Lynch Looks Ahead to Chisca’s Possibilities

By Bill Dries

When the cast of “Memphis: The Musical” opens its run at The Orpheum Theatre later this month, they will include an extra performance the afternoon of April 26.

Cast members will sing several selections at the formal opening of the redevelopment of the old Chisca hotel, the real-life setting for the story of a Memphis disc jockey that is the basis for the fictional story line.

The April 26 groundbreaking at 3 p.m. at the South Main Street hotel comes days before renovation work begins in early May for the conversion of the 1913 hotel and its 1961 annex into a multifamily property.

Terry Lynch, one of the partners in Main Street Partners, the group that bought the eight-story hotel in October, said its impact on the area will be “transformational.”

Speaking Tuesday, April 9, to 100 members of the South Main Association at the Arcade Restaurant, Lynch added that by the end of the year 200 to 300 new units of housing, including apartments other than those planned for the Chisca, could be built in the South Main area.

The renovation and conversion of the Chisca is expected to take 14 months with a leasing office opening about a year from now.

“This is really the crossroads of the Central Business District, the entertainment district and the gateway to South Main,” Lynch said. “In Downtown Memphis, the demand for apartments is strong.”

But the type of apartments in demand are usually smaller in their square footage. The larger apartments and condominiums were overbuilt in the area, he added.

The Chisca project will include a renovation of the 1961 annex or motor court to the 1913 hotel building. What was a modern-looking addition to the structure in 1961 is now an eyesore that Lynch said the partners originally planned on tearing down.

“But if you look at the building real closely, it’s got three levels of parking,” he said, talking of 80 parking spaces that would cost about $3.5 million to replace versus $600,000 to demolish the whole thing. “It’s actually less expensive redoing that building than it is the main building on a per-unit basis. It made sense to keep that building.”

The apartment units in the annex will feature balconies with views of the South Main street life.

Lynch said the goal of the renovation is to be a further catalyst for the enduring vitality of the area with a community of people who live in the area as well as people who are drawn to visit. That was also one of the goals of FedExForum when the $250 million arena was built 10 years ago.

“It is embarrassing that after 10 years there hasn’t been one stick built around FedExForum, so, we’ve got a problem,” Lynch said as he talked of city government’s decision not to use its condemnation powers for a better public use of the surrounding property.

“The city, they’ve got a habit of not going in and condemning people’s property,” Lynch added. “That’s just the way they are and you have to deal with it.”

The hotel and all of the real estate was donated in 1972 by the owners, Robert G. Snowden and his sister, May Snowden Todd, to the Church of God In Christ.