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VOL. 6 | NO. 6 | Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hope Emerges for Filling Empty Spaces

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When The Pyramid reopens as a Bass Pro Shops later this year or early next year, it will be the only adaptive reuse of an arena in the country that is not a church.

That and Sears Crosstown are probably the city’s biggest empty spaces in terms of square footage, but the smaller ones highlighted in our cover story have a similar impact.

The impact of these empty buildings on the fortunes of our city is not in their size but in their location.

Some, like the hotel at McLean and Union, are surrounded by promising developments. In the case of this property there is the upcoming demolition and rebuilding of the long-time grocery store now owned by Kroger and the relocation of the nearby Union Station police precinct and traffic bureau.

We argue it is a clear uncomplicated line of local ownership that is often the critical difference.

The problem of getting anything done with the Sterick Building, a part of the Memphis skyline and probably the Downtown high rise most photographed by tourists is different ownership of the land and the structure. It has tied up the use of the building for so long that there are legitimate questions about what a renovation would cost to bring its office space up to today’s standards.

Overton Square is returning to full bloom even as the French Quarter Suites Hotel remains dark. The activity on a smaller scale helps those with capital to invest see possibilities where there once were none.

The hotel began as part of a long-term vision for the square in its first prime.

Timing is something we can help but not completely master.

One other important factor is how property owners are approached. Sometimes this is a matter of someone or a group who have never been to Memphis but bought a property here with the idea of sitting on it for possible sale once other things start happening and, most importantly, the price goes up.

But more often the properties are bought by investors who have a plan once the economic clouds lift. When that ownership is local or the property is part of a small portfolio chosen carefully by investors who have the right intentions, efforts toward getting the development unstuck in some way should respect those intentions and help those owners.

That should be balanced with anti-blight regulations enforced evenly and fairly. The goal should be not to persecute owners but to make them realize that just as their plans can be helped by what happens around them, what happens to their properties and what doesn’t happen to their properties has a real impact on the fortunes of others trying to making something happen now in Memphis.

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