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VOL. 124 | NO. 199 | Friday, October 9, 2009

CCC Picks Top 10 Landmarks in Need

By Andy Meek

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The Sterick Building

Towering 29 stories above the intersection of Madison Avenue and Third Street, the Gothic-style Sterick Building was the city’s premier office building for years after it opened in 1930.

Today, it’s among an updated list recently drawn up by the Center City Commission showing the top 10 historically significant Downtown buildings most in need of redevelopment.

The list is a slightly modified version of one the group published several years ago. Properties on it were chosen because of their architectural significance, lack of a solid redevelopment plan, importance to the city and their potential to inspire development around them.

About $3 billion worth of development projects are in the pipeline Downtown, but the CCC’s new top 10 list illustrates the limits of what’s currently on the drawing board. Those real estate plans and the money they’ve brought to the table have yet to scrape off the peeling paint and cracked plaster at some of the area’s Big Empties that have proven the most difficult to transform.

The list includes shops where commerce once thrived, warehouses where manufacturing hummed along and even a historic private residence that was the earliest house in the city to have an air conditioning system.

Declining worth

The Sterick, named after its original owners R.E. Sterling and Wyatt Hedrick, is at the top of the list, and perhaps deservedly so.

It has stood vacant since the 1980s, its decline mirroring the slump that hit Downtown around that time. Downtown has bounced back, but the Sterick never did.

Even the taxman seems to have lost faith in the 350,883-square-foot architectural gem. In 2007, the Sterick’s appraised value excluding the land beneath it dropped from $64,000 to $100 – the bare minimum to keep it on the tax rolls.

“When we place a $100 value on a building, we’re basically saying it has no value,” said Shelby County Assessor Cheyenne Johnson. “But … when we’re processing paperwork – that $100 lets us know we do have a structure there.”

1. Sterick Building, 8 N. Third St.
2. Tennessee Brewery, 495 Tennessee St.
3. Hickman Building, 240 Madison Ave.
4. Sears Building, 495 N. Watkins St.
5. Alabaster Building, 678 Beale St.
6. Nylon Net Building, 7 Vance Ave.
7. Toof Building, 195 Madison Ave.
8. 147 Jefferson Place, 147 Jefferson Ave.
9. Goyer-Lee House, 690 Adams Ave.
10. Woolworth Building, 107 S. Main St.

Greg Moody, director of reappraisals for the assessor’s office, said the iconic building is beset with problems.

“I’ve been through most every floor of that building, and you just can’t do anything with it,” he said. “You really can’t. It has no air conditioning. Everything is cut up. It’s got so much functional obsolescence, it would just have to have a complete re-do, and the cost would be astronomical to go in and do that.”

Not for lack of trying

One property on the list is the Tennessee Brewery at 495 Tennessee St. A slew of redevelopment plans proposed over the past few years never got off the ground for the brewery, a massive 19th-century building that towers over the South Bluffs neighborhood and once was the largest brewery in the South.

Wrought iron railings line the staircase inside, winding their way up to create a stomach-churning view below.

Most of the recent development pitches for the brewery involved some condominium elements. One of the most prominent efforts envisioned transforming it into a 14-story condo project, an idea that met its end partly because of neighborhood opposition.

The Sears Building at 495 Watkins St., also on the top 10 list, was one of nine mail-order and retail centers built by Sears Roebuck and Co. between 1910 and the Great Depression.

Those and the rest of the properties on the list form a collection of development opportunities Downtown officials can have in their back pocket when approached by eager developers. Andy Kitsinger, vice president of planning and development for the CCC, said the list was instrumental in a few recent development successes.

“The list had a major part in the redevelopment of several properties on the original list,” Kitsinger said. “One of those was 67 Madison, where it played a large factor in that building getting exposed and ultimately getting purchased and redeveloped.”

The old Union Planters bank building at 67 Madison Ave. was redeveloped into luxury apartments that opened to residents several weeks ago.

“These continue to be a focus of our efforts,” Kitsinger said. “Of course, we’re uniformly working to redevelop all properties Downtown, but these have an added importance. These properties also continually come up, because they’re in key locations and they have a lot of things happening around them.”

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173