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VOL. 121 | NO. 58 | Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pinch District Gets Pinch of Renewal with New Condos

By Andrew Ashby

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NO LONGER IN A PINCH: Downtown's Pinch District is crawling with recently completed condominium developments and others in progress that promise to pump economic activity into what developers say has been an empty area for years. -- Photograph By Andrew Ashby

Downtown's Pinch District is about to get a big dose of economic activity.

The $9 million Pinch Place, the $5 million Harbor Lights and the $2.1 million Turning Pointe condominium developments are in varying stages of construction on a block bounded by Auction, North Main and Front streets and North Parkway.

"I can't even express how excited I am because these developments have been a long time coming in this area," said Julie Ray, owner of Café Francisco at 400 N. Main St.

Ray said Café Francisco has been a destination point for the Pinch District since it opened in 1998, but she would like the residential developments to be the main draw instead.

"Someone was talking to me about putting up another coffee shop in the area," Ray said. "They called me and said, 'I won't do this if you think it will hurt your business.' I told them they could put four Starbucks around here and it would be the greatest thing because then more people would come over here for coffee."

Various and sundry

The developments share the block with Auction Park, which architectural historian Judith Johnson says is one of the original parks set aside by the city's founders for public use. It will give condo residences some green space among all the buildings and asphalt.

Pinch Place currently is just a parking lot at the corner of North Parkway and North Main Street, next to a renovated warehouse at 429 N. Main that now provides office space. International Construction Services Inc., the construction manager for Pinch Place, has offices on the second floor of that building.

"I can't even express how excited I am because these developments have been a long time coming in this area."
- Julie Ray
Owner of Café Francisco

Bob Williams, one of the company's partners, said Pinch Place will be a five-story, 64-unit condo development when it's completed.

"There's not enough housing for St. Jude (employees) and the other developments that are online for the North Downtown area," he said. "We think it's economically feasible to do this and even more projects."

Pinch Place condo units will range from 650 to 1,150 square feet and sell for $130,000 to $229,000. The development will have one floor of underground parking and another at street level. There also will be approximately 2,000 square feet of retail space on the corner.

A contractor hasn't been chosen yet, but Williams said he anticipates construction to start in three or four months. He also said 20 percent of the condos are pre-sold, a sign the condo market in the Pinch District is healthy.

"We think with the Bass Pro Shops coming in, there won't be any need for all these parking lots, and we anticipate people will start turning these parking lots into various and sundry uses, like commercial, residential, et cetera," Williams said.

A beacon for growth?

The four-story Harbor Lights project is rising up at the corner of North Parkway and Front Street, right next to Pinch Place.

Barnett General Contractors LLC owners Lloyd S. "Buddy" Barnett, Barry L. Barnett and architect Stephen Hill are designing, building and marketing the building at 426 N. Front St. They've pre-sold 22 of the building's 24 units and hope to have the development completed by late October. The condo units range from 1,250 square feet to 1,625 square feet and are priced at $190,000 to $205,000.

Barnett points to nearby Auction Park, the North Main police precinct, Memphis Area Transit Authority, Café Francisco and several neighborhood bars and restaurants as assets to the neighborhood because area residents don't have to get in their cars to reach them.

"We think it's the true walking neighborhood in Downtown Memphis," Barnett said.

He also said these condo developments are close to the trolley and only a few blocks away from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the city's government buildings and the Memphis Marriott.

"The trend in all the urban cities now is for people to be next to where they work," he said. "For a person who works in St. Jude, they're only three blocks from work."

Something from nothing

The three-story Turning Pointe condos have been completed at 440 N. Front St.

Bluff City Group LLC developed the eight-unit project, which has condos ranging from 925-foot studios to 1,327-square-foot, two-bedroom units. Prices range from $200,900 to $224,000, with one unit already sold by Henry Turley Realtors Co.

Architect Coleman Cocker designed Turning Pointe, and Patton and Taylor Construction Co. built the project.

Turning Pointe has 7,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. A dry cleaning business is renting one bay.

Ray bought a house in Uptown four years ago and said she likes the way the Pinch District and the surrounding neighborhoods are developing. She said she hopes it attracts people who haven't visited lately.

"I love to walk, and it makes me sad that along the way I can't window shop and things like that," Ray said. "That's why a lot of people haven't been down here in while, because there hasn't been anything down here."

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