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VOL. 129 | NO. 110 | Friday, June 06, 2014

Untapped Proved Passion for History

By Andy Meek

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Once the last of the food trucks departed, the tables and chairs were packed away, the beer garden cleared out and supporters exited through the courtyard archway a final time, the Tennessee Brewery returned to what it’s been for decades.

Barring a sale to a new owner, a representative of the Tennessee Brewery has said demolition is set to begin Aug. 1.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The castle-like structure once again is one of Memphis’ most prominent Big Empties, albeit this time one that has an imminent date with the wrecking ball.

By the end of its six-week run, organizers of Tennessee Brewery Untapped – a “temporary activation” project that wrapped up in recent days and included community events at the brewery designed to raise awareness of it – seemed resigned to the structure’s seemingly unavoidable fate.

Barring a sale to a new owner in the next two months, a representative of the property has said demolition is set to begin Aug. 1.

Tennessee Brewery Untapped was many things – a community gathering place, ad hoc watering hole and, perhaps more poignantly, one last hurrah for the defunct brewery that was founded in 1885 by three men, one of whom came from a family in Germany that had brewed beer for 500 years.

In light of that history, one thing the Untapped partners learned is the existence of significant interest in Memphis for the creative approach to old buildings that Untapped represented, said spokesman Kerry Hayes.

The crowds, he added, underscored that interest. Organizers estimate some 30,000 people came to the brewery at some point during Untapped’s run to enjoy a beer garden with a social cause, local food trucks, a party atmosphere and the rare look inside a building many had not given much thought to before now.

“I think we learned there is a huge appetite for this kind of stuff in Memphis, for getting inside old buildings and for uncovering what old buildings look like and feel like from the inside,” said Hayes, director of public relations at doug carpenter & associates llc. “We learned there’s a city out there that wants to engage in this kind of work.”

Even more important, he said the Untapped approach is likely to be repeated at similarly challenged properties in Memphis in the future. Not in a way that suggests there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with such properties, but that the broader creative approach is what can be replicated.

“I do think there will be more of these types of projects,” Hayes said. “I think the revenue created by this is going to be a motivator. I think the crowds will demand it in some ways.”

The team that lined up to help organize and run Untapped included planners, citizens and activists. Among those taking part were commercial real estate broker Andy Cates, businessmen and restaurateurs Taylor Berger and Michael Tauer, and communications professional Doug Carpenter.

Hayes said they learned about everything on the fly, and about how to “try to make it perfect every night.” Since it was a temporary project, they had opportunities to reboot it somewhat each weekend, figuring out what worked, what didn’t and what the peak times seemed to be so that resources could be adjusted.

The event created fans both here and abroad. The married couple behind the travel blog International Travelers, for example, wrote that they visited the city and were pleasantly surprised after hitting up Untapped.

“We at Intentional Travelers are suckers for community-led initiatives that make something amazing out of nothing,” they wrote. “That’s why we couldn’t get enough of Tennessee Brewery Untapped.”

On June 1, to close out Untapped, organizers posted to the Untapped Facebook page a poetic goodbye that reads, in part, “You can walk on these dusty bricks, but please, don’t forget the parts of us still floating endless in the garden.”

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