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VOL. 119 | NO. 12 | Wednesday, January 19, 2005

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By Andy Meek

Midtown Antiques Corridor Set to Grow

Multi-building project to add retail, gallery, studio space


The Daily News

Many of the buildings at the corner of Central Avenue and Cox Street are vacant and decaying. But Frank Roberts, owner of two upscale antiques stores in the area, sees potential in the structures so much so that he plans to turn them into an arts and antiques venture hes calling the Memphis Decorative Arts Complex.

Roberts, who owns Market Central and Palladio International Antique Marketplace on Central, plans to redevelop six buildings in the area, most of them along Cox. His plans include architectural and garden antiques shops in two of the buildings and a gallery with studio space for local artists in another building.

Building on success. The finished complex would complement Roberts other antiques ventures, both of which serve as a major draw to the retail stretch along Central Avenue in Midtown.

We just want to enhance our already 10-year investment in the area, Roberts said of his plans, adding that he and his wife, Mindy, are entering their ninth year as owners of Palladio.

Roberts is uniquely suited for the redevelopment project. With a background in home building, he has succeeded in the antiques business by turning the bare walls of forgotten buildings into old-world marketplaces replete with fine antiques, artwork and pottery. His two current antiques shops are known for their high-quality merchandise and European flair.

Getting to work. Roberts recently completed a total renovation of Market Central, which he and his wife bought in 2002 through Palladio LLC. After purchasing the building, the couple updated it, gave it a European ambience and filled it with merchandise from 70 antiques vendors.

Now, work is set to begin on one of the first components of Roberts latest venture, a 6,500-square-foot studio and gallery space for local artists. Roberts is expecting positive reaction to the artist space; when his wife brought an art gallery into the couples Palladio International Antique Marketplace, he said it was instantly welcomed.

To say it was a success would be an understatement, Roberts said. There is such a demand here for artist studio and gallery space.

Roberts said other parts of the development will be built in increments, with the final piece of the project a 10,000-square-foot marketplace for potters, picture frame designers and other artisans slated for completion in 2006.

A booming district. When its completed, Roberts said the massive arts and antiques complex will be the perfect addition to the Memphis Antique and Design District, which he helped organize with other local merchants. At the moment, customer interest in the area is booming, said Dana Whitehead, current president of the district.

Theres been such growth in our area, said Whitehead, owner of Toad Hall Antiques at 2129 Central. Just since Ive been open in this spot, weve had six new antiques shops and art studios. This area is just fantastic for retail.

Last year, the organization began including restaurants among its members, enabling the group to tout the district as a convenient place to dine and shop. Whitehead said the organization, which has 16 members, also has been working with the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau to coordinate marketing efforts.

Weve been marketing with them so that when groups come into town, they can be aware of and come to this area and spend a day or weekend here, she said. Weve got our brochures in all the hotels and welcome centers, and some of us individually do marketing outside of Memphis, so we try to spread our name to the feeder cities. We also market together as a group.

Building interest. Toad Hall Antiques, Whiteheads 5,000-square-foot store whose name comes from the classic childrens story Wind in the Willows, has been open on Central Avenue for two years and carries everything from china to pottery to jewelry.

Whitehead said interest in the district coincides with a resurgence of interest in Midtown. And Roberts stepped up his plans to redevelop properties in the area after noticing that the neighborhood was on a general upswing.

Our sales have increased over the years, and our sales last year were extremely strong, he said.

His latest project dovetails with what Whitehead said is another push for the Memphis Antique and Design District to keep properties in the neighborhood attractive and to draw more people to the area.

One of our goals is, even though were located in the historic area of Midtown, we want to offer shopping as well as restaurants, but were also trying to improve the area, Whitehead said. That includes helping other properties around us that need help with beautification, to make this area one of the best in Memphis.


PROPERTY SALES 81 201 16,108
MORTGAGES 40 104 10,026
BUILDING PERMITS 130 336 38,272
BANKRUPTCIES 28 56 7,528