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VOL. 128 | NO. 139 | Thursday, July 18, 2013

All Aboard

MATA reviewing proposals for Central Station’s next phase

By Amos Maki

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Central Station is poised to ride Downtown’s development momentum into its next phase of life.

Memphis Area Transit Authority officials are reviewing requests for proposals for the next round of redevelopment at the Central Station in the South Main Historic Arts District. 

(Daily News/Lance Murphey)

Memphis Area Transit Authority officials are now reviewing requests for proposals for the next round of redevelopment at the iconic Downtown property.

MATA sought proposals for an ownership and management partnership along with a development proposal for additions to the 17-acre facility that anchors the southern side of the bustling South Main Historic Arts District.

“We want to secure a developer that will take over management and operations of the facility when the current partnership agreement expires in early 2015 and entertain developer ideas for new transit-oriented development on the vacant property on the site,” said Tom Fox, deputy general manager for MATA.

Fox, citing the ongoing evaluation process, declined to say how many firms responded to the RFP but said a selection could be made early next year.

“We expect several months of negotiations with the top-ranked developer, so our best estimate at this time is early 2014,” Fox said.

Central Station’s death and rebirth mirrored that of its neighborhood on the southern end of Downtown.

Central Station for decades served as the centerpiece of the South Main district after it was built in 1914, supplying the neighborhood and the businesses there with a steady stream of travelers and commerce.

South Main became a thriving commercial and industrial district with warehouses, Memphis Brewing Co., Piggly Wiggly’s headquarters and “Film Row” near Vance Avenue and Second Street. After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 and the decline of the passenger rail industry, Central Station – like most of Downtown, including South Main – suffered a steady decline.

The building fell into disrepair by the early 1990s and there were fears that it could be razed like Union Station, but MATA stepped in to guide the restoration and adaptive reuse of the historic buildings and surrounding property.

The Central Station redevelopment project, completed in 1999, included 63 apartments and 35,000 square feet of commercial space. Central Station hosts the Memphis Farmers Market and houses the Amtrak station serviced by the City of New Orleans train, meeting space, law offices, a police precinct and MATA operations.

The Central Station project helped spark the rebirth of South Main into the thriving residential, arts and entertainment district that it is today, with 34 local retailers, 25 locally owned restaurants and more than $100 million in development projects underway or about to start.

“Central Station is a critical focal point for the South Main neighborhood,” said Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission, which helped MATA draft its RFP.

Morris said all the activity around Central Station, such as residential and retail growth, the redevelopment of the Chisca Hotel, expansion of The Orpheum Theatre Memphis and major upgrades at the National Civil Rights Museum, should be attractive to developers.

MATA would like to see development of the roughly five acres on the east side of Front Street between G.E. Patterson and Georgia avenues, a prime piece of Downtown real estate.

“We want somebody who has proven experience managing a mixed-use facility and with urban development,” Morris said.

The DMC recently launched a new branding campaign for the neighborhood called “Go South Main.” The campaign has a regularly updated website, www.gosouthmain.com, which features the businesses and people that have made South Main a success.

The ambitious Main Street to Main Street revitalization project would stretch from the Uptown area to South Main and then link up with the Harahan Bridge.

The project will include streetscape, utility, sidewalk, roadway and drainage improvements along Main, the conversion of the existing roadways on the Harahan to a bicycle and pedestrian bridge and construction of new multiuse trails connecting the bridge with new Broadway Avenue improvements in West Memphis.

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