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VOL. 126 | NO. 10 | Monday, January 17, 2011

Pushing Up and Ahead

Downtown looks to carry momentum into new year

By Andy Meek

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Fresh off a year capped by major office deals and new leadership atop the development agency that oversees it, it’s already clear the story of Downtown Memphis in 2011 will be dominated by forward momentum.

Downtown Memphis has seen its share of big news, highlighted by Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s deal to move its headquarters to One Commerce Square, far left. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

A pattern developed over the course of 2010 bringing big moments for Downtown along with small fixes that will lead to lasting change. And the hope among public and private sector leaders is that pattern will continue over the next 11 months for the sliver of Memphis where the city’s political, legal, tourism and entertainment industries are concentrated.

The big moments include a deal Pinnacle Airlines Corp. inked at the end of 2010 to occupy 170,000 square feet on 13 floors of One Commerce Square. The Memphis-based regional air carrier will move about 650 employees to its new headquarters at One Commerce by November.

“Pinnacle moving into that building is a huge thing,” said Duncan Williams, president of Duncan-Williams Inc. “We hope sometime to be big enough to make that type of mark. There’s nobody who supports a thriving Downtown more than I do.”

And Pinnacle is only one example of office leasing momentum Downtown that hasn’t let up.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Center City Development Corp., the board will consider awarding a $12,500 grant to marketing and advertising agency archer>malmo.

The firm, which currently has a seven-year lease for several floors in The Cotton Exchange building at 65 Union Ave., recently acquired Cordova-based TMB Marketing Group. archer>malmo is planning to move TMB to the second floor of its building with a supplemental lease term of at least seven years.

At the end of 2010, ServiceMaster by Stratos Inc. moved into the Lowenstein Building overlooking Main Street near Court Square. Le Bonheur Community Health and Well Being also signed a lease at 50 Peabody Place.

The city appears to be close to finishing the development and financing terms for a revamp of The Pyramid arena into a Bass Pro Shops store.

Center City Commission president Paul Morris hopes to keep that leasing and development activity going. But he’s also got other more incremental changes on his mind.

Morris told the South Main Association last week that one of the first things he did after getting hired by the CCC last summer was to read its charter. To his surprise, he found it gave him the authority to write parking tickets.

Even though he delegated that authority, it’s an example of the quality of life and ground-level detail Morris thinks Downtown ought to focus more on in 2011.

“I’d like to focus on the ‘clean and green’ aspects of Downtown,” Morris said. “I’d like to have a heightened level of service in keeping our public spaces clean and nicely landscaped.

“We also need to get the ball rolling on fixing up the infrastructure Downtown. We sometimes get the sense we’ve done so much for Downtown already, but the facts are that from an infrastructure standpoint, Downtown has been virtually abandoned.”

The CCC recently identified several million dollars’ worth of high-priority infrastructure needs that ought to be addressed along Main Street. That’s separate from tens of millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure needs elsewhere throughout Downtown.

“Sidewalks with potholes and patchwork, crumbling curbs, inaccessible alleys, and inadequate lighting have resulted from deferred maintenance and a lack of public investment,” a CCC streetscape improvement plan reads.

The CCC’s parking arm is in the midst of an awareness campaign to make more Downtown visitors aware of Downtown parking options – where the garages and lots are and what the rates and hours are.

Some of the milestones the Downtown agency achieved in 2010 will have carryover effects into this year. They include securing a commitment from the city to have cops patrol the Downtown beat on bikes.

As part of continued beautification efforts, the CCC “corralled” news bins Downtown so that now they’re secured to a contraption that looks like a bike rack. Before, they’d been arrayed haphazardly.

Morris also thinks Downtown can handle more apartments.

All of those ideas are pieces of what he said should be the goal of “building a place to live for the next generation of citizens.”

PROPERTY SALES 157 157 10,093
MORTGAGES 161 161 11,107
BUILDING PERMITS 229 229 22,402
BANKRUPTCIES 54 54 6,365