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VOL. 130 | NO. 214 | Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Owner to Revive Long-Vacant Downtown Block

By Madeline Faber

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A group of private investors – led by Memphis businessman Michael Cook – is looking to turn a blighted Downtown block into a mixed-use development with covered parking.

Walk-Off Properties LLC bought the nine-story Hickman Building and its accompanying two-story parking garage on Sept. 30 for $1 million. The building, at 240 Madison Ave., sits across from the Fogelman Downtown YMCA.

The Memphis group also purchased the single-story Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States building for $130,000, gaining control over the entire stretch of North Fourth Street between Madison and Court avenues.

“Due to the status of the Hickman Building as it relates to its tax position and state of neglect, I saw a unique opportunity that could be an asset to Downtown real estate and commerce,” said Cook, a member of Walk-Off and founder and CEO with SouthernSun Asset Management.

Cook said he would not be actively involved in the development process and has instead handed the reins to architects Looney Ricks Kiss, project consultant Scott Bojko and public relations and consulting firm Doug Carpenter & Associates.

This is the fifth time the building has been considered for redevelopment, according to LRK principals Frank Ricks and Robert Norcross.

“Around 2000, we started getting calls about this building as the ballpark was being developed,” said Norcross, whose firm also worked on the nearby Toyota Plaza.

“We’ve been looking at the condition of the building for a while to make sure that it wasn’t going to be a burden rather than a blessing,” he added.

Completed in 1926, the eight-story neo-gothic building has sat vacant since 1971. It was previously used as the Medical Arts Building, and the architects say that the medical-use configuration could figure into a new design.

“The structure’s in good shape, and the building is pretty ordered,” Norcross said.

Eight 1,000-square-foot bays with Madison Avenue-facing windows make up the ground floor, a design that lends itself to retail use. Each bay has a stairway leading to the basement.

“The storefronts will be honored architecturally on the exterior, but the interior could be anything,” Ricks said. “The goal is to activate the street however we can, so to open up the street is the best way we can do that.”

Norcross said historic tax credits are being considered.

The upper levels were designed as offices with the penthouse serving as meeting space, which LRK believes could be maintained. Any configuration of office, retail and residential is on the table for the 99,159-square-foot-building.

Ricks added that each 8,000-square-foot floor would likely be single-use but could support multiple multifamily units or offices.

Adjacent to the Hickman building is a 21,400-square-foot, two-story garage. The structure, which has been without a roof for many years, is in poor shape and instead would be transformed into a courtyard.

The long-gone glass roof could be replaced with clear plastic.

“It would connect the indoor to the outdoor,” Norcross said.

The single-storied building at the southwest corner of Court and Fourth would be turned into covered parking.

Constructed in 1955, the single-story VFW building totals a little more than 14,000 square feet.

“The parking is a huge asset,” Ricks said. “Today parking demand for the building is way different than it was first designed because then people took the trolley and lived nearby.”

Stuart Harris, a senior associate with SouthernSun Asset Management, also is connected to the property.

“I've been looking at this building for quite a while,” Harris said. “I have had a passion for old buildings and it's been something I've been interested in, but the former seller had been pretty unrealistic for his expectations of it and it's just taken a while to have a substantive conversation about it.”

The Shelby County Board of Education on Sept. 29 approved the transfer of the VFW building at 251 Court Ave. to “Navin Partners, LLC, or its assignee, Walk-Off Properties, LLC, at a sales price of $130,000,” according to minutes from the meeting.

The board then quitclaimed the property to Walk-Off Properties on Oct. 5.

Harris is the registered agent for Navin Partners, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office.

Harris said SouthernSun Asset Management won't look to move its current Triad Centre III office in East Memphis to the Hickman property.

“It's definitely not a SouthernSun project,” Harris said. “We've still got many years left on our lease.”

LRK said that the design phase would take six months with construction potentially beginning in the first quarter of next year and continuing for another 12 months.

PROPERTY SALES 69 163 12,921
MORTGAGES 35 85 8,088
BUILDING PERMITS 109 531 30,465
BANKRUPTCIES 18 85 6,149