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VOL. 121 | NO. 47 | Monday, February 27, 2006

Developments Along Lamar Avenue Could Become Big 'Wow'

Given time, new retail projects might spark revitalization

By Andrew Ashby

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LIFTING LAMAR: The Liti Group's Stephanie Varner, Patrick Chapman, Jerry Thornton and Anthony Varner Sr. stand in front of one of the company's All Tune and Lube locations. The group has invested in several stores in Lamar Crossing, a large retail development on Lamar Avenue. -- Photograph By Andrew Ashby

When it comes to new development, Lamar Avenue might not be the first place that springs to mind.

Running from the intersection of Perkins and Raines roads to Interstate 240, this South Memphis corridor doesn't have the retail glamour of Cordova's Germantown Parkway or DeSoto County's Goodman Road.

But it does have many characteristics developers are increasingly finding attractive.

"You've got a self-contained market there, with high densities and a lot of vehicular traffic," said Gary Meyers, owner of commercial real estate brokerage firm Gary Meyers Co. "When you do development along those areas, you get a lot of bang for your buck. If you build something new on Germantown Parkway, nobody even notices. But you build something new on Lamar and people go, 'Wow.'"

At the crossroads

Meyers will be looking for tenants for an as yet unamed retail development near Lamar, Pendleton Street and Kimball Avenue, which is scheduled to be completed at the end of the year.

The property consists of a commercial building in poor condition on 50,000 square feet of land. The building will be demolished to make way for the new development.

The contractor has not been chosen yet, but when completed, the $1.3 million project will have 13,200 square feet of retail space spread evenly among 10 bays, Meyers said.

One of the reasons for a new building is that the old one is falling apart.

"Also, you have a very unusual and dynamic intersection there," he said. "It's sort of the crossroads of South Central Memphis."

Where the action is

But when it comes to major redevelopment along Lamar, Meyers points to the Lamar Crossing develpment at 2930 Lamar Ave.

"That is the most significant new thing to take place on Lamar in a generation," Meyers said. "It will be new; it will have a lot of national tenants and a lot of soft goods like clothing and shoes."

Chattanooga-based Hutton Construction Inc. almost has completed the $6 million retail development at the former site of Cherokee Lanes bowling alley.

Lamar South LLC, with principal partners Kim Helton, Tom Hall and Ron Devine, closed on the property January 2005.

"I knew that was a great place for a location because it's very under-retailed," Devine said.

Filling up quick

Lamar Crossing's first phase is 17 stores among 64,800 square feet of retail space. Devine estimated its first phase is more than 90 percent full. Tenants include Da Wing Spot, Big D's Barbecue, Check Into Cash, Dollar Discount and The Headquarters, which is a hair and nail salon and spa.

A number of clothing retailers are in the first phase as well, including Marty's Menswear, City Trends, Shoe Show, Ashley Stewart and Simply Fashions.

All the stores in the first phase should be open by April or May.

Lamar Crossing's second phase will add an extra 20,000 to 25,000 square feet of retail space. Devine didn't have a firm date on when construction will begin.

Lamar Crossing also has four parcels of property not attached to the main buildings, with two already sold. The City of Memphis is building an 11,000-square-foot fire station on one of these outparcels, while All Tune and Lube is building on the other.

Devine, who is in charge of leasing the properties, is working on filling the other two outparcels, with a restaurant possibly being added to one of the remaining ones.

Humanitarian development?

The Liti Group LLC will run The Headquarters and Dollar Discount in Lamar Crossing's first phase, as well as the All Tune and Lube. The company also is working to put in a women's health care clinic there.

The group buys stores to provide jobs to underdeveloped neighborhoods and owns Success Inc., a nonprofit organization that gives financial and life skills training to underprivileged people.

"The whole point for us buying retail stores is so that we can create employment opportunities for the people who live in those neighborhoods," said Tony Varner, Liti's president and CEO.

"The fact that we're bringing in retail should give Lamar a tremendous boost. It should create jobs. It should help to revitalize the area into a more prosperous and positive place."

Editor's Note: Learn more about developments along Lamar Avenue in Part II of this series, which will run March 6.

PROPERTY SALES 28 290 16,197
MORTGAGES 33 165 10,087
BUILDING PERMITS 184 608 38,544
BANKRUPTCIES 33 125 7,597