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VOL. 129 | NO. 35 | Thursday, February 20, 2014

Walker Avenue Remake

Redevelopment of YMCA at center of neighborhood’s new life

By Amos Maki

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The former Mason YMCA on Walker Avenue near the University of Memphis is getting a new look. The redevelopment of the 11,500-square-foot property is underway and should be complete by the end of the year.

Redevelopment of the former Mason YMCA on Walker Avenue is underway and should be complete by the end of the year, helping transform the University of Memphis-area neighborhood.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Owner Cecil C. Humphreys Jr. thought repurposing the property would bring it to its highest and best use, and also complement other changes planned for Walker Avenue and the broader University District area.

“My primary goal was to do something that would be a good fit with the neighborhood,” Humphreys said. “I just want to get people in there and into the neighborhood where they will do business with other businesses in the neighborhood.”

The redevelopment includes demolition of a dormitory and gym on the rear of the property to make way for more parking spaces, a precious commodity in the area.

Part of that tenant mix has already taken shape. The Peddler Bike Shop has signed a lease to occupy 6,050 square feet at the building. The Peddler Bike Shop space should be complete by May 1. More changes to Walker Avenue are on the way.

Thanks to a $529,436 grant from the state, Walker Avenue – home to University District institutions like Brother Juniper’s Restaurant, Garibaldi’s and RP Tracks Restaurant and Bar – will be remade into a much more appealing, pedestrian-friendly environment.

Improvements along Walker Avenue, from the intersection of South Highland Street and Walker Avenue and continuing east to the intersection of Brister Street, are part of the city of Memphis’ and the University of Memphis’ redevelopment plan.

The Walker Avenue Streetscape project, which includes creating an identifiable entrance to the University of Memphis campus from neighboring businesses, will widen sidewalks, improve lighting, add landscaping and revamp parking.

“The Walker Avenue property is at the epicenter of the University District, so it provides an ideal opportunity for tenants seeking to be part of the redevelopment momentum,” said Alex Turley, vice president of retail services for CB Richard Ellis Memphis and who represents Humphreys.

Improvements along Walker Avenue will add to other construction in the University of Memphis area.

In 2015, the campus will open a 754-bed residence hall on Central Avenue to replace the current 1,000-bed Richardson Towers residence hall. Along Southern Avenue and Patterson Street near campus, the Rael Development Group, operating as RDC Fund VI Memphis LLC, has started construction on a high-end apartment complex with 74 units for student housing. Farther west at 3595 Southern Ave., The Doyles on Southern by The Doyle Interest LLC will hold 127 apartments and 8,600 square feet of ground-floor retail or office space.

Developers are moving forward with the long-stalled Highland Row mixed-use development with a project that features more rental units and less retail than originally planned and the university would like to purchase the closed city library on Highland, part of a long-planned effort to create a grand new entrance to the school from heavily traveled Highland.

The changing look and feel of the area could play a major role in one of the university’s main goals – increasing student enrollment. University and neighborhood leaders say one way of attracting more students to the university is producing a vibrant neighborhood around the school.

“The momentum appears to be increasing and I think people are beginning to appreciate the possibilities,” Humphreys said.

Turley said all the activity in the area is helping increase interest from potential tenants in the YMCA building.

“We’ve received a good amount of interest in the project,” Turley said, “which is a testament to the market’s enthusiasm and anticipation around the ongoing efforts to improve the University District.”

PROPERTY SALES 51 180 16,377
MORTGAGES 21 57 10,144
BUILDING PERMITS 103 665 39,209
BANKRUPTCIES 31 107 7,704