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VOL. 131 | NO. 126 | Friday, June 24, 2016

Pinch District to Move in a New Direction: Up

By Madeline Faber

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The Pinch District is getting a sky-high development treatment. For decades, the north Downtown neighborhood has been known as a sea of parking lots punctuated by a handful of small businesses.

With St. Jude Children's Research Hospital announcing $1 billion in new construction, the Pinch's largest tenant is opening up its campus with new buildings, some as tall as 12 stories, in the greater Pinch neighborhood. A neighborhood-level presence is a sea change for the institution, which has grown to 2.5 million square feet behind a gated campus.

“It's a huge shift, but it could work very well together and create a very sustainable neighborhood,” said Jonathan Flynt, an associate with Looney Ricks Kiss, the architecture firm tasked with the Pinch’s transformation.

LRK's design shows a mix of residential and St. Jude uses on the upper floors of new buildings that will bring density and diversity to the Pinch District. 

(Daily News/Madeline Faber)

Flynt compared the next stage for the Pinch to Amazon’s urban campus in Seattle, where the tech giant pits offices side-by-side with curated amenities and retail.

“They’re essentially building Amazon City,” he said. “When St. Jude is trying to recruit the best and the brightest, they will bring them to this neighborhood.”

Not only will St. Jude’s new research and office buildings be located outside of the gates, but the upcoming buildings will have public-facing retail and restaurant tenants on the ground floor.

Overton Avenue would connect Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid and the existing St. Jude campus with a strip of retail and restaurants. The upper floors of the commercial spaces would be residences and St. Jude offices. Other buildings are planned that stack residential on top of light office or commercial uses as well as a hotel that faces Bass Pro.

That's according to a concept map released Thursday, June 23, at the second public input session for the Pinch's master plan. The plan is coordinated by the Downtown Memphis Commission, the city of Memphis Division of Housing & Community Development and the city-county Division of Planning & Development.

As St. Jude owns most of the land in the 10-block Pinch neighborhood, the hospital has a guiding hand in the process.

“St. Jude enables us to do what a lot of other cities can’t do in a situation like this in that they’re helping prime the pump,” Flynt said. “We have investment coming in, thousands of employees and thousands of more employees coming in.”

At Thursday’s meeting, held at the Balinese Ballroom in the Pinch, the public got a closer look at what a redeveloped Pinch District could resemble.

“It will look different than it is now,” said Debra Streeter, manager of public safety for the Downtown Memphis Commission. “People want the vibrant mix of uses.”

Streeter said that the area’s development will hinge on the condos planned for the area but sees the neighborhood working together under a new economic ecosystem.

An influx of new residents will support what traditionally has been a weak commercial market. With St. Jude and its fundraising arm, ALSAC, set to add 2,000 employees to its current base of 6,000, those new employees will need places to live.

According to data provided by the Downtown Memphis Commission, only 39 people lived in the neighborhood in 2010. At an earlier DMC meeting, Terence Patterson said that the Pinch District could potentially support 1,000 new residential units.

The concept map also sketches out the long-awaited pedestrian bridge that connects Bass Pro to the greater Pinch area. That conversation is still ongoing, with the bridge potentially connecting Pinch visitors to the nearby trolley line.

Over the next two months, coordinators of the master plan will attempt to formalize what a funding structure and development partnership would look like.

Memphis City Councilman Berlin Boyd said that he’s waiting to hear back from the state of Tennessee about an expansion of Mud Island’s tourism development zone to encompass the Pinch District.

“It’s going to definitely have a major, positive economic impact to what the city could do as far as capital investment in the area,” Boyd said.

With a TDZ expansion, the city would skim off some sales tax revenue from the state in the form of rebates. Those rebates would be turned around to fund the city purchasing and developing property in the Pinch.

“Our goal is to have no new property tax burden for residents of the city of Memphis, and the TDZ is the only way to do that,” said Paul Young, director of Housing and Community Development with the city of Memphis. “The question becomes, if we’re using TDZ what can be built that generates enough money in sales tax to justify the development.”

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Friday, June 24, in his weekly email update that he is assembling a team to “examine the financial capacity of the TDZ to determine what’s possible” in terms of Pinch development.

“Centered in the Pinch District and in lock-step with the exciting planned expansion of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, our thought process will take in our riverfront, Mud Island and the Convention Center,” Strickland wrote. “You may have thought of all of those components independently. We haven’t. We view them as part of a major opportunity for a conceptual approach that could dramatically reshape a major gateway to our city.”

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