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VOL. 130 | NO. 9 | Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Brewery Developer Calls for ‘Leap of Faith’

By Amos Maki

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Crews could begin transforming the long-vacant Tennessee Brewery property Downtown later this year and the first residents could move in during the fall of 2016, a veteran developer told a Downtown development board Tuesday, Jan. 13.

Crews could begin transforming the long-vacant Tennessee Brewery property Downtown later this year and the first residents could move in during the fall of 2016.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But redeveloping the historic stone and cast iron brewery, which opened in 1890 and has been vacant since 1953, will require a herculean effort with heavy lifting from the public and private sectors, said developer Billy Orgel.

“It’s going to take a leap of faith from a lot of people that will be involved with this to say, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” Orgel, president of cell phone tower development firm Tower Ventures, told the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. board Tuesday during the first public airing of the redevelopment plans. “The alternative – and I love old buildings and I won’t be taking any down – is if someone like us is not the owner of it, that building is not going to be redeveloped and eventually it’s going to come down.”

During his presentation, Orgel passed around an old can of Goldcrest 51, the beer bottled at the old brewery at 495 Tennessee St., and showed a brief clip of a documentary about the building produced by Brian D. Manis.

“It’s a pretty incredible property here in Memphis, and we’re lucky to have it,” said Orgel.

Orgel and partners Adam Slovis, Jason Wexler and Jay Lindy are proposing a $22.9 million adaptive reuse of the existing 90-foot-tall brewery building overlooking the Mississippi River, a new residential building and a new parking garage.

The project would include 148 rental units – 58 in the brewery building and 90 in a new six-story building across the street – as well as around 8,000 square feet of commercial space and 280 parking spots in a garage that will be built on what is now a vacant lot. The units would range from 750 square feet to 1,200 square feet, and the developer plans penthouse-style units for the sixth and seventh floors of the brewery building.

Orgel said his affinity for older buildings has always drawn him toward Downtown, where projects can often take longer and require more investment because they involve adaptive reuse rather than new construction.

“It’s not easy doing buildings Downtown,” said Orgel, who along with his partners has developed dozens of residential units in the Downtown core over the last 12 years. “We’ve done buildings Downtown, and I think we’ve done OK, but it’s a long, long process.

“If you want to make money, go out to Collierville or go to Cordova and build a strip center or go to Southaven and build apartments. This isn’t easy work.”

Downtown Memphis Commissions president Paul Morris said the brewery project will play a crucial role in the ongoing redevelopment of the South Main Historic Arts District, which is awash in investment, and that it complements Downtown’s shift to a residential hub while putting the property to its highest and best use.

“It takes a historic building that is empty and puts it to vibrant use,” Morris said.

The development team, 495 Tennessee LLC, stepped in last year to save the brewery from the wrecking ball.

A trust of the family that owns Memphis general contractor BHN Corp. had tried for years to find a developer for the property before declaring last year that razing the castle-like structure was a strong possibility.

Following last summer’s successful month-long Tennessee Brewery Untapped event, which activated the long-vacant space with a beer garden, music, food trucks and other activities, Orgel and his partners acquired the property in November for $825,000.

Orgel said his team is working on staging another Untapped event in May.

“Hopefully, we’ll be doing some events like that during Memphis in May to let people see it and reintroduce the building to the community,” he said.

PROPERTY SALES 69 119 21,696
MORTGAGES 64 113 16,530
BANKRUPTCIES 28 64 6,781