread factory at 400 Monroe Avenue. (Brandon Dill)

“As we’re seeing more and more commercial activity begin to pick up, it all seems to be very complimentary of the essence of what was in the Edge originally, which was artists and manufacturing,” said Pacello.

Startup creative consulting, advertising and design firm Baby Grand just moved into the neighborhood in early July, leasing newly renovated space at 676 Marshall Avenue.

“We wanted to be in the Edge District,” said Baby Grand co-founder Benjamin Colar, who previously worked with Archer Malmo. “We’re excited to be part of the neighborhood development, seeing new things pop up and sort of being in the middle of the renaissance of the neighborhood. There’s an energy here that’s really cool, and we wanted to be a part of it.”

Related: "Artists to open new co-work space in the Edge District"

PKM Architects bought the building at 676 Marshall Avenue and has redeveloped it into a mixed-use space with three commercial bays totaling 4,100 square feet on the front side and five studio apartments in the back. The building was constructed in 1949 and has been used for a number of purposes over the years, including as a paint shop and for event equipment rentals, but it had sat dormant for several years.

“PKM studied the surrounding area and considered needs of the medical community and the neighborhood. We quickly discovered a need for retail space and residential space because there is so little and such high demand," said developer Austin Magruder with PKM.

676 Marshall Avenue has been recently redeveloped. (Brandon Dill)
Construction at 676 Marshall Avenue wrapped up earlier this month with the help of a $60,000 exterior improvements grant from the Downtown Memphis Commission.

PKM is also utilizing space in the building for its offices, and Magruder is enjoying being a part of the area’s growth.

“It’s a great feeling. Living in one of the apartments and working at PKM Architects, I’ve gotten to know all the people who live and work in the area,” he said. “I’m more and more excited every day knowing all of the great things to come to the neighborhood.”

Memphis band Lucero bought the building at 597 Madison Avenue early this year, and they have been using it for practice space while exploring further redevelopment options.

“It’s nice to see local companies and/or local bands moving back into the district,” said Robert Taylor, affiliate broker with Raspberry CRE. “The Edge District is one of the last districts with second- and third-generation building stock. I feel like the city is definitely committed to the Edge because Sun Studio and Sam Phillips Studio are there.”

Earlier this month, Lucero released its newest album, Among the Ghosts, which was recorded at Sam Phillips Studio.

A new automobile museum is in the early stages of planning for 645 Marshall Avenue, which will  area’s history as auto row as it was once filled with car dealerships and maintenance shops, many of which dated back to the 1920s. 

A former nightclub at 616 Marshall is up for sale (Brandon Dill)

In February, Orion Federal Credit Union purchased a building on the western half of the Wonder Bread factory redevelopment site. When the financial institution moves its headquarters to the Edge District, it will bring 150 jobs to the neighborhood. 

“That will help to support the artists and manufacturing, and also perhaps support the demand for neighborhood-serving retail because that’s one of the things that I think is missing a little bit,” said Pacello. “We are going to see an increased demand for neighborhood-serving businesses, whether that be restaurant cafe-type users or small retailers.”

Stakeholders of the neighborhood keep the neighborhood active with events and meet-ups at places like Edge Alley.

“We already had some great businesses that were here prior to the Wonder Bread project, and they see an opportunity to take advantage of the new development, just as we are also seeing new businesses come in,” said Pacello.

The Spectrum Memphis building at 616 Marshall Avenue, which sits on a narrow lot, is also up for sale.

“From geometry points of view it could be a tough building to redevelop,” said Pacello, who thinks it could be a music venue again similar to when it was Club 616, which closed two years ago.

An exterior view of 597 Madison Avenue, which was recently converted to be used as a band rehearsal space. (Brandon Dill)

Future redevelopment in the area could take place at some of the buildings along the ravine near High Cotton and at the site of the former Memphis Cycle & Supply Co. shop at 281 Monroe Avenue.

“Those present some really exciting opportunities for those buildings to be repositioned a whole myriad of uses,” said Pacello.

Related: "Edge Alley and High Cotton combine operations and share dining space"

Innovative partnerships are also happening between Edge District businesses like Edge Alley and High Cotton Brewing Company, as the side-by-side businesses tore down a shared wall and combined operations. Now, Edge Alley staffs the brewer’s tap room and handles all of the front-of-house guest experience for both businesses, while High Cotton lends its beer distribution infrastructure to help Edge Alley get freshly roasted coffee beans into retail locations throughout Shelby County.

Edge Alley roasts its own coffee, has a full espresso bar, and features four storefronts for micro-retailers. The retail space serves an incubator for young businesses.

“If you have a thriving home or garage business and are interested in having a storefront, we want to be that stepping stone,” said Barker.

Edge Alley will be expanding soon into retail and grab-and-go pre-packaged foods like fresh-squeezed juices, bottled cold-brewed coffee, chicken salad and pimento cheese.

“We’re very excited about everything that’s happening in the neighborhood. We saw it coming from the beginning, and that’s what made this viable,” said Barker. “Knowing that there’s growing enthusiasm for this neighborhood, we’re really proud to be over here.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

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.