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VOL. 126 | NO. 247 | Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pick of the Litter

Unused spaces turned into dog park, art space

By Andy Meek

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The Downtown Memphis Commission and its staff are bringing an interior designer’s eye for reusability and for the possibilities that abound in vacant spaces to two new Downtown sites.

Kerry Crawford, Molly Druce and Sue Bolding mingle while they take their dogs out to the Barking Lot, a new dog walk/run park at Jefferson Avenue and Main Street.
(Photo: Kyle Kurlick)

Where someone might see only a vacant tract of land that’s little more than a hole bordered by a crumbling sidewalk, the DMC thought – aha! – a future dog park and food truck landing area. Where someone else might see underused buildings, the DMC foresaw an art gallery.

More specifically, the Downtown agency envisioned a rotating art gallery with a constantly changing selection of works from local artists.

The Barking Lot, a new doggie treat of a park that recently opened at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Main Street, is the more prominent of the two latest examples. Leslie Gower, vice president of marketing and communications for the DMC, said the group had been thinking for a long time about where a dog park would make sense Downtown.

Developer J Hollingsworth had been thinking about the concept and talking about it with the Downtown agency’s staffers too. Gower said Hollingsworth told her many of the residents at No. 10 Main, an apartment property he helped develop, have pets.

“And he was like, ‘That’s the perfect spot, right off Main Street,’” Gower said. “It’s within walking distance for a lot of apartments. Most of the apartments on Main are at 100 percent occupancy, so there are a ton of residents there, and a lot of them have dogs.”

A parking project a little farther south, where the Memphis College of Art graduate school was building a parking lot, helped the dog park fall into place.

The Downtown Parking Authority donated excess dirt from that project to fill the hole at Jefferson and Main.

Once the vacant site was filled with dirt, the dog park began to emerge. It also helped that the property owners, Pinkney and Janice Herbert, are artists who appreciated the concept.

Gower said they’re looking at ways to get grants to help bring public art to the space. Also, when the dirt was being poured and the site started coming together, Pinkney came up with the idea of including a landing place for food trucks at the site, so Fuel Café’s food truck has been parking there.

“I’d love to see even more dog parks in Memphis,” said Kelly Earnest, director of public relations for The Peabody hotel, who owns two great Danes and lives on Mud Island. “They’re a great place to socialize your dog and to meet like-minded neighbors. So many of us who live in Downtown or on Mud Island have very small yards or no yards at all, so it’s especially welcome to have an enclosed park nearby where our pets can play off-leash in a safe environment.”

Meanwhile, the DMC is helping do something similar at another Main Street intersection.

Two empty buildings at the intersection of Main and Union Avenue will be turned into rotating gallery spaces – the building at 85 Union Ave., and the building across from it on the other side of Main.

“There’s been a lot of interest in those buildings, but they haven’t been able to get filled yet,” Gower said. “We’ll be rotating artists in and out of those spaces as exhibits. We’ve heard a lot of people saying we need to do something with these vacant storefronts, so we thought this would be a good way to kind of animate those spaces and keep some interest there.”

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