VOL. 131 | NO. 235 | Thursday, November 24, 2016
The Pinch District ‘Vision’ Plan Meets Reality
By Bill Dries
A final public meeting Tuesday, Nov. 22, on the still tentative redevelopment plan for the Pinch District came with a call by some property owners and a Shelby County commissioner for the city to end a moratorium on approving parcel-by-parcel redevelopment plans in the nine-block area.
Overton Avenue, which stretches from The Pyramid to the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, will be a central corridor for redevelopment of the Pinch District when plans begin to take shape.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
It also included some general ideas about and renderings of Overton Avenue becoming a walkable, well-lit and more heavily developed east-west corridor between the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.
In between those two very different discussions is an insistence by city leaders and St. Jude that there be no specific land-use and development plan, as well as some skepticism among the landowners about whether that is the case.
George Shadroui, chief strategy officer for ALSAC, the fundraising part of St. Jude, said the hospital has a six-year plan and decisions to make beyond that about a $9 billion expansion of the campus, including $1 billion in construction.
“That plan starts with things that are going to happen on the campus,” he said after the meeting at the Balinese Ballroom. “There are no specific approved plans at this time for anything outside the gates of our current campus. That’s all I can really tell you. Down the road those things will be handled as they come up.”
The one exception to that noted by Shadroui is the hospital’s new data center, which is on a parcel of land south of the hospital campus.
County Commissioner Steve Basar, whose wife represented the developers of a proposed hotel across Front Street from The Pyramid that was rejected by the Memphis City Council earlier this year, is skeptical about how general the plan is at this point.
“I’m very distressed by the lack of transparency on this project,” Basar said, as some landowners in the Pinch nodded in agreement in the audience. “We haven’t seen anything about it. I don’t like that.”
Like property owners, Basar called for an end to the council’s moratorium on approving development in the Pinch until there is a specific redevelopment plan for the area. Asked by one of the property owners how much longer the moratorium may last, city Housing and Community Development director Paul Young said it could be another six months.
And he insisted that the only thing set is the “vision” of what should happen in the nine-block area.
That vision as outlined by LRK, the design and architecture firm, is an area where existing buildings remain to set the style of the new buildings to come. It’s an area that is dominated by surface parking lots in the vast gaps between the existing buildings.
St. Jude owns three complete blocks and two half-blocks in the district. They own the blocks west of their current campus limits, including a block and a half of the three-block Overton Avenue corridor between the hospital and the Pyramid.
Overton would not be widened in LRK’s vision.
St. Jude’s expansion beyond its current borders could include office and residential or multi-family space on the upper floors of mixed-use buildings that have commercial or retail on the ground floors. Because most of the existing buildings in the Pinch are two stories, the upper floors would be in new mixed-use buildings that could range from two-story structures to high-rises.
And a connection from the east side of the Pyramid to the Pinch is important “in some form or another,” according to LRK’s summary. A plaza on that side of the Pyramid was demolished when it was adapted by the city for Bass Pro Shops.
The city, at the time, said the connection to Front Street and the Pinch would be restored. Bass Pro Shops has disputed that.
Young says specifics of what goes where depends on money, public and private.
The city has enough money – about $5 million – according to Young, to handle infrastructure improvements within the area. But it wants a change in how Tourism Development Zone funding within the area would be used to generate more revenue, with that revenue used to carry the scope of the redevelopment effort west of the Pyramid to include the riverfront at Wolf River Harbor and into Mud Island River Park.
The TDZ is an area in which incremental sales tax revenue generated there is put back into infrastructure improvements including, in the case of the Downtown TDZ, coming improvements to the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
“Right now we have roughly $5 million surplus per year out of the TDZ. We know that that will allow us to do the infrastructure that we want to do,” Young said. “Infrastructure does not generate sales tax dollars. We want to know exactly how much revenue we will have to work with.”
The Tennessee Building Commission would approve any changes to the Downtown TDZ, which was last amended in 2010 for Pyramid improvements.
The administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland needs Memphis City Council approval to seek such an amendment and then take it to Nashville for approval by the building commission.
“The next step is for us to nail down our funding sources – work with the state to really drill down into what our TDZ amendment will look like,” Young said. “It’s about the Pinch and it’s also about St. Jude, but it’s also about making an amazing gateway to the city. When people come across the Mississippi River, we want them to see Downtown Memphis alive. We want them to see Mud Island vibrant.”
Strickland had already signaled that he wanted to delay any plans by the Riverfront Development Corp. to select a finalist for redevelopment of Mud Island until potential changes in TDZ revenue were settled or unless there was a proposal by a private developer that did not involve the use of city funds.
Both of the finalists in the second round of redevelopment proposals for Mud Island – RVC Outdoor Destinations of Memphis and Mansion Entertainment of Branson, Missouri – did involve city funding of a smaller share than the private investment.
The RDC is planning a third round of request for proposals once the TDZ question is settled one way or another. RVC CEO Andy Cates has said he won’t be involved in the third round and earlier expressed suspicions that Bass Pro Shops had some plans for developing the river park. Bass Pro Shops did not submit a proposal for the river park, but has said it wants to be consulted and have a voice in any redevelopment of the park across the harbor from its store in the Pyramid.