If those planning the emerging renaissance in the South Main district find the formula for preserving the “vibe” that makes the area unique and growing the district in the process, they should apply for a patent.
That is not to suggest it can’t be done. But it isn’t easy because as the area grows – and we believe the growth is already under way – someone will wax nostalgic for the rustic feel before all the newcomers made it hip.
South Main will change with growth just as it has changed several times over in its long history. But if there is a goal for what the area should be that remains fairly respectful of the unknown elements that always require plans to be malleable, South Main can be the neighborhood it once was with the structures that later defined its character and identity.
The value of that combination is also found in what it means for the soon-to-be second phase of development of the Beale Street entertainment district – an area overwhelmingly geared to tourists as opposed to those who live in Memphis.
In South Main’s unique identity might be the key to finding an identity for Beale that makes it more of a place where local meets tourist.
South Main’s social flavor so far bears a passing resemblance to Cooper-Young’s district as well as the burgeoning Overton Square but the three have enough differences to make them all viable options for Memphians in the act of being Memphians.
All three have histories rooted in much different times.
Overton Square comes the closest to the planned commercial communities of today in its origins.
For South Main this may be the spring and summer that the closest neighborhood to the Memphis in May International Festival blossoms like it rarely has in recent years.
If more Memphians come to see the rebirth of the area in progress then or at other points during the spring and summer, it is important that they see an area that offers a clear companion and alternative to the high-rise residential experience just to the north.
The business leaders and developers involved in the South Main comeback are taking risks in the shadow of the recession and should be able to sustain themselves on fair market values. The young professionals they seek as part of the mix to populate the area must also be able to afford the rent.
We think these essentials can coexist with some vigilance to give both words in the phrase “fair market” equal emphasis.
We are also anxious to see the South Main ArtSpace Lofts work in what is a crucial test of the idea of live-work spaces for artists.
ArtSpace could have lessons for the Crosstown development effort and vice-versa. If successful, it could be replicated in many other parts of the changing map of where Memphians choose to live.