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VOL. 130 | NO. 10 | Thursday, January 15, 2015

Center of Attention

Pinch District in spotlight as Bass Pro opening nears

By Amos Maki

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The Pinch District, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and commercial centers, will receive some much-needed tender loving care in advance of Bass Pro Shops opening its massive store at The Pyramid May 1.

With the news that Bass Pro Shops will open its doors at The Pyramid May 1, the focus soon will shift to the surrounding Pinch District and finding new life for the neighborhood.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Pinch will be the site of a one-day event designed to energize and activate the Downtown neighborhood just as Bass Pro prepares to launch its destination attraction, which officials hope will generate a stream of visitors and investment that ripples across the district.

Meanwhile, Bass Pro Shops is preparing for its May 1 opening. The Springfield. Mo.-based retailer is planning a February job fair for the store and attraction, which is expected to employ 600 people, and will host a gala the night before the opening to benefit local conservation groups.

“I think there’s anticipation in the Pinch, and there has been for several years now, about Bass Pro opening up and bringing more feet back to the street, so to speak,” said John Paul Shaffer, program director for Livable Memphis.

Livable Memphis and the Downtown Neighborhood Association are teaming up to host a MEMfix event in the Pinch on April 11. A public meeting on the effort is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 16, at 3:30 p.m. at Ferraro’s Pizzeria and Pub, 111 Jackson Ave.

MEMfix events are designed to showcase the art of the possible in neighborhoods by using pop-up shops, storefront enhancements and infrastructure improvements such as bicycle lanes to transform desolate urban spaces into nodes of activity that attract interest and future investment.

“I’m sure everybody has some reservations – that’s a natural part of the process – but there’s real enthusiasm about the future of the neighborhood,” said Shaffer.

The Pinch District, which has reinvented itself many times since the city’s earliest days, could use the attention.

Nestled between the Wolf River Harbor, Market Street, Danny Thomas Boulevard and A.W. Willis Avenue, the Pinch served as home to a steady stream of early immigrants before becoming a river city commercial hub.

A victim of eastward flight and urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s, the Pinch lumbered on until The Pyramid opened, which helped sustain a budding dining and entertainment scene in the district. But with the opening of FedExForum in 2004, The Pyramid was shuttered and the Pinch stumbled along as other parts of Downtown grew, particularly the South Main Historic Arts District.

“I think there’s anticipation in the Pinch, and there has been for several years now.”

–John Paul Shaffer
Program director, Livable Memphis

“It’s long overdue,” said Tanja Mitchell, Uptown Neighborhood coordinator and immediate past president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, of the attention being focused on the neighborhood.

“The Pinch is a very important neighborhood,” Mitchell said. “It has its own character and personality, but it’s a very important part of Downtown and we want to spruce up before the big grand opening of Bass Pro.”

Many older structures in the Pinch have been lost or significantly altered over the decades, which last year led the staff of the Tennessee Historical Commission to recommend that the district be removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

Claudette Stager, deputy state historic preservation officer, said this week that after the state made its original recommendation to remove the Pinch from the list, local officials asked the commission to explore shrinking the size of the historic district, but after a review the staff ultimately determined there were not enough “historic resources” remaining in the area. The Tennessee Historical Commission’s board will vote on stripping the Pinch of its historic designation Jan. 28.

Still, Shaffer said the Pinch has good bones, including unique architecture and a dense street network that should make for a good reimagining campaign like MEMfix. Previous MEMfix events have included the Soulsville neighborhood, the area around Walker Avenue and Highland Street by the University of Memphis, a stretch of Cleveland Avenue that runs by the Sears Crosstown building and the EDGE district between Downtown and the Memphis Medical District.

“All the elements we look for in a MEMfix are there,” said Shaffer. “We think there are opportunities to get into some pretty cool spaces and activate them.”

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