Design Board Approves New Peabody Place Facade

By Madeline Faber

The Downtown Memphis Commission’s Design Review Board approved a multitude of Downtown projects Wednesday, Nov. 4, including new Peabody Place Tower signage and Central Station plans that include an outdoor Malco movie screen.

Belz Enterprises received Design Review Board approval for lit tenant signage on its Peabody Place Tower in Downtown Memphis.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Belz Enterprises’ Peabody Place Tower, located at 100 Peabody Place, now will feature light-up signs for Belz and the Bass, Berry & Sims law firm on the east and north sides.

When submitted to the DRB, the application called for three tenant signs on all four facades of the 16-story tower. Belz had hoped to use the third sign as leverage in attracting an additional office tenant to the building, which is 65 percent vacant.

The application was easily the most controversial item on the DRB’s docket as the board weighed being stewards of Downtown design and attracting and retaining Downtown growth.

If every majority tenant wanted a sign, it would be cluttered, unsightly and could easily decrease property values, said Brett Roler, director of planning for the DMC.

DMC president Paul Morris said the board needs to come up with additional limiting factors to the Downtown sign code so that other office buildings don’t try to jump on the bandwagon.

“We hear that the issues with major employers coming Downtown (are) parking and signage. We hear it all the time. If we can’t compete, we’re going to continue to be beating our heads against a wall with people moving out east,” said Morris Thomas, Belz Enterprises’ vice president of brokerage and leasing.

“We are on the battlefront of competition for Class A office space with East Memphis,” said Nathan Bicks, an attorney with Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC representing Belz.

This year alone has seen 56,000 square feet of negative absorption of Class A office space Downtown, Bicks added. Other towers in East Memphis have exterior signs, and Bass, Berry & Sims PLC agreed to a 10-year lease on the Peabody Place Tower partially because the firm was promised a sign.

“I’m kind of 50-50,” said board member Carl Person. “My 50 percent is if we allow this to happen at the DMC, it could pop up again some place. The other 50 is, if we don’t allow stuff like this to happen, we won’t have to worry about the other 50 because there won’t be anybody down here to see it.”

The board decided that if a third tenant is secured, then the sign will have to return to the board for approval.

“Trust me, it will make a big difference,” said Morris of a potential third tenant.

The board also approved Wednesday the first five phases of the $55 million Central Station redevelopment, including 200 apartments and a Malco movie theater. The six-screen theater will have balcony seating and an outdoor movie screen, a new concept for Malco.

Some work on Central Station has already begun with Montgomery Martin Contractors filing a $1.5 million permit for footing and foundation for vacant land at 608 S. Front St.

A reconfiguration of the Downtown Farmers Market Plaza and Malco signage will come before the board again.

In other matters Wednesday, the final design for the South Main Artspace Lofts at the historic United Warehouse Building, 138 St. Paul Ave., was approved.

Storefront improvements to the Gould’s salon planned for 77 S. Main at the corner of Union also received the board’s approval. Gould’s proposed 211-square-foot patio will be revisited when a use agreement is established.