Memphis Issues RFQ For Brooks Museum Reuse

By Bill Dries

The city of Memphis is looking for developers and planners to find a new use for the 102-year-old Memphis Brooks Museum of Art building in Overton Park.

The city issued a request for qualifications, or RFQ, notice this week that seeks developers and others to “rehabilitate, adaptively reuse and manage” the building at 1934 Poplar Avenue.

The formal process comes five years before the Brooks is expected to move to a new riverfront site on a block of Front Street between Union and Monroe avenues.

The city of Memphis starts the process of finding another use for the Overton Park building that currently houses the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art five years ahead of the museum’s move Downtown. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)


The RFQ comes with a tour of the building next week and an April 6 deadline for applications. That would be followed by a year of due diligence talks with the city administration.

The Brooks Museum continues to operate in Overton Park as it makes plans for the new building and raises the private funding that will make up the bulk of its cost.

At the outset, Brooks executive director Emily Ballew Neff has estimated the new museum is a $110 million project including an endowment.

“The city of Memphis is open to creative adaptive reuse concepts that provide a public amenity that is in context with the other offerings of Overton Park,” the RFQ reads.

The goal set by the city in the process is the preservation and reactivation of the building “as a publicly accessible amenity and destination.”

The city also says in the 16-page document that whoever is selected must have a sustainable concept that does not rely on the city for ongoing financial support.

Among the adaptive reuses mentioned are cultural uses; conference and event space; and commercial uses, including research and development, “provided that they are combined with a public amenity use.”

The RFQ specifically rules out residential or industrial uses.

Hattiloo Theatre founder Ekundayo Bandele in December proposed converting the Brooks building into a National Black Theater Museum. Bandele’s proposal, which came with commitments from four major black theater organizations willing to relocate to Memphis from other cities, would house the papers and manuscripts of black playwrights and exhibits on the history of black theater in America.

Artist and gallery owner Jay Etkin has proposed a Museum of Tribal and Visionary Art that could include the Moseley Collection of African Art which has a collection of more than 7,000 ceremonial masks, jewelry, weapons, currency and other cultural items.