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VOL. 131 | NO. 67 | Monday, April 4, 2016

City Ready to Develop Master Plan for Pinch District

By Madeline Faber

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The Pinch District, one of Memphis’ oldest neighborhoods, is getting its time in the spotlight.

Over the next three months, key leaders will solicit community input about the future of the Pinch District. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The Downtown Memphis Commission, the city of Memphis Division of Housing & Community Development and the city-county Division of Planning & Development are coming together to develop the Pinch’s first master plan in to bring the area up to date with mixed-use buildings and streetscape improvements.

The master plan is informally coordinated with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which announced last year a $9 billion investment in its Downtown campus and at ALSAC, its fundraising organization. Included in that investment is $1 billion in new construction.

“We want to make sure we step up. They’re (St. Jude) a community partner with significant capital,” said Terence Patterson, president of the DMC. “But we want to be sensitive to the needs of the community as well.”

St. Jude is a key anchor in the Pinch, along with Bass Pro Shops and the Cook Convention Center. Victor Buchholz, principal with architecture firm Looney Ricks Kiss, said that emphasizing those connections will help bring the Pinch back on the development grid. LRK has been studying the Pinch since late 2015 and will be coordinating a comprehensive design for the project.

The community got a glimpse of those plans March 30 at the Balinese Ballroom in the Pinch, where stakeholders gave feedback on the Pinch’s future. Public meetings over the next three months will help narrow the vision and goals for the master plan.

Lining the walls of the ballroom were illustrations of an active, walkable neighborhood with street-facing retail, green spaces and accessible public transportation.

The illustrations starkly differ from the Pinch’s current reality, which some at the event described as isolated and out-of-date.

A handful of businesses are holding on in the 10-block neighborhood. Interstate 240 dissects the Pinch from the multi-million-dollar momentum in the greater Downtown area. If you stand anywhere in the Pinch, you can see Bass Pro at the Pyramid. But you can’t easily get to the Pinch from Bass Pro without the long-awaited pedestrian bridge, a project that is either stalled or dead.

“It’s amazing you have these few blocks of undeveloped real estate that has, well, seen better days,” said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.

St. Jude’s anticipated expansion is helping fuel discussions on the Pinch’s future. While the organization is mum about its plans, some outlines are starting to take shape.

On Feb. 2, the Memphis City Council approved adding 120 days to the city’s moratorium on new building permits in the Pinch. The moratorium began last year, and St. Jude is exempt from the ruling.

At the meeting, council member Berlin Boyd said that a first-draft plan developed for St. Jude and Bass Pro by LRK will go public in the near future to get input from citizens.

The moratorium came into play at the northeast corner of Jackson and Front streets. On March 1, the City Council rejected a developer’s proposal to build a hotel on the corner. The Greater Memphis Chamber and St. Jude wanted the hotel proposal to wait three more months while the master plan for the Pinch took shape, but the developer didn’t want to wait.

Boyd, whose district includes the Pinch and St. Jude, said that with leaders in St. Louis and California lobbying to snag St. Jude’s expansion, there isn’t room for compromise.

Much less is known about Boyd’s reference to an offer from California, but ties between St. Jude and St. Louis go back to the 1980s.

Washington University made a serious run at getting St. Jude to move to St. Louis, and the St. Jude board gave such serious consideration to the offer that then-Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett and then-Shelby County Mayor Bill Morris mobilized community and private support behind a counter offer. Within years of deciding to stay in Memphis, the hospital campus began to change profoundly with the first of new research facilities.

“It’s just one of those things,” Boyd said at the March 1 meeting. “I don’t want to lose the investment from St. Jude.”

Whatever does come out of the master plan will be a boon for the area. The parties behind the plan said it will likely be funded through a mix of Downtown Tourism Development Zone revenue, state and federal grants and private capital.

The Pinch has just been waiting for investment, said Paul Young, director of Housing & Community Development.

“Now we have some strong anchors to help drive and sustain activity,” Young said.

PROPERTY SALES 39 202 12,960
MORTGAGES 25 110 8,113
BUILDING PERMITS 114 645 30,579
BANKRUPTCIES 37 122 6,186