Downtown Stakeholders Talk Office Space, Riverfront

By Bill Dries

Office space is moving east in Memphis for now.

But the head of the Downtown Memphis Commission says that doesn’t appear to be a long-term trend.

“I don’t disagree that that’s happened. I disagree that that will continue to happen over the next 20 or 30 years,” Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.” “If you look at it from the longer-term perspective across America, more and more offices are returning to downtown areas.”

The program can be seen at Friday, July 18, at 7 p.m. and midnight, and Sunday, July 20, at 8:30 a.m.

Riverfront Development Corp. president Benny Lendermon, also on the program, talked about the challenges of the Beale Street Landing project, which formally opened earlier this month.

“Purposely we chose to shoehorn it in between Tom Lee Park and the cobblestones,” he said. “We didn’t want to have any historic implications for the cobblestones and didn’t want to greatly effect Memphis in May (International Festival). Because of that, it was a very difficult engineering feat that was compounded by soil conditions very similar to what The Pyramid’s faced.”

Meanwhile, Morris said City Hall should begin moving on developing a master plan for the Pinch District once the Bass Pro Shops development in The Pyramid becomes a known quantity. The retail store plus other attractions and a hotel being developed by the outdoors retailer are scheduled to open in December 2014.

“The Pinch doesn’t know what to do now. It is sitting there, dormant,” Morris said. “Until Bass Pro really gets going, I don’t think we are going to see a lot in the Pinch.”

He offered few clues about the reworking on the One Beale high-rise project at Beale Street and Riverside Drive pursued by developer Gene Carlisle and his Carlisle Group just before the onset of the recession made financing impossible.

“I will tell you that Gene Carlisle just sold a bunch of Wendy’s,” Morris said, referring to the restaurants that Carlisle owned locally. “He’s got a lot of cash to move forward on something spectacular. … It’s one of the very few properties in Downtown that have riverfront views and riverfront property that you can privately develop.”