Developer begins talks on revitalization of historic Pinch District
The Commercial Appeal | By Amos Maki
Pinch District businesses like Red Fish Gallery, where a pedestrian pauses to window shop, could get a boost if Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers follows through on plans to develop a retail district near The Pyramid.
Photo by Mike Brown
A portion of the Pinch District adjacent to The Pyramid could be transformed into a retail and entertainment hub that complements Bass Pro Shops' planned flagship store in the vacant arena. Memphis-based Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers, the original developer of Saddle Creek in Germantown, is talking with Bass Pro about developing part of the historic district. Bass Pro and Poag & McEwen have partnered previously on projects in California and Texas, and the Springfield, Mo.-based retailer approached Poag & McEwen a year ago about improving the area around The Pyramid, said Bob Rogers, chief operating officer and general counsel for Poag & McEwen, a privately owned company. "Basically, we're talking about retail, restaurants and entertainment," Rogers said. "Bass Pro for a long time has wanted a district, a major project, adjacent to The Pyramid," he said. Rogers would not describe the location of the targeted area, saying it is early in the process and there were few details he could reveal. Bass Pro and city officials are considering an initial 20-year lease on The Pyramid, with seven renewal periods of five years each. Bass Pro plans to turn the arena into a regional center with retail shops, restaurants, offices and a Mississippi River exhibit. News of Poag & McEwen's involvement came to light when Memphis Mayor A C Wharton mentioned it in a recent letter to Bass Pro officials. City Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb said the city would likely have to assemble some property for the project. "Yes, we have to acquire property," said Lipscomb. "We are in discussions with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the primary property owner, regarding potential acquisition of their property. Eminent domain is not contemplated at this point."
Poag & McEwen's lifestyle centers generally combine the traditional retail functions of a mall, with extensive landscaping and amenities oriented toward upscale consumers. The centers often have a mix of uses, such as restaurants and office and residential space. In November, the State Building Commission's executive subcommittee approved a 10-year lease agreement between the University of Memphis and Poag & McEwen for a project called Highland Row. The multi-purpose commercial and residential complex on Highland south of Central would include a Barnes & Noble-operated U of M bookstore. Clues about what could happen in the Pinch District, one of the oldest settlements in the Bluff City, can be gleaned from a Center City Commission master plan for the area and the Wolf River Harbor.
After The Pyramid closed, the Pinch district lost momentum. Downtown officials say the Bass Pro and Poag & McEwen projects could help restore the area.
Photo by Mike Maple
When Bass Pro began expressing interest in The Pyramid five years ago, and as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital continued to expand its landholdings west of its campus, the Downtown development agency in 2008 studied how to create a framework for sustainable development in the Pinch District. The study of a 23-acre, 10-square-block portion of the district includes the area directly across Front Street from The Pyramid, a likely spot for the Poag & McEwen project. The master plan calls for a mixed-use "retail and entertainment destination" on Front Street near Overton Avenue, including a hotel. Heading east to Main Street and beyond to St. Jude's campus, the plan suggests more high-density, mixed-use development, including ground-floor retail with residences above.
After The Pyramid closed and other entertainment areas like Cooper-Young and South Main Street gained steam, the Pinch lost much of the momentum it had started to develop in the 1990s. Downtown officials say the Bass Pro and Poag & McEwen projects could infuse new energy into the area. "No question in my mind," said CCC president Jeff Sanford. "The Bass Pro project will rekindle interest in development throughout the Pinch." Land owners in the area want to learn more about the project and how it would impact their properties and businesses. On Thursday, a group of 10 business and property owners in the Pinch sent Wharton and City Council members a letter asking to be more involved in the planning process. "My concern is that decisions are being made and none of the business owners or property owners are being told about what is going on or being asked for input," said Greg Ericson, president and CEO of Ericson Group Inc. at 400 N. Front. "To me, development like this is good for the city of Memphis as long as everybody is included."