Grassroots Effort

Broad Avenue attracts retail, seeks more as bike lanes take shape

By Sarah Baker

Approaching the second anniversary of “New Face for an Old Broad” and the Historic Broad Avenue Business Association’s painting of its own bike lanes, the Binghampton district has seen activity increase exponentially on several fronts.

Margery Wolcott rides down a bike lane on Broad Avenue after visiting Victory Bicycle Studio. The lanes have helped spur development in the arts district.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Since November 2010, the area off Sam Cooper Boulevard between Hollywood and Collins streets has boasted 19 new business commitments or openings and more than 30 properties have been renovated.

Just in the last year, new retail has opened up including Victory Bicycle Studio and sports bar Jack Magoo’s, complementing places that had set up shop there previously like Three Angel’s Diner, The Cove and long-term tenant Broadway Pizza.

“Two years ago, everyone was concerned bikes would take away from business, and we quickly saw it was helping business twofold,” said Pat Brown, business manager of T. Clifton Art and vice president of the Broad Business Association. “You did have people biking, but it also helped narrow the street and slow people down. All of a sudden, people were noticing your business that had never noticed it before because they were speeding by at 45 or greater.”

The bike lanes were also a catalyst of the Overton-Broad connector of Tillman Street and the Shelby Farms Greenline to Overton Park, which is projected to break ground next summer.

What’s more, the “New Face” concept is being replicated in other parts of the city and the event is now discussed nationwide. Brown said it resonates with people because it was a visually compelling grassroots effort.

“It’s much easier to show people what you’re trying to accomplish than just talk about it,” Brown said. “The city was awakened to the fact that things were going on, and it also made people realize that it was OK to come here.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s Innovation Delivery Team – which is committed to growing retail by 20 percent in the next three years in South Memphis, the Madison Avenue corridor and Binghampton – is planning a MemFIX street activation in the Crosstown neighborhood in November, and will likely execute one in Soulsville after that.

Urban retail consultant Bob Gibbs is working with the Innovation Delivery Team on strategies to promote neighborhood economic vitality. He applauded the Broad Avenue/Binghampton corridor earlier this year in a speech to the Urban Land Institute Memphis on sustainable development and neighborhood commercial centers.

A lot is going on in the Broad Avenue Arts District, from Sunday’s Curb Couture Trashion Show to the upcoming Art Walk.

(Photo: Sarah Baker)

“There’s no doubt and no question that this area will work for neighborhood-level retail and neighborhood-level goods and services – especially healthy food,” Gibbs said. “But probably also some goods and services that people need, including some shoes, clothing and children’s goods and services.”

Brown said recruiting additional retail is the main goal of the business association moving forward.

“We get a lot of people who are interested in having artist studios or services, but we need retail to be that anchor,” Brown said. “Broad Avenue is 60 by 62 feet wide. That is not a conducive retail shopping, that’s a thoroughfare. To get those eyes back on the street and to make it more open and retail-conducive, some facades need to change.”

Binghampton and the commercial retail corridor along Broad was recently selected by Community LIFT as one of three Memphis neighborhoods to target for redevelopment. The nonprofit will work with local banks on the Community Reinvestment Act, low-interest rate loans and incentives for businesses to operate, and also secure grants for facade-type improvements – similar to the boost Cooper-Young received in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, much-anticipated new businesses are opening up as fast as they can complete construction. One of which is Muddy’s Bake Shop’s 3,000-square-foot “helper kitchen” at 2497 Broad, which it will relocate from Cooper by the end of October.

“I’ve been super happy to see kind of this explosion, because they’ve really passed a tipping point in the last year with being able to attract good businesses in the area,” said Muddy’s owner Kat Gordon. “What I told my group was, ‘OK, we’re going to have to pull our weight here with this group, they’ve been working so hard to get people here, we need to not slow down the momentum and get involved.’”

Also opening this month adjacent to Muddy’s is the first permanent space for Collage dance Collection, which works “to foster young dancers, particularly dancers of color, to address the racial disparity in classical ballet,” said co-founder Marcellus Harper. He, along with Kevin Thomas, moved to Memphis in 2007 and was welcomed with open arms by Brown and the business association.

“Because of our mission, we wanted to be able to be accessible to communities that traditionally have been under-resourced and underserved, but we also want to be accessible to students and families in all parts of Memphis,” Harper said. “It’s an emerging arts district, we’re not just this isolated building in the middle of the wilderness, and we’re part of a community that wanted us to be there. Nothing really gets better than that.”

In addition, Eric Goode of Goode Development Co. LLC has bought the old Hanover Building at 2519 Broad and is in the midst of developing the 12,000-square-foot warehouse into retail parcels or a restaurant space. Goode said the area’s “guerrilla-style revitalization” is what prompted him to take action.

“When you consider that on a good day there’s 300 bikes traveling through there, why is that blight?” Goode said. “Obviously, it needs a ton a work, but it’s a labor of love for me. Kind of follow the same philosophy of Mark Cuban buying the worst NBA team in the league (Dallas Mavericks). There’s only one way to go, and that’s up.”

Goode plans to open the space up for the upcoming Art Walk Oct. 20, a bi-annual event that attracts some 3,000 to 5,000 visitors. That will follow Broad Avenue’s host of Memphis Flyer’s “Best Of” party Oct. 3 and Memphis City Beautiful’s Curb Couture Trashion Show Oct. 7.

And all the while, Taylor Berger of YoLo Frozen Yogurt and Gelato is in negotiations for The Truckstop, an affordable commercial kitchen commissary for local food trucks at 2655 Broad.