The first elected official to drop hints about a Cooper-Young parking garage was Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who is frequently seen in the restaurants in the district on Saturday mornings or mid-afternoon.
Automobiles pass Tsunami Restaurant on Cooper Street during Cooper-Young Night Out. Heavy automobile traffic in the area has some considering building a parking garage.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Wharton lives not too far away from the bustling neighborhood.
He began talking about it more specifically late last year as construction began on the other side of Union Avenue on the Overton Square parking garage.
Not having a large parking lot – like the one in Overton Square where the city-funded parking garage and the new Hattiloo Theater are under construction – Cooper-Young merchants and homeowners have had their own discussions about parking and traffic over the years.
Tamara Cook, executive director of the Cooper Young Business Association, puts the beginning of serious discussion in 2010 when Wharton urged the group to start making plans and gave them the name of Structured Parking Solutions LLC of Pensacola, Fla.
SPS did some preliminary plans for a three-level parking deck for 150 to 250 cars. The drawings made their debut at a meeting the business association had last month with the Cooper-Young Community Association, the neighborhood’s homeowners group.
The business association has options to buy on several parcels of land on the south side of Young Avenue between Meda and Blythe streets. There are two surface parking lots and a commercial building with no tenant on the land.
There also are two houses nearby that may play a role in a plan that is still forming.
“We still are in such a flux right now that we don’t know if we’re going to need that extra space,” Cook said. “We may need it for the garage. We may not need it for the garage. We may need it for a park to have a buffer between the neighborhood and the garage.”
Before that the association looked at several other options that all had problems, including a garage in the lot behind Café Ole and Young Avenue Deli, on what has been a battleground in the past for parking territory.
There was also a site behind The Beauty Shop that would have meant relocating some utility infrastructure. And there was a plan to add a parking garage on top of the building at the Cooper-Young intersection occupied by Mulan.
“The beams that would have had to go into the street and sidewalk would have been incredible,” Cook said of the idea. “It would have been totally bad for the neighborhood to shut all that down for that amount of time.”
The ballpark cost for a garage that may or may not have retail spaces on the street level is around $4 million.
Wharton indicated earlier this year that such a garage would be further down on the list of uses for sales tax revenue captured within a Tourism Development Zone, whose first priority would be funding the cost of renovations to the nearby Fairgrounds property.
“Once we declare the TDZ there will be other projects coming on line, whether it’s parking in Cooper-Young, which is needed, whether it’s bringing to completion the project over in Overton Square,” Wharton said in February. “The money will be spent within the TDZ but the initial project is the fairgrounds. You set a budget for each of the projects within the TDZ.”
The merchants are waiting on City Hall and a verdict from the community association. The first reviews from residents seem mixed. Some don’t like the look in the SPS rendering. Others question the impact on homes in the area and whether a parking garage will mean more commercial growth that will start a trend of commercial development into the residential area.
Cook said she has heard from some homeowners who like the idea of cars parked in the neighborhood on the streets instead of in a garage.
“We are a mix of East Memphis and Downtown,” she said. “I have tourists calling me daily to try to get here. It just needs to be a good place to get in and out of. We just need some infrastructure help after 26 years.”
Cook points out the last city-funded infrastructure of this kind was $500,000 for lamp posts and a gazebo in the late 1980s.
That doesn’t count the bicycle lanes painted last year in the district. The merchants didn’t rise up in opposition to bicycle lanes the way some did on Madison Avenue. But they did talk with city planners about what they felt were some safety issues.
“We wanted those bike lanes; we just didn’t want them right up on the curb,” Cook said.
And about two years before the move to a garage began, the merchants talked over the idea of a median strip on Cooper briefly before realizing it would probably shut down the annual Cooper-Young festival in September because it wouldn’t leave enough room for a fire truck to get through.