VOL. 131 | NO. 90 | Thursday, May 5, 2016
South Front Hits its Stride as Standalone Corridor
By Madeline Faber
South Front Street, which stretches Downtown from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Central Station, is emerging as its own standalone residential and commercial corridor. What was once a heavy industrial area and warehousing district for South Main’s department stores is undergoing a transformation into Downtown’s most residentially dense neighborhood.
Last weekend, ad firm DCA installed signs as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to tout South Front’s emergence as a residential and commercial corridor.
While South Main has flourished with restaurants and retail in the past 15 years, South Front has recently realized its stride.
“It was kind of a dark area. There was no light,” said Vince Smith, who has developed apartment projects on South Front, including Printer’s Alley, Cabinet Shop, Annex Lofts and the future 266 Linden project. “It looked a little like you would be better off going down South Main and Beale if you were a tourist. South Front was a barrier.”
To tout the area’s emergence, commercial real estate owners in the area have tasked advertising agency DCA with creating a guerrilla marketing campaign. Over the Beale Street Music Festival weekend, April 29-May 1, festivalgoers were encouraged to “Live Up Front,” a slogan written on sandwich boards and Downtown street signs.
“It’s in the vein of shock therapy,” Carpenter said. “We want people to look around and realize that this is a destination, not a detour.”
Doug Carpenter, principal of DCA, has longtime ties to the area. He helped brand the greater South End neighborhood during the condo boom of the early 2000s, and he’s returned with a smaller-scale attempt to launch South Front as its own neighborhood.
More than 3,300 people live in the South Downtown area, and the Downtown Memphis Commission expects that figure to double over the next two to three years. It’s the fastest-growing area Downtown by far, with property values jumping 66 percent between 2000 and 2015.
Twenty-five years ago, Downtown stalwart Henry Turley Co. was first to plant its flag in the former industrial district with the South Bluffs development. Other developers followed suit, bringing condos and high-end apartments. Attracted to the area’s development, The Blue Monkey owner Mike Johnson opened a Downtown outpost of the Midtown bar in 2001. Johnson said he’s seen South Front through its boom and bust years, and now he believes the area is entering a period of good growth.
“Demographics are skewing a little bit younger,” Johnson said. “There seems to be a lot more apartment development as opposed to condos, which is why we came down here initially. 2008 rolled around, and everything slowed down pretty good. It looked like things wouldn’t be on the upside, but they certainly are now.”
After a fire in 2005, Johnson decided to stay Downtown and relocate The Blue Monkey to 513 S. Front, a block away from its original location at the corner of South Front and G.E. Patterson Avenue.
With the South Front area reaching critical mass, Johnson said he’s planning to open a second commercial venture in the area.
He plans to turn the original Blue Monkey location, which is currently a vacant lot, into a market to serve the growing neighborhood.
The lower floor will serve prepared foods and sell some sundry items. The upper floor will be converted into two upscale, one-bedroom apartments. Johnson’s aiming for the project to be completed within the next 12 to 18 months.
Smith believes that more service-type offerings will take South Front to the next level.
“Hollywood Feed would be a natural fit down here one day,” he said. “The service component is next. We could use a dry cleaners and maybe even some banking.”
The handful of commercial options in the area are restaurants and bars. The Blue Monkey, the Corkscrew liquor store, Gus’s Fried Chicken and the soon-to-open Old Dominick Distillery and tasting room are all along South Front.
Carpenter hopes that the Live Up Front campaign and its website, liveupfront.com, will draw attention to the lesser-known tenants in the area, like health care provider Community Family Medical.
“I think it’s already becoming more attractive to commercial developers,” Carpenter said. “I think what Vince and Henry did bringing people down here, it may have been on the more adventurous side five years ago or 10 years ago. Now it’s not the case.”