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

Morris: Public Transit Tops Downtown Goals

By Bill Dries

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A stronger and more vital public transportation presence in Downtown and a plan for development of land south of Central Station are two priorities of the Downtown Memphis Commission for the coming year.

“A lot of people that live in apartments are your best prospects to become condo owners or single-family homeowners in Downtown.”

–Paul Morris

Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris said he would like to see Downtown become a “model for public transportation” during his annual state of Downtown appearance at the South Main Association’s January meeting.

The Memphis Area Transit Authority is rethinking its approach to routing and Morris told the group of 50 at Bleu restaurant Tuesday, Jan. 13, that Downtown should be a testing ground for those changes because of its density.

Ron Garrison, president and general manager of the transit authority since August, has said one of the challenges in overhauling MATA’s route system to perhaps more of a grid approach instead of hubs is the city’s lack of density compared to larger cities with greater density that are able to make better use of a grid system.

“We can do some of that here,” Garrison said in October shortly after settling in at MATA. “But to do a truly grid system, we’d have to slowly change and build our streets a little differently. But I think it’s something, from what I’ve seen to date, that we certainly can improve upon.”

Morris said because of its density, Downtown should have “a better shot of making it work.”

“Hopefully we can start to change perceptions of public transportation,” he added.

Morris also said the first plans by developers Henry Turley and Archie Willis for the land on Central Station property south of the station itself and the Memphis Farmers Market pavilion could surface by the end of March.

Turley and Willis have teamed up to develop and manage the Central Station property for the Memphis Area Transit Authority, which owns the train station property.

“They’ve got some really interested tenants and interesting ideas, some of which are nailed down and some of which are not and none of which are for public disclosure yet,” Morris told the association.

More tentative are talks about what Morris termed “the white whales” – the decades-long pursuit of a Downtown movie theater and a supermarket.

“I can promise you I’ve had very serious meetings in the past three months with both people who are interested in bringing a grocery store Downtown and people who are interested in bringing a movie theater Downtown,” he added. “That’s not definite. But I’m saying those are real discussions.”

Downtown’s last movie theater was the 22-screen Muvico theater at the Peabody Place development that closed eight of its screens in late 2006 and then the rest of the screens in the summer of 2008.

Morris spoke at the end of a day in which Bass Pro Shops executives made firm a May 1 opening date for their store and other attractions in The Pyramid. And the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. got a look at detailed plans for the redevelopment of the Tennessee Brewery property as apartments.

As difficult as the Tennessee Brewery project will be, Morris said it would be more difficult to finance condominiums in the development instead of apartments – that’s even with two condo projects nearby including the resurrected riverside Horizon project.

“It reflects the ever growing and stronger demand to live Downtown,” he added. “The fact is, though, that still in 2015 the financial markets that build new condos and new single-family homes – those are very difficult to finance. … A lot of people that live in apartments are your best prospects to become condo owners or single-family homeowners in Downtown.”

Meanwhile, the Main to Main Multi-Modal Connector project continues with sidewalk improvements on South Main Street south of Talbot Street completed and work on the sidewalks north of Talbot to come.

The project is a refurbishment of Main Street from Uptown to the South Main Historic Arts District including the trolley tracks, the Harahan Bridge boardwalk across the Mississippi River and improvements to Broadway in West Memphis, which is that city’s Main Street.

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