The stars could be aligning for the Memphis Police Department to finally move out of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center in Downtown.
Cost estimates for the department to renovate the old police headquarters on Adams Avenue have dropped and financing sources that could lighten the city’s cost burden are being explored, two important steps that could finally prompt a move.
A recent cost estimate given to city officials put the price tag of renovating the building at 128 Adams Ave. at around $18 million, far below the previous estimate of $40 million. The $18 million figure is for renovation costs and doesn’t include costs that would be related to a move.
“That’s the latest number I’ve heard,” said Chief Administrative Officer George Little.
“Obviously, we won’t know the full extent of what’s going on until we go in there and start the work.”
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said the 128 Adams building is so intriguing because the city owns the roughly 100,000-square-foot structure and it could consolidate public safety functions – including some Memphis Fire Department operations and Memphis Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center – that are scattered across the city in leased locations.
“If we were in the business world we would say it is a valuable but underperforming asset right now,” Wharton said. “It’s a great building in a great location and, by George, we own it.
“In terms of consolidation of our public safety functions it would be ideal. People don’t realize we have public safety functions strung all over the city.”
Former police director Larry Godwin and current director Toney Armstrong have said officers were practically working on top of each other at 201 Poplar Ave., which houses the department’s command staff, detective bureaus and communications operations.
The old police station on Adams opened in 1911 and housed police offices, courts and the city’s jail until the department moved out of the roughly 100,000-square-foot building to the Shelby County-owned CJC in 1982.
Since then, the city has been renting floors 11 and 12 from the county at a cost of roughly $1.2 million a year.
“If we’re going to spend that money, why don’t we own it, especially since we’ve grown out of space at 201 Poplar?” Little said.
The police department has considered moving back to the Adams building for more than a decade.
The building was gutted in 2004 and treated for lead and asbestos.
However, a proposed move back to the stately old building was nixed by the Memphis City Council amid budget concerns in 2008.
Wharton said in addition to providing a location for consolidating public safety functions, moving into 128 Adams would satisfy two more priorities of his administration – reinvigorating the core city while providing a more cost-effective alternative for the cash-strapped city.
“It’s the one dead spot there,” Wharton said. “The Fire Museum (of Memphis) is vibrant. The Shelby County Courthouse is going to be there. The Shelby County building is going under renovation.
“Everyone knows the situation with the city in terms of our general fund and (Capital Improvement Program) budget. My instructions were to find alternative ways to do this that don’t tap into an already stressed operating and CIP budget.”
One of those alternatives could involve allowing a private developer to rehabilitate the building.
City officials have held discussions with an out-of-state firm that develops and leases government buildings and specializes in preserving and developing historic buildings.
Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said his staff has been working on an in-depth redevelopment and financing options for 128 Adams.
“We’ve been working hard on this for six months; we have done a pretty deep analysis of the building and how we could finance it,” said Lipscomb, who declined to go into more specifics.
The city also is in the early stages of exploring whether the J. Donnelly Hill state office building could provide a suitable home for city government operations that are spread across Memphis in leased locations.
The state is preparing to abandon its roughly 100,000 square feet in the building at Civic Center Plaza Downtown.
The state, following a consultant’s recommendation, said it would be cheaper to vacate the building than bringing it up to modern standards.
“They’re trying to find somebody to go into that space and another government entity makes sense, but there’s a reason they’re leaving that building,” Little said. “We’re at the very, very beginning of exploring that option.”