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VOL. 129 | NO. 195 | Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pocket Park Takes Shape on Madison

By Amos Maki

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For several years, Scott Crosby, an attorney with Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC and co-owner of The Brass Door restaurant on Madison Avenue Downtown, had considered what, if anything, could be done with the shuttered Burger King restaurant across the street, a decaying eyesore in an otherwise vibrant strip of the street.

A “pocket park” will replace the old Burger King restaurant at 151 Madison Ave. Downtown.

(Submitted Rendering)

“Being at The Brass Door, we see that building every day, and we realized that if we’re going to make a go of it here, if anyone here is going to make a go of it, you can’t silo yourself and just work really hard, you have to have a broader perspective,” said Crosby.

The solution was decidedly Memphis. Crosby and a cadre of Downtown stakeholders and other interested parties raised private funds to buy and demolish the dog-eared building at 151 Madison and replace it with a pocket park.

“Memphis, we’re a big ‘small town’ and a lot of things lined up,” said Crosby. “We’re flying a little without a net, but that’s OK because it’s a good thing to do and Memphis is worth it.”

Last week, a backhoe and four-man crew were busy reducing the nearly 120-year-old building into a pile of twisted metal, concrete and glass.

Crosby first began discussing buying the building and replacing it with a park with former First Horizon National Corp. executive Sonny Sonnenstein. Sonnenstein soon took another position with an out-of-state bank and several months passed until William “BJ” Losch, executive vice president and chief financial officer of First Horizon, gave Crosby a call and said the Memphis-based bank was still interested in the effort and willing to donate money to make the plan a reality. The bank’s headquarters is located adjacent to the property.

A crew is demolishing the old Burger King at 151 Madison Ave. Downtown. Community stakeholders bought the property and will convert it into a pocket park that sits next to the First Tennessee tower and across from the Brass Door restaurant.

(Daily News/Amos Maki)

Soon, an expanding network of friends and acquaintances were on board with the idea. The Hyde Foundation, First Horizon, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, Left Field Properties, residents of the Goodwyn Building, The Brass Door, the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation, Angie and Will Deupree and other anonymous donors all chipped in funds to acquire and demolish the building and set up a fund to pay for park operations.

The group transferred the funds it raised to the Center City Development Corp., an arm of the Downtown Memphis Commission, and in February paid $175,000 for the 6,935-square-foot building that was originally built in 1895. June West of Memphis Heritage inspected the building to look for items of historical significance and found none, save for an old Burger King sign.

“We bought it for about 60 percent above the appraised value because it was a good thing to do,” said Crosby. “We’ve taken something that was offline and we’re putting it online.”

With the property in hand, organizers then had to figure out how they would build the park.

“We still didn’t know quite what to do with it, how it would be a park,” said Crosby.

That’s when Crosby’s brother, Mark Crosby, and local photographer and Tops Gallery owner Matt Ducklo pitched the idea to the New York City-based PARC Foundation, which has agreed to design and build the park.

“It seemed like a great opportunity to do something excellent design-wise,” said Ducklo. “I think it could be this small beacon of excellence.”

One preliminary rendering of the park shows a partially enclosed and covered grass strip with visitors watching a movie. Another shows a plant-covered walkway with trees lining the outer edge of the park.

“I think when people hear park they think it’s going to be an empty grass lot and it’s not,” said Paul Morris, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission. “It’s going to be something special.”

Crosby said ArtsMemphis has stepped forward to help develop programming, such as movies or opera performances, for the park.

Morris praised Crosby and the informal group of stakeholders for taking the initiative to transform an eyesore into a public amenity.

“Our organization is premised on the utilization of public-private partnerships, and it doesn’t work if the private sector isn’t engaged,” said Morris. “The public sector can’t do it by itself and the private sector can’t do it by itself, so you need partnerships like this.”

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