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VOL. 132 | NO. 143 | Thursday, July 20, 2017

Memphis Music Initiative to Occupy Old Downtown Firehouse

By Patrick Lantrip

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The old Downtown firehouse has a storied history and now new life. The nonprofit Memphis Music Initiative has inked a lease there and plans to move its music education programming to the site in early 2018. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

The old firehouse at the corner of B.B. King Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue has gone through many incarnations since the 1800s, including stints as a recording studio, nightclub and pop-up beer garden.

Now it can add one more to the list – office.

The Memphis Music Initiative (MMI), a local nonprofit organization, recently signed a 10,000-square-foot lease to move its headquarters into the iconic Downtown structure, marking a new chapter in the building’s long history.

Darrell Cobbins, president and CEO of Universal Commercial Real Estate LLC, represented MMI in the deal, while Benjamin Orgel and Adam Slovis represented the landlord, Orgel Family LP.

“I think it’s a big win for Downtown Memphis,” Cobbins said. “That particular location has been sitting there for a long, long time.”

Prior to the move, the 2-year-old music education-oriented nonprofit was being incubated at ArtsMemphis’ 575 S. Mendenhall Road location.

The old Downtown firehouse has a storied history and now new life. The nonprofit Memphis Music Initiative has inked a lease there and plans to move its music education programming to the site in early 2018. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

“They wanted to be in a unique urban setting, so we looked a lot in Downtown and Midtown,” Cobbins said. “We identified different options for them, but we kind of stumbled across the firehouse. We were thinking about it more as a long shot, because it’s never been an office.”

Most recently the building was used to host a summer-long pop-up beer garden events in 2015 known as the Memphis Fire Haus, which was geared to raise awareness of the locale’s commercial viability.

Prior to that, the old firehouse was home to several nightclubs in the early days of FedExForum, and was where legendary music producer Chips Moman housed his Three Alarm Studio in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he famously worked with Ringo Starr and Bobby Womack.

Cobbins said his clients tapped Self + Tucker Architects and general contractor Metro Construction to handle the extensive interior renovations.

“It further helps cement that section of Downtown as viable,” Cobbins said, citing similar nearby renovation projects like the Clayborn Temple and Universal Life buildings. “It starts to bring a lot more life and vitality to that southern section.”

If everything goes as planned, MMI hopes to be up and running in its new office sometime in the first quarter of 2018.

Meanwhile, Orgel said he thinks the lease is a win-win for not only MMI and his company, but the city as a whole.

“Our team loves buying these old historic buildings, renewing them, and improving Downtown,” Orgel said. “We’ve enjoyed working with Darrell and the team with the Memphis Music Initiative and I think it’s going to be a great partnership.”

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