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VOL. 122 | NO. 85 | Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Art College Shops for New Downtown Gallery

By Andy Meek

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HOP, SKIP, JUMP AWAY: Memphis College of Art, which operates a Downtown gallery on South Main Street, is considering a move just down the street. -- Photo By Andy Meek

The gift and floral shop Gesture's Inc. at 523 South Main St., along with the nearby Downtown hotspot Ernestine & Hazel's, soon might share a new neighbor.

Developer Phil Woodard is planning to squeeze a new one-story building between the two establishments in the South Main Historic Arts District, filling a vacant space at the corner of G.E. Patterson Avenue and South Main Street. The Memphis Landmarks Commission, at a special meeting in April, green-lit the design plans for Woodard's property there, which will feature a 17-foot-tall building with a façade consisting of two vertically stacked rows of glass panels.

His drawings also give the proposed 25-foot-wide building a large, open floor plan, a storage area, restroom and a video production area that will sit toward the back of the site. As of a few days ago, Woodard still was in negotiations with a tenant but appeared close to working out an arrangement for Memphis College of Art to use the building as a new gallery space.

Shopping expedition

The college intends to leave its current Downtown gallery at 431 South Main St. because its lease there is up this month, and that building's owner has other plans for the property. If the school decides to call Woodard's new building home to its Downtown exhibition space, it would mean scooting less than half a mile down the road.

The college's current space is housed in a classic South Main structure. The three-story warehouse building, with 14-foot ceilings on the ground floor, was built in 1911. And contained within the South Main district, which encompasses 11 city blocks, are a variety of similarly well-preserved buildings with architectural styles dating from around that period.

MCA boasted other off-campus gallery halls around the city when the school first opened its Downtown arm several years ago, but the South Main property became the first off-campus gallery owned by the school.

"We're considering a number of different options, and sometime pretty soon we'll know for sure where we're going," said Michelle Byrd, director of public relations for MCA. "We love being Downtown, and it's great for the school and visibility."

The changing face of things

Donald Estes owns the 431 South Main property, which he's planning to re-sculpt into something new. He wants to transform the 24,000-square-foot warehouse there into a mixture of commercial office space, with a 6,000-square-foot live/work residential space thrown into the mix.

The Center City Commission's (CCC) Revenue Finance Corp. granted an 11-year tax freeze in February for that project, which carries a price tag of more than $730,000. Several decades ago, that property once was home to the Currie-McCraw Wholesale Grocery Co., and that entire 400 block area of South Main was a leading distribution and wholesale center in the city.

The Downtown-based architectural firm Archimania PC put together the schematics for Woodard's new building, which he said also would be an ideal home for a restaurant - though his preference is for MCA to move there.

Archimania gave the gallery building a contemporary design. The top row of glass panels on the façade, along with the bottom portion of the bottom row of glass panels, will be sandblasted to create a translucent effect. The numbers of the building's address - "529" - will be displayed vertically on the glass panel above the front door.

Rather than being painted on the glass, the numbers will be displayed by sandblasting the glass and leaving a section of the remaining clear glass in the shape of the numbers.

"We got approved for a nice, contemporary façade," said Woodard, whose Downtown developments are renowned for their unconventionality and eye-catching features. His home is one example; perched atop South Bluffs, the Woodard house is a melange of asymmetrical surfaces and tall windows. And it, like the new South Main building, was designed by Archimania.

"I want to put (MCA) in there - I think they'd be great," Woodard said of one of his newest Downtown spaces.

In other news ...

The latest dish about the neighborhood surrounding that new space was discussed Tuesday night at the South Main Association's monthly meeting at Spindini, the new Italian restaurant one block north of MCA's current gallery.

Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery was the keynote speaker.

Among the projects currently on the association's plate, the group is working to create a three-day fine arts festival to be held in the South Main neighborhood. A group of influential Memphis businesspeople and arts promoters has been meeting to study the nuts-and-bolts of making such a festival reality.

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