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VOL. 132 | NO. 187 | Wednesday, September 20, 2017

100-Year-Old Question

CRE community weighs in on possible Brooks relocation

By Patrick Lantrip

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The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art was already more than 10 years old when Sears, Roebuck & Co. opened its nearby Crosstown store in 1927 and the rest of the neighborhood began to fill in, so it was shock for many Memphians to hear about the possibility of the iconic institution leaving the only home it’s ever known.

The museum’s leadership told The Daily News that any potential relocation would be within Memphis’ city limits and that renovating the museum’s existing property at Overton Park was still very much on the table.

While the museum’s decision will largely be influenced by the city of Memphis, which provides funding to the museum and owns the property, The Daily News reached out to several members of the commercial real estate community for their thoughts on the museum’s future.

“I just don’t know if there is an alternative site that makes a lot of sense. It’s not a standard building – it’s got some high-end elements,” Brian Whaley, a senior associate with CBRE said of the original 101-year-old Beaux-arts style building. “I think that’s a tough building to replicate from a financial standpoint.”

At least two Memphis commercial real estate brokers say the iconic Brooks Museum building would be hard to replicate and new construction for such a facility would be expensive. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

The building and location are just too iconic to disrupt, in Whaley’s opinion, and he personally hopes to see the museum find a solution that involves staying in the park.

“You just associate that area of Overton Park with the zoo, the greensward and the Brooks,” he said.

He also feels that the 23 percent increase in square footage the Brooks is seeking isn’t large enough to force a relocation, and that retrofitting or expanding the museum are the most likely scenarios.

He added, however, that a possible deal to move the Brooks to the Mid-South Coliseum could gain popular support, even though he feels like an arts museum would be an odd fit for such an athletically focused area where Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is the dominant structure.

Brian Whaley, a senior associate with CBRE, says that a possible deal to move the Brooks to the Mid-South Coliseum could gain popular support. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

Shawn Massey, a partner in The Shopping Center Group’s Memphis office, also feels that staying in Overton Park is the most likely scenario for the Brooks, but if it does relocate, he cited Shelby Farms and Downtown as the two most likely candidates.

“Major art museums tend to either be in downtown areas or beautiful urban parks,” he said. “The Brooks could be a good tenant for Shelby Farms. I think a public museum like the Brooks would be an addition to Shelby Farms, because even on a rainy day people would be using the park.”

He cited Forest Park in St. Louis and Central Park in New York as examples of high-quality urban parks with museums on site.

As for a Downtown site, Massey identified the Cossitt Library on Front Street as a strong possibility.

Cossitt Library was identified by Shawn Massey, a partner in The Shopping Center Group’s Memphis office, as a strong possibility for the Brooks’ relocation site. (Daily News/Patrick Lantrip)

“Could you imagine a museum there overlooking the river?” he asked.

Recently, Memphis was one of five cites to receive $5 million from Civic Commons, a group of national funders seeking to improve public spaces, to reimagine and renovate three Downtown properties: Memphis Park, Mississippi River Park and the Cossitt Library.

“That would continue helping the revitalization of Downtown, which is critical to this administration,” Massey said.

He added that the Fairgrounds was a third possibility, albeit an outlier, because it lacked the “wow factor” of the other sites.

“I don’t think there is anything else that brings cohesiveness like Overton Park, Downtown or Shelby Farms,” Massey said. “We have no idea what the Fairgrounds will be in the future. We have lots of ideas, but nothing has come to fruition. A museum there could make sense, but I don’t think it’s the atmosphere that an art museum needs to be in right now next to a football stadium.”

Ultimately though, Massey said he believes that if the Brooks was planning to leave, they would have already made that announcement instead of saying they were only considering it.

A third broker, who wished to remain unnamed, said he feels as though Shelby Farms is a long shot and if the Brooks does leave, it will be for somewhere close by, like Downtown or the Fairgrounds.

He said the Brooks will want to remain accessible to everyone in the core of the city, so any plans to move far away were not likely.

If the Brooks were to move, he added, he hopes the city issues an RFP to backfill the old museum, and would like to see what unique and original ideas the community could come up with.

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