Bike Lane Boost

A year after the arrival of bike lanes, Madison Avenue sees property investments

By Sarah Baker

A year ago, city roads crews were wrapping up the installation of dedicated bike lanes on the two-mile stretch of Madison Avenue between McNeil and Cooper streets – the culmination of an extensive debate that included those radically for or radically against the two-wheeled route that entailed a major road diet and on-street parking.

In the year since bike lanes were added to a two-mile stretch of Madison Avenue, the street has see a number of improvements and business additions, such as Dru’s Place. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Today, several properties along the corridor have seen drastic improvements, a handful of new businesses have opened and quite a few more are under construction. And whether that’s a direct result of the bike lanes or not, it speaks volumes to the resurgence of the neighborhood.

“I think the bike lanes contribute to the continued success of Madison Avenue,” said Chooch Pickard, executive director of the Memphis Regional Design Center. “I don’t think anyone came in and said, ‘I’m putting that business there because of that bike lane’ necessarily, but it’s certainly a bonus for those businesses, not a detriment, the way some people a couple of years ago thought it was going to be.”

Huey’s Restaurant was one of those concerned businesses. Special projects coordinator Samantha Boggs Dean said restaurant owners weren’t so much opposed to the bike lanes as they were in favor of keeping Madison’s two lanes of traffic each way.

“We were concerned about when they went in to do the construction that we would lose some business because it would be so nuts, but it really has not affected us,” Dean said.

Now, the original location of Huey’s sports a patio addition that has been so well received, patrons have asked why it wasn’t implemented sooner.

“I think Midtown people just really like a patio,” Dean said. “So we’re glad we did it.”

Also enhancing its exterior was Dru’s Place at Madison and McNeil, by way of a new paint job and the addition of a mural that was previously boarded-up windows.

“We’re kind of toward the tail end of all of the (bike lane) changes, but it’s just important for us to really be part of revitalizing this area and getting more pedestrian traffic,” said Tami Montgomery, owner of Dru’s.

Meanwhile, filling shuttered spaces were Frida’s Mexican Restaurante in the old Zinnie’s East locale, Crazy Noodle in Umai’s former digs adjacent to Kwik Shop, and the second location of Local Gastropub where Yosemite Sam’s once stood in Overton Square. Minding Your Business Consignment Store opened at 2027 Madison next to The Dublin House, which set up shop last year.

More retail is on the horizon. Chiwawa, a Southern-inspired Mexican restaurant by YoLo’s Taylor Berger and partners, is slated to open in the long-vacant Chicago Pizza Factory soon.

Bar Louie is in the midst of building out the curved building on the southwest corner of Madison and Cooper, one of several new tenants Loeb Properties Inc. will be revealing with the ongoing redevelopment of the Square.

Retail isn’t the only sector that’s getting a face-lift along Madison. Several multifamily properties have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of renovation, including Kevron Properties LLC’s eight-unit complex at 1512 Madison, Gabrion Properties LLC’s 30-unit Cherokee Arms Apartments at 1508 Madison, and Bill and Carol Mathis’ 24-unit Biltmore and McAlpin high-rise at 1812-1820 Madison.

“That corner has always been a solid corner,” said Bill Mathis of the Madison and McLean Boulevard intersection. “We were looking for an investment, we thought, ‘Well, this building is old, it can be a fabulous apartment building again.’”

But the era of the bike lanes’ debut hasn’t been exclusive to success stories. Vacant land listings for the former Anderton’s Restaurant and Neil’s Bar remain on the market with interest, yet no buyers who are willing to pull the trigger.

“I’ve had plenty of calls, I’m averaging three or four a week,” said Ceylon Blackwell, co-owner of the acre for sale at Madison and McLean where Neil’s and Madison Automotive dwelled for years. “I can’t feel anything but encouraged.”

Blackwell said the bike lanes haven’t helped his listing.

“What just gripes me is I’m up and down that street probably at least three or four times a week at different times and I’ve yet to see a bicycle in those lanes,” Blackwell said. “All it did was mess up the traffic a little bit and confuse people on where they can park.”

Jeff Moore, owner of Madison Automotive, recently relocated from Blackwell’s space at 7 S. McLean to 440 Union Ave. He said the vast majority of his customers have followed his business to its new location, but that he’s lost a few of his easterly patrons.

“I would have loved nothing more than to have finished tearing that building down and put up a great new building, but it just economically wasn’t feasible with the current state of our banks and funding and all of that,” Moore said.