VOL. 123 | NO. 84 | Tuesday, April 29, 2008
From Myth to Reality
By Eric Smith
MINGLING ON MADISON: The DeHart Group will bring Minglewood Plaza and Concert Hall to Madison Avenue in Midtown this year. -- Rendering Courtesy Of The Dehart Group
"If you're ever in Memphis, better stop by Minglewood," says the blues song "New Minglewood Blues," written by Noah Lewis and performed by Cannon's Jug Stompers in the 1930s.
Years later, the Grateful Dead began covering the song and in many ways made it their own. They added verses, rearranged the music and renamed it "New New Minglewood Blues," spreading word of the song's mysterious locale to a new generation.
But the Minglewood of song is actually based on an early 20th century sawmill site called Menglewood (with an "e") near Dyersburg, Tenn., where blues musicians would go to party and let loose, according to various accounts. Despite being real, Minglewood took on a mythical quality through the Grateful Dead's extensive touring schedule.
Now, a Memphis company whose president heard about Minglewood at Grateful Dead shows in the early 1990s is paying tribute to the place.
The DeHart Group is planning an ambitious, $5 million Midtown retail development that will be dubbed Minglewood Plaza. The company's president, J.De DeHart, hopes this latest incarnation of Minglewood has the same mojo as its namesake.
"Minglewood's the myth," he said. "We're taking that, putting it here and letting people come see it."
All under one roof
What people will see at Minglewood Plaza is a renovated space inside the former Strings & Things building at 1553 Madison Ave.
The DeHart Group, operating as Mad Will Properties LLC, bought the building in February 2007 for $1.7 million and promptly converted the second floor into corporate offices. The DeHart Group is a family-owned business that operates a host of companies ranging from third-party logistics and finance to human resources and technology.
Bringing many of its entities to a central location made sense.
"We felt we wanted to establish Midtown as our home," DeHart said.
The building is roughly 64,000 square feet, according to the Shelby County Assessor, but DeHart said the building will expand to about 80,000 after the renovations. The project's general contractor is Barnes & Brower Inc., and the architect is Evans Taylor Foster Childress Architects.
Construction will begin May 15 on the building's first floor, which is set to include three retail stores and a restaurant - plus a large entrance, atrium and courtyard - all of which will comprise Minglewood Plaza.
The company will target retail tenants looking for either a 1,800- or 4,100-square-foot space, plus a restaurant around 4,300 square feet. DeHart said the company is looking for such retailers as music stores and coffee shops.
In addition to the retail/restaurant components, the property will house Minglewood Concert Hall, a music venue that can hold 1,500 people.
DeHart is billing the concert hall as a "tweener" venue - bigger than a club, but smaller than an arena. And while the DeHart Group is parent company of concert promotion company TCB Concerts, DeHart stressed that Minglewood will be a nonexclusive concert and event hall, booking with all agencies and hosting functions for any group that wants to rent it out.
DeHart said Mike Smith of Young Avenue Deli will take over as general manager of Minglewood Concert Hall, which will be used for everything from concerts to weddings to graduations. The seating will be flexible, from 600 seated at tables to 1,500 standing.
DeHart said he hopes the plaza and hall together draw 150,000 to 200,000 people annually to enjoy Minglewood's retail, restaurant and music offerings.
"We want people to come and grow this part of the community," DeHart said.
The future is Midtown
Robert Phillips, president of the Midtown Development Corp., said the addition of Minglewood is indeed a boon for the community. First of all, it marks another capital improvement along Madison Avenue, an important commercial road that stretches from the Mississippi River to East Parkway.
"It's an infusion of money and ideas and confidence in Midtown," Phillips said. "I think it will inspire others and set the bar high for other properties."
Also, Minglewood fits in with Phillips' and the MDC's concept of making Midtown a true "entertainment district," with a variety of musical venues.
"It validates what we see and believe is the future of Midtown and that corridor," Phillips said.
Minglewood is validation for DeHart, too, who followed the Grateful Dead in the early 1990s, selling grilled cheese sandwiches and T-shirts to concertgoers as a means to support his life on the road.
Doing whatever it took to see the next show, to keep on trucking with the Dead, fit perfectly with the DeHart legacy.
"Hey, I'm a sixth-generation entrepreneur," said DeHart, whose family business dates back more than 120 years.
DeHart projects Minglewood Plaza to open by the end of the year, but he already can envision what his version of Minglewood is going to become when the myth transforms into reality in an old warehouse on Madison Avenue.
"It's amazing the vibe that's in here," he said. "I think Memphis needs it. I think Memphis wants it. I think Memphis deserves it."