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VOL. 118 | NO. 140 | Wednesday, August 4, 2004

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Pinch District Looks to New Future

FedExForum means big changes for areas business mix


The Daily News

A new era in Downtown entertainment dawned Saturday as control of FedExForum went into the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies. The NBA team is moving in, and the University of Memphis Tigers and major events and concerts soon will follow.

The move signals an unknown future for The Pyramid, and Pyramid Utilization Committee members are still working to decide the Downtown landmarks fate. Until a decision is revealed, the surrounding community is left wondering what will happen to its neighboring landmark. Many believe the shift will result in a new dawn for the Pinch District.

I would say there is no area more ripe for development right now than the Pinch area, said Jeff Sanford, president of the Center City Commission. I believe the Pinch will continue to develop, regardless of what happens to The Pyramid.

New clientele. The Pinch has served as a viable entertainment district, especially during basketball season when Grizzlies and University of Memphis fans funneled in and out of its bars and restaurants before and after games. But those days are over, meaning businesses located in the district must alter their target clientele. And many are sure to focus on residents, as the area immediately surrounding the Pinch District is about to see a significant influx of residents.

The Uptown Revitalization Project, a mix of affordable multifamily and single-family development, will add thousands of residents to the northern fringe of the Pinch. And immediately in the district, there is hope of new residential growth.

There is a market, said Julie Ray, president of the Pinch District Association and owner of Cafe Francisco, above which she plans to add apartment units in the next year. There is a huge demand. I have people ask me all the time, As soon as yall get the apartments finished, let me know. And were only going to have five or six.

A business mix. Pinch patrons can still find a handful of restaurants and bars in the district. But the area is no longer just home to entertainment and dining venues such as T.J. Mulligans and Cafe Francisco. Businesses including Evans Taylor Foster Childress Architects, which relocated to North Main Street last fall, are diversifying the Pinchs business mix.

There is also a growing number of businesses focused on residential needs, as Uptown Place, a mixed-use commercial development on Auction Avenue between Second and Main streets, recently opened with a convenience store and Subway restaurant.

Another recently added service that focuses on the needs of residents in the Pinch area is Downtown Animal Hospital.

I think it will become more residential and that more businesses will move in, depending on what happens with The Pyramid, said Dr. Susanne Heartsill, owner of Downtown Animal Hospital and a Harbor Town resident. I think it will do nothing but help our business, and of course living down here, Im really excited that more things are moving this way.

Changing population. The districts daytime population will get a major boost in the near future, as expansion plans at St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital will add some 2,000 employees to the immediate area.

If I stop and think who the consumers will be in the future, its easy for me to see a lot of residents in the area, from Mud Island to North Memphis, Sanford said. And its easy for me to imagine a large number of daytime employees, not just from St. Jude, but from other surrounding Downtown areas. And then I add to that the consumers who will be coming to The Pyramid for whatever its future use is.

Ray said her business attracts an array of customers, including St. Jude employees. With the hospitals presence, not to mention the proximity of Cook Convention Center and Mud Island, its hard to imagine that the area isnt targeted more frequently for development.

I dont get why people arent down here building like crazy, Ray said. Thats one of the main reasons I picked this area.

The big question mark. A major player in the areas future is The Pyramid. The city and county still owe roughly $30 million on the arena. That, coupled with the fact that the building is a major landmark in Memphis skyline, makes it safe to assume the structure wont be torn down.

I believe a new use will be found for The Pyramid, said Sanford, a member of the Pyramid Utilization Committee. I dont know yet what that use will be, but under any scenario, the new Pyramid will draw crowds of people.

Revitalization on the horizon. Heartsill predicts that underused properties will begin to undergo revitalization once The Pyramids future is determined.

I think its going to be a definite positive change, she said. Hopefully, a lot of these older buildings will get revamped and it will continue to look better.

Plenty of vacant land exists in the area, and the Pinch is dotted with a plethora of parking lots that will soon be empty from the loss of basketball games and concerts.

It is very likely, in my mind, that new development will take place on that vacant land, Sanford said of the areas privately held parking lots. I would much prefer to see new development take place along Front Street on the eastern side of The Pyramid and new parking arrangements be found for future use of The Pyramid.

Mixed uses. No matter what becomes of The Pyramid, its likely that the future Pinch District will not focus primarily on one type of consumer, but a mix of residential, entertainment and small commercial users.

The bottom line is I see a whole lot of customers for all kinds of retail, Sanford said. The neighborhood could become somebodys local dry cleaners, restaurants and entertainment, service retail that supports business in the area, copy centers, gas stations, convenience stores. I could envision almost anything.


PROPERTY SALES 85 205 21,165
MORTGAGES 76 206 24,338
BUILDING PERMITS 183 321 43,755
BANKRUPTCIES 48 92 13,560