The chain link fence surrounding the dilapidated Hotel Chisca in Downtown Memphis is a little bit easier on the eyes as of Saturday, Oct. 27.
That’s because it now boasts 30 colorful banners created by students of St. Louis Catholic School, under the leadership of art teacher Robin Durden. The art exhibit, “Memphis Music Icons,” pays tribute to the Hotel Chisca’s legacy of being the location where Elvis Presley was first played on Dewey Phillips’ “Red, Hot and Blue” radio show from the WHBQ studios in 1954.
“We’re here to celebrate you, your art, and also the Chisca Hotel,” Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission, said Saturday at the intersection of at South Main Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. “It’s not much to look at today, but the good news is that a lot of good things are about to happen at this site, and with your art, it’s going to make it look pretty in the mean time.”
As of Friday, Oct. 26, the eight-story-tall Chisca at 272 S. Main St. is no longer owned by the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The new local ownership team known as Main Street Partners LLC – Terry Lynch, Gary Prosterman, Gail Schledwitz and J.W. Gibson – closed on the $900,000 acquisition of the 99-year-old hotel, one of many hurdles conquered, with many more to go.
The group plans to pump more than $20 million in renovations into the 292,000-square-foot hotel to convert it into 150 market-rate apartments with 5,400 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.
“It’s a great day in Memphis,” Lynch said. “It has not been easy… You can tell by looking at the building, it’s been falling in the streets. It’s got structural issues, environmental issues that we have to deal with. It’s not the kind of thing people run to try to take care of. It’s taken a community effort, the public has stepped up and committed their portion to this, and now it’s up to us to make this happen.”
The Memphis City Council approved in August sending $2 million in city funding to the Center City Development Corp. for blight remediation of Hotel Chisca. Main Street Partners is spearheading the remaining investment and recruitment of private equity to conduct the extensive rehab.
Lynch said it takes native Memphians like his group to make a project of this magnitude happen.
“We have a lot of love for this city and a lot of passion for the development,” Lynch said. “Hopefully, we’ll make not just ourselves, but all Memphians very proud of what we’re going to do here as part of the redevelopment of Downtown.”
Lynch and his team are going through the design process, and upon completion of that will bid the project out for contractors. The lead design team is Danny Bounds of Bounds & Gillespie Architects PLLC in association with Looney Ricks Kiss Inc.
“We’ve done obviously a lot of preliminary work, so we know about where we’re going to be there, but you have to get to the real numbers to have a real plan,” Lynch said.
As that plan takes shape, the artwork will serve as a reminder of better days ahead for the blighted building in South Main Historic Arts District.
As part of Saturday’s celebration, the St. Louis School Show Choir also performed two Memphis-centric songs for the crowd, led by music teacher Mary Jackson: Elvis’ “That’s All Right, Momma” and Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.”