The Great Recession silenced construction crews throughout the Memphis area, and that was especially evident Downtown, where ambitious, skyline-changing projects were put on hold, reconfigured or scrapped altogether.
But after some tentative first steps in an uncertain recovery, the sounds of commerce have returned as bulldozers and cranes creep back to life.
Construction in Downtown’s core is on the rebound, although the plans that remain relevant have new elements and some construction companies didn’t survive the slump.
“Three years ago it was dead,” said Jeff Hutzel, president of Hutzel Construction Co. Inc. “As far as my business in the Downtown area, I’ve probably looked at at least three other jobs in the last two months. And I negotiated and got this one, and I think I’ve got one other.”
Jeff Hutzel of Hutzel Construction Co., is working on the Tamp and Tap Room at Van Vleet Flats. The coffee and beer bar is one of many Downtown construction projects underway – a postitive sign for the city’s core.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Hutzel is talking about a build-out of the new Tamp and Tap Room on the ground floor of Van Vleet Flats at Gayoso Avenue and Second Street, which is a few weeks from completion.
Hutzel’s previous Downtown project had been the D. Canale offices just a block away from Van Vleet at Second and Union Avenue several years ago.
“It seems to be full-blown work everywhere,” Hutzel said. “Most of the good contractors that I know like myself who survived the downturn are busy, busy. I haven’t seen a slowdown since it started back about a year ago.”
Some large-scale construction projects breathing life back into Downtown include St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s new tower, the transformation of The Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shop and the completion of Beale Street Landing.
Meanwhile, construction on South Junction apartments on two of the corners of Carolina Avenue and Florida Street is expected to begin in July, according to developers of the project, which includes Henry Turley Co.
The construction date is included in South Junction Partners Inc. application to the Memphis Center City Revenue Finance Corp. for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for the project. The finance corporation board votes Tuesday, May 14, on the application.
The 197-unit apartment community is an example of plans made in the recession coming back to life with different partners.
Terry Lynch of Southland Development Partners had planned on building on the two corners as the next phase of his State Place development, but when the plans fell through, Renasant Bank bought them last year in lieu of foreclosure. The South Junction group bought the land a few months later.
Meanwhile, Lynch remained heavily involved in the $24 million restoration of the old Chisca hotel, which was to begin construction this month with the addition of Carlisle Corp. as the main partner.
Carlisle, owned by longtime Downtown developer Gene Carlisle, gives the group a lead partner with construction experience.
Carlisle also has experience with how plans can change – and collapse.
“When I got involved in the Beale Street Landing project almost 40 years ago we were in the residential development business,” he said of his late-1970s plans for Beale Street Landing, the Beale and Riverside Drive development that featured the old Captain Bilbo’s restaurant.
That later became Number One Beale, which was eventually demolished to make way for One Beale, a luxury hotel-residential high-rise development that Carlisle unveiled as the recession struck.
He held off on the project, perhaps saving it from a similar fate of the Horizon, a 16-story condo development at 717 Riverside Drive that sits empty and unfinished, a blemish on the Memphis skyline.
Carlisle said the goal of developing the larger area has remained, even though the plans have been scrambled in terms of partners and timetables.
“The core of the city from here all the way to the river has got to be developed. A part of that we lost when the markets collapsed,” Carlisle said as he stood in the entrance to the Chisca’s old motor plaza in April and pointed west. “This without question will be the centerpiece.”
Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC is the contractor for South Junction and has been busy with the renewal of Overton Square, where Hutzel has also done a lot of work.
“I’ve got multiple jobs going on in Overton Square. It’s just blowing up,” Hutzel said. “Loeb has done a wonderful job marketing that. They’ve certainly spent enough money for that to come out of its hibernation.”