The Heights

What's happening on Summer Avenue?

Business and community leaders in The Heights and Berclair say development along the Summer Avenue Corridor between East Parkway and I-240 is accelerating. New high-demand businesses are popping up, existing buildings are undergoing renovations, and the area’s been promised some large investments in 2021. 

Read on for more on some of the most recent developments on the Summer Corridor.

Related: "Rising to new Heights: The history and current climb of Memphis' streetcar suburb"

More to Come Near Summer and Perkins 
The vacant field next to Aldi on Summer Avenue (foreground) may soon become a Chipotle restaurant. (Cole Bradley) On July 15, Chic-fil-a welcomed its first customers at its newly constructed location at Summer and Stratford, just east of the Summer and Perkins Road. A permit has been filed to add a Chipotle restaurant across the street in the vacant lot next to Planet Fitness, which opened in 2017, and the spacious new Aldi grocery store added in 2019. 

Chick-fil-a replaced the Colonial United Methodist Church building. Planet Fitness and Aldi replaced the Imperial Bowling Lane. The planned new Chipotle would fill the vacant lot where the infamous Admiral Benbow Inn once stood. 

Who’s New to Summer Avenue?
Drew Joyner and partners Octavius Nickson and Chris Hendrix of Nickson General Contractors purchased the 11-bay retail center at the southeast corner of Summer and National Street in May. Nickson General Contractors is a certified minority-owned small business and has been headquartered at 3686 Summer Avenue since 2019 in what was formerly Ken Rash’s Furniture. They have begun work to repair and upgrade the shops’ exterior facades while preserving original design qualities. 
Facade improvements are underway at the 11-bay shopping centered on the southeast corner of Summer and National Street. (Cole Bradley)
The nonprofit My City Rides is renovating the vacated Leatherwood motorcycles building at 3155 Summer. Their new headquarters will have offices, a showroom floor for their rent-to-own scooters, and a practice course for new riders. 

Alliance Healthcare Services cleared the entire block of ramshackle buildings at 3195 Summer to build a new Crisis Assessment Center. 

It’s not new, but Memphians rejoiced to learn that Bryant’s Breakfast reopened under new ownership in the same spot at 3965 Summer back in April. 

Artist Brantley Ellzey moved his studio to 3086 Summer Avenue in June 2021. 

At 2432 Summer, the Lucian Theater is under renovation. It first opened in 1939-40 and was home to the Paris Adult Theatre from the 1970s until its closure in 2017. Meghan Medford, director of the Summer Avenue Merchants Association, said owner Bill Townsend plans to turn it into an event venue with top-quality acoustics. 

Two doors down, the facade at 2405 Summer got a facelift with new blue paint and 18-foot cut outs of Tina Turner and Elvis Presley designed by artist John Cerney. According to several news reports, the owner commissioned the art solely to spruce up the neighborhood and has not stated any intended purpose for the building itself.

Terra Cotta is a women-owned, Black-owned, and locally-owned business that opened at 3032 Summer in October 2020. They sell house plants along with a variety of home and personal goods made largely by local makers and artisans of color.  More recently, they’ve begun hosting more events ranging from showcasing live musicians to community yoga classes.

Related: “Women Working It: The plants and passion of Terra Cotta”

Renovations are under way at the former Lucian Theater/Paris Adult Theatre. The new owner plans to turn it into an event venue. (Cole Bradley)

A Plan for a More Complete Street
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Department of Transportation awarded an urban transportation grant to the City of Memphis’ Division of Planning and Development for development of a Complete Streets Plan for the five-mile section of Summer Avenue between East Parkway to I-240. They’ll work with TDOT and consultant Stantec on the project.

“We are studying the corridor and creating a future vision that will be used to guide future investments and changes along Summer Avenue,” said Bradyn Carson with the Division of Planning and Development.

The Summer Corridor is the only area in Memphis to receive this grant, which caps out at $200,000 and requires 10% of the costs be covered locally. The plan is scheduled to be completed by February 2022. 

