Thursday, April 26, 2007

This Week's Question: What To Do If In Charge Of Downtown

First, a reminder. We welcome all suggestions that you have for improving Memphis, particularly as it relates to its competitiveness, its revitalization, its design, its downtown, well, you get the picture: we welcome your ideas and the logic behind them on just about anything that can make Memphis a better place to live and work.

While we wait for those spontaneous suggestions to come rolling in, we prime the pump with a question of the week.

This week’s toss-up question for this round of the suggestion box was:

If you could be in charge of downtown Memphis for a year, what would be your three priorities?

Here’s what you said, and as usual, there’s great food for thought:


1. Code enforcement. There are STILL too many buildings that need work and are being ignored.

2. Development NORTH of Madison on Main Street.

3. More police on Beale Street.


1. Provide financial incentive to attract a buyer for the Sterick Building so it can be renovated and turned into a hotel and condo. It is a beautiful historic building. Surely renovating it would be less expensive than building a similar development from the ground up.

2. Expedite the development of the "hole" on Main Street. There have been four proposals under consideration for some time. The original developer defaulted, so obviously the CCC (Center City Commission) had an idea of what they wanted there originally. What is taking so long?

3. Decide once and for all what we are going to do with The Pyramid.


1. Give ultimatums to Downtown landowners that have sat on their decaying property too long (i.e., The Chisca for years, The Sterick Building). If they don't clean it up, fine them or use eminent domain to take them and give the properties to developers who will. Maybe issue RFP’s on these sites.

2. Put some traffic back on the Main Street mall. Just two lanes (one each way) with cut-outs between the trees for on-street parking.

3. Find a new user for The Pyramid. Drop Bass Pro and pick a company that can actually DO something.


Just some ideas, feasible or not:

1. As others have said, incentives for development/renovation of existing historic buildings (though I think I read that the Sterick Building would take like $40 million to renovate, though appraised now only at $400,000)

2. Nurturing a self-sufficiency for the downtown community, developing a market of common needs services (encouraging the farmer’s market, addition of groceries/co-ops, convenience stores, pharmacies, small special services shops, etc.)

3. Contrary to above, perhaps make more of downtown pedestrian/cyclist-only (with the introduction of more bike racks and maybe increased use of trolley) might be worth considering

4. In the interests of fostering a self-sufficient community, perhaps a school would be a good idea...though we know how successful Memphis is with those...

5. Throughout development, maintain a focus on the city and community's sustainability for the future


1. Increase residential density by actively promoting development of apartments, 'specially in the area that LWC mentions. Besides creating a more dynamic downtown, apartments will feed businesses, parks and more condominium purchases.
2. increase residential and commercial density and a stronger urban space by infill of surface parking lots in the center and near edges of downtown.

3. Rationalize parking downtown with strategically located parking garages built and run by the city or the CCC on existing surface lots.


I would probably focus attention on putting more feet on the street throughout Downtown, including the weekends. So, I would try to bring the kinds of activities and businesses that tend to attract both residents of downtown and commuter workers - a Davis Kidd-style bookstore and Miss Cordelia style grocery on Main Street, etc.
Lots of shade all along the main pedestrian streets and in the parks, because the summer heat often makes outdoor activity much less attractive. I had brunch at the Majestic Grill this weekend; I passed by customers enjoying brunch at Sauces on my way. If more restaurants open on the street and offer weekend brunch, brunch on Main could become a real attraction for downtown residents and a reason for other Memphians to come downtown on the weekend. (Something would have to be done about the smells that assault your nostrils on the strip of the street between Adams and Jefferson.)

I agree with the writer who would encourage development north of Madison. I would raze any building that could not be rehabbed so that the space could be freed up for new development, including the Sterick Building (as sad as that would be) and The Pyramid. If I had to focus my attention on one thing I would focus first and foremost on getting more and more businesses Downtown because that would do so much to create more foot traffic and would make a lot the other objectives more doable.


1. A moratorium on all new groundbreaking. Clearly, from the posts here, urban sprawl and decay are an issue. Large businesses coming into Memphis would get a lower tax rate for a three-year period only on rehabbed or replaced property. End the moratorium ONLY when absolutely necessary.

2. Total rehab of the education system in Memphis. From re-building decaying buildings to supplying all supplies. Memphis can never supplant the other major problems it has, such as high infant mortality without informed, intelligent citizens. Further, develop a program that pays for adults to go back to school. Just starting new with kids will only make things better in the future. Educating the parents and the children will accelerate the improvement. New school construction might also make a dent in unemployment in Memphis.

3. Augment city beautification with more garbage workers, parks care, street cleaners and accelerated completion of construction. My momma always said, "You may not have nothin' but you can be clean." Memphis is dirty and beautification can work wonders on a citizenry's collective consciousness.

Finally, in a follow-up to last week's comments about having "real" cabs in Memphis, Tyler says:

I think it would be better to first establish a half-decent public transportation systems (bus, light rail, etc.) that locals could rely on with rarer use of a personal vehicle. Then it might be prudent to bolster a seemingly nonexistent cab system.

In addition to this, an airport shuttle service (like CAAC in China) could be used that shuttles people to various important sites (airport, train station, regional centers like downtown, midtown) for a fee more expensive than public transportation, but not as expensive as a direct cab ride. From there on, public transport or cab could serve.


Anonymous said...

In five years this question will be moot. Rising interest rates and oil prices will begin to force people to move back into the city. The question will be can any middle class person/family be able to afford to live in the city with rising property values and rents. Scarry economic times will be coming in the not too distant future. The candidates for the coming mayor's term will lay the groundwork of how the Memphis metro area will fare with these dramatic changes. Unfortunately, none of them seem to have a clue.

Anonymous said...

I have worked at tourist attractions downtown for the last 15 years. The #1 complaint I hear from tourists about Memphis is that it is impossible to walk a block downtown without being hit on by bums. And be sure that I do not mean "disadvanteged homeless people". I am talking about the young, aggressive con artists who have been working the same corners for years.

If you are afraid to say no to a bum, you are being muggged.

Anonymous said...

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