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VOL. 128 | NO. 36 | Thursday, February 21, 2013

Maximizing Madison

Stakeholders look to restore Madison Avenue as Downtown destination

By Sarah Baker

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The Downtown strip of Madison Avenue from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law to Fielder Square Apartments in its prime was the city’s financial hub.

A new bar called The Mad Earl is planned next to The Brass Door on Madison Avenue Downtown. A Madison Avenue alliance has formed to try to draw more attention to the area. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

It’s seen some successes in recent times – new businesses opening, building renovations and the removal of the makeshift wall at Main and Second streets that interrupted traffic for two years.

Now, a group called the Madison Avenue Alliance has its sights set on continuing that momentum and bringing the street back to its destination heyday.

Scott J. Crosby, attorney with Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC and investor in The Brass Door, is spearheading the effort for anyone who owns or leases property along the corridor.

The first meeting had stakeholders from the U of M law school, Madison Hotel, Federal Bakery Building, Goodwyn Institute LLC, Thai Bistro, The Brass Door, First Tennessee Bank, Visible Music College and Fogelman YMCA.

“I’m trying to have an alliance of people who, really if you add it all up together spent $100 million in investment,” Crosby said. “That is a lot of resources, investment and hope for the city. It creates jobs, economic stability and a livable Downtown. Given all of the good that can come out of that little stretch of Downtown, that’s worthy of emphasis.”

The Madison Avenue Alliance is working on getting significant street lighting to line the street on both sides from the law school east to Fielder Square.

Crosby said he’s “got to move a lot of balls forward,” including getting “the right voices to the city and see what can happen.”

“There’s a lot of good ideas that are happening in Memphis, and we hope just to be one of them,” Crosby said. “We’re competing with other areas in Memphis like Overton Square and Cooper-Young who we want to do well. I think also to compete, we need to give a varying type of place for people to come and enjoy an evening.”

One of the new ideas coming to the Downtown Madison strip is The Mad Earl – a companion piece to The Brass Door, an Irish pub that opened at 152 Madison Ave. in August 2011. The 1,600-square-foot space at 150 Madison will have the same investment group as The Brass Door – Crosby along with his wife, Meg Crosby, and Seamus Loftus – but will be run by restaurant veteran Clay Shelton.

The English-themed sports bar/pub will be geared toward a “funkier and younger crowd” and serve inexpensive sandwiches and salads. It’ll also allow smoking and be open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.

“We went with The Mad Earl because the Earl of Sandwich, Madison Avenue – it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Shelton said.

Downstairs will be a giant game room with pool and pingpong tables, dart and shuffle boards and the Golden Tee Golf video game. Upstairs will have up to eight flat-screen TVs and a full sports package.

“The idea is to keep everything as bare minimum as possible so that I can offer beer and food at a price that the law students can enjoy,” Shelton said. “Twenty years down the line when they come back for their alumni thing, I want them to say, ‘Oh! We’ve got to go by The Mad Earl and have a beer and a sandwich.’”

The Mad Earl’s primary dish will be a rendition of Chicago’s famous hot Italian beef sandwich. The pub will also have variations of chicken sandwiches from jerk to Parmesan, as well as egg and grilled cheeses served on thick Texas toast.

“The goal is to have these coming out within two minutes of somebody ordering it,” Shelton said.

The Mad Earl plans to open on St. Patrick’s Day. Last year during The Brass Door’s celebration of the Irish holiday, 1,000 people filled the Madison block that it sits on.

And that’s exactly what Loftus wants to see more of – street activation. He came to Memphis from Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, in his 20s to play soccer. Now 45, Loftus lives here completely out of choice.

“Anybody who’s in the bar business will tell you that one bar is enough,” Loftus said. “The Earl is going to be the next step for us as a company and as a bunch of interested people to make Memphis a greater city and a more pedestrian-friendlier city. We believe in Madison Avenue, we believe in the project, and we want to see this street come back to life.”

Meanwhile, Charles “Buddy” Dickey of Landmark Community Bank is in the midst of renovating the four-story Federal Bakery Building at 119 Madison for personal office use along with Phil Trenary, Bill Nixon and Jeff Germany.

Also promising for Madison is its eastbound development. The Hickman Building’s ownership group is working with the Downtown Memphis Commission on bringing the 99,159-square-foot property back to life, possibly as mixed-use multifamily. And High Cotton Brewing Co. LLC plans to open this spring in the Edge district.

PROPERTY SALES 57 94 2,713
MORTGAGES 16 37 1,820
BUILDING PERMITS 303 621 6,322
BANKRUPTCIES 138 138 1,115