VOL. 116 | NO. 34 | Tuesday, February 19, 2002
By JENNIFER MURLEY
Historically significant property remains up for grabs
By JENNIFER MURLEY
The Daily News
The fate of a historic Downtown property closely aligned with local African-American culture remains uncertain as it heads into its third month on the market.
The Universal Life Insurance building, at the corner of Linden Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard, was listed with Northern Real Estate Services Inc. on Dec. 15 for $1.6 million. Tri-State Bank represents the seller whose name is undisclosed, according to real estate agent Aric Northern.
The property includes the 33,000-square-foot main building at 480 Linden, a 7,000-square-foot warehouse at 504 Linden, a 4,000-square-foot office building at 510 Linden and a one-acre vacant lot facing Danny Thomas. The property is being offered as a package not individual parcels.
"Its such a wonderful building and it has such a rich history," said Judith Johnson, Memphis Heritage executive director. "Its a really important building socially, culturally, as well as architecturally."
Essentially, the main building, erected in 1948, was built by and for African-American professionals, Johnson said. McKissak and McKissak, a well-respected black architectural firm in Nashville, Tenn., was commissioned to design the building by owners of Memphis-based Universal Life Insurance Co. It was designed in the Egyptian Revival style, which Johnson said was the preferred architectural style of African Americans, replete with a rising sun on the front entrance and lotus-leaf columns.
It was by selling insurance at the minority owned-Universal Life Insurance that many black Memphians moved into the middle class, Johnson said.
Throughout the buildings 53-year history, Universal Life was its sole inhabitant until the companys recent buyout by an out of town firm.
Provided the interior remains in tact, Johnson said the building is eligible to be listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places. The new owner would be responsible for initiating the process, but she said they could stand to benefit from the status, which would qualify them for historic tax credits.
The credits, 20 cents on the dollar for certified renovations of historic buildings, are federal tax credits designed to encourage rehabilitation of certified historic properties to be used for income producing purposes.
According to Northern, the building as well as its heating and air system is in good shape.
"Its as solid as Sherman tank," he said. And, although the building has been vacant since last summer, the utilities have never been disconnected and the buildings maintenance supervisor continues to maintain the property on a daily basis, he said.
The main two-story building also is wired for a network computer system, and has an 11,000-square-foot basement equipped with a commercial kitchen and cafeteria, Northern said.
Although Northern said as many as three written offers were being considered as of press time Monday, no contract on the property has been signed.
To date, proposed uses by prospective buyers include converting the main building into a faith-based educational facility, or as headquarters for a relocating company. Other uses for the remaining sections of the property include converting the smaller office space at 510 Linden into a day care center, using the warehouse building at 504 Linden to house a printing company, and numerous plans have emerged to build a multi-story parking garage on the adjoining one-acre vacant lot.
Considering the propertys close proximity to both the historic Hunt-Phelan Home and the site of the new NBA arena, Northern said the property has "mass appeal" and is adaptable for numerous uses.
"Someone could even open up a restaurant at that location and theyd have about 9,000 square feet to operate out of," he said referring to the basement, which has exterior access.
However, the property could just as easily be demolished since its not a protected historic site, Northern said.
Johnson, who said the property would be perfect for a bed and breakfast or even a conference center, is fully aware of the demolition threat.
"I think it is truly a building that should be very significant to this entire community, but especially the African-American community," she said. "I hope that someone could come up with a use that makes sense."