According to TDOT, complete street plans are meant to guide a street’s development and focus its design on health and active living, reducing traffic issues, and improving safety and mobility for pedestrians, bikeriders, and drivers through suggested physical and policy improvements. They aren’t binding agreements, but the hope is that a cohesive plan will inspire more focused public and private investment in a community, help foster a sense of place, and attract new people and businesses to the area. 

The city is currently collecting feedback from the community to inform the plan. Those interested in participating in the planning process can complete this survey for the City of Memphis and add comments to an interactive map here.

New construction on Summer Avenue west of Perkins replaces what was most recently a Krystal's fast food restaurant. (Cole Bradley)

Medford recently met with Carson to learn more about the grant and planning process and share some of the SAMA’s desires. 

“Lately there have been a lot of fatal accidents on Summer from speeding, so anything we can do to calm traffic would be great,” said Medford. 

She said SAMA’s wish list also includes landscaping and improved walkability. 

“We’d love more green space. We suggested better lighting because it is pretty dim at night. We just want to beautify it,” she said.

The complete streets plan overlaps and also aligns with an existing Memphis 3.0 small area plan focused on the intersection of Summer and National Street.

A New National
The National Street intersection sits near the center of the Summer Corridor. It’s home to small businesses, a post office, fire station

The Memphis 3.0 comprehensive, citywide development plan has deemed this intersection an anchor location, or a mixed-use area that is already a gathering place for neighbors and is ideal for concentrating public and private investment to, hopefully, spur additional investment in the surrounding community. There is already a basic small area plan for development along Summer between National and Highland Street and north up National for four blocks. That plan is still being built and refined with community input, and the complete streets plan will likely contribute to that work. 

Relate: "In photos: Memphis gets thrifty on Summer Avenue" 

Medford said the designation as an anchor location comes with significant attention for funding and support to redevelop the streets around it, including Summer Avenue.  

“One of the things [SAMA] wanted to do was on-street parking to make that area more walkable,” said Medford.

Heights CDC has been working to reactivate commerical spaces on National and redesign its median as a walkable, bikeable community greenspace for the last four years. The Heights community has few greenspaces, but once complete, the new Heights Line linear park will feature an expanded median with benches, grassy areas, and shade trees; a paved pedestrian path; protected bike lanes, and fewer lanes for car traffic on National between Summer and Bayliss Avenue. 
 
The City of Memphis has now included the Heights Line in its Accelerate Memphis funding program, which has allocated $75 million towards recommendations outlined in Memphis 3.0 and an additional $75 million for parks and greenspaces. The city has committed $4 million dollars to the Heights Line project.

The Fear of Gentrification
SAMA organized in 2016 with a focus on decreasing blight on Summer. Medford says they have seen the number of blighted properties decrease significantly in the last five years. 

The group’s main priority is to make Summer Avenue a destination location for Memphians across the metro area. SAMA has worked to promote the diversity of the area as a point of interest. Medford is quick to highlight the variety of restaurants with foods from around the globe and the international business community along the Summer Corridor, many of whom are members of SAMA.

Related: "Video: A taste of the world from Summer Avenue"

She recognizes that a focus on Summer Avenue may spell trouble for the same locally-owned small businesses that are asking for improvements to the street. 

“The more that we do to improve Summer, rent prices are going to go up. So we have to find a way to improve the area but not push out these small businesses. We want to make sure that we don’t push out the mom-and-pops,” said Medford. 

Several other community leaders, business owners, and residents have expressed the same fears. Some are working to support a handful of area residents who want to start or keep their business in the neighborhood, but no one has voiced a larger-scale solution for looming gentrification.

Read more articles by Leigh Tatum.

Leigh Tatum is a behavioral health consultant with a M.S. in social work. She is a resident of The Heights and graduate of the first High Ground News Community Correspondents program.
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