New Retail Center Proposed for Downtown Memphis

By Amos Maki

A new mixed-use retail center could be headed to the area south of FedExForum Downtown after the developer received approval Wednesday, March 26 for two drive-thru windows and several other code variances.

The proposed development at the northeast corner of South Third Street and East Butler Avenue, which is being called The SoFo, includes a 10,500-square-foot, two-story building that could house office, restaurant and café space, along with a possible convenience store.

Developers hope to bring a new mixed-use retail center to the area south of FedExForum if they can get approval for two drive-thru windows and several other code variances.

(Memphis-Shelby County Board of Adjustment)

The developer, Inner Vision Memphis Inc., a Compton, Calif.-based company, said in its application to the Memphis and Shelby County Board of Adjustment that the drive-thru windows were crucial for the project to be successful.

“The justification is that there is virtually no pedestrian traffic within this area and that the property is located on a major state highway and main access into the Downtown area that is utilized by vehicular traffic and therefore creates the need for quick vehicular access and circulation,” Inner Vision’s application states.

The Downtown Memphis Commission is opposing Inner Vision’s request, saying the proposed development does not conform to South Main’s established character.

“While we are supportive of the applicant’s investment in the neighborhood, it is the DMC’s position that appropriate infill development that respects the established character of the South Main District is the best way to add new residents, pedestrians, businesses, and vibrancy to the area,” DMC staff said in its response.

But the site is in a largely desolate area of Downtown, largely cut off from the bustling South Main District. The site’s current neighbors include vacant land, vacant warehouses and a billboard.

The site has already been cleared and is surrounded with orange construction fencing and barrels.

Office of Planning and Development staff, citing the proposed project’s location in an isolated area transitioning from an old industrial area, said the drive-thru windows should be allowed but should be tied to the life of the building rather than the land.

“By approving the variance for the two drive-thru windows to run with the life of the structure, it would permit redevelopment of the site to be revisited if the building were substantially destroyed or demolished,” the OPD staff analysis states.

OPD staff also recommends that the developer install a piece of art in a pedestrian plaza located at the intersection of South Third and East Butler.