Making Way

Ericson looks to sell HQ as Pyramid area becomes tourist destination

By Sarah Baker

The $191 million transformation of The Pyramid into a Bass Pro Shops superstore by August 2013 will have an effect not only on local tourism but also on surrounding commercial real estate.

The 100-year-old space at 400 N. Front St. has been owned and occupied by Greg Ericson of Ericson Group Inc. for the last 14 years. 

(Photo: Jeffrey Jacobs)

The 21,000-square-foot office building at 400 N. Front St. is a prime example. The 100-year-old space has been owned and occupied by Greg Ericson of Ericson Group Inc. for the last 14 years.

But the headquarters of the marketing, entertainment and consulting firm in between Overton and Shadyac avenues is on the market. The reason being, Ericson said, is the building’s best use is not as an office building.

“If right across the street is a big tourist attraction that’s going to bring millions of people in, an office building isn’t going to help that at all,” Ericson said, adding that if and when his group relocates, it will be to another Downtown location. “We’re not going to capitalize on tourism at all because we don’t do anything with tourism. But a restaurant definitely would; retail of some kind would capitalize on that.”

While the total dollar amount of improvements to the Pinch District remains to be seen, the city and Bass Pro have been in discussions about shelling out significant funds in revamping the area as a tourist destination, Ericson said.

“They’re talking about fixing the sidewalks, the curbs, the roads, putting in nicer lamps, putting in streetscaping and landscaping and making it really nice,” he said.

Ericson’s involvement in the area far precedes his building’s listing. In 2007, he proposed The Pyramid to be the centerpiece of a $250 million, 90-acre theme park development known as Pyramid Harbor that would take in Mud Island River Park and the surrounding riverfront.

The project fizzled and the city agreed in 2008 to restore The Pyramid into a Bass Pro megastore with additional attractions.

“I’m not really sure with what’s going to happen with Bass Pro … but I’m hoping that it’s big and successful,” Ericson said. “That would be a great thing for everybody that’s a stakeholder here.”

Ericson Group completed more than $1.5 million in renovations at 400 N. Front between 1999 and 2003. The two-story building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was once home to Farrell-Calhoun Inc.

David Schuermann of Architecture Inc. oversaw the rehab. The new design replicated the arched openings and windows in the main façade to be reminiscent of the original use.

“The interior, as a paint manufacturing company, had just layers and cakes of paint splatter in the manufacturing area,” Schuermann said. “The idea was ‘Well, do we clean that up or do we take advantage of it?’ The final concept was to take advantage of it. We were able to unbrick the openings that had been bricked up and redesign the heavy swing doors that were there originally that were designed to take on horse-drawn carts and carriages in and out for delivery.”

Chris Brown, senior vice president with Grubb & Ellis Memphis, is marketing Ericson’s property for sale or lease. It includes 15,000 square feet of office space and 6,000 square feet of warehouse space with dock doors.

The highest and best use, in his opinion, is a restaurant or entertainment center, or both. But with The Pyramid’s redevelopment across the street being at least another year out, trying to value the property in its current condition amid a blighted region of Downtown is “an impossible task,” Brown said.

If it’s a lease, “it’s going to have to be a long-term lease,” he said. Major restaurant brands like Cheesecake Factory, as well as celebrity and NASCAR-inspired concepts have been explored.

“Something that caters to the primary demographic that shops at Bass Pro,” Brown said. “We’ve been contacting people, but we’ve also been contacted. Bass Pro’s real estate department has reached out to us. They’ve been checking out the area around them and are wanting to be a good neighbor. Their wanting to see land values surrounding them rise … is a validation of that fact that they picked a good place and that it’s doing well. That the area will thrive again.”