Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chisca threatened!

Another Memphis architectural landmark and piece of history is under siege. The Chisca Hotel in downtown Memphis, where Dewey Phillips first broadcast an Elvis Presley recording, from the mezzanine studio of WHBQ Radio, may be demolished.

A development partnership - Area Hotels LLC - has submitted a set of plans to Memphis and Shelby County planners showing a four-story Hilton Garden Inn being built at the southwest corner of Second Street and Linden Avenue. The eight-story-tall Chisca sits to the east of that land at 272 South Main St.


But it's unclear, based on the documents, what the hotel development now means for the Chisca, which preservationists once were confident could be preserved and renovated. David Pear, a consultant with the Memphis firm Pinkowski & Co., has worked in recent months with the project's developers, and said the plan originally was to save the hotel.

But the cost became prohibitive to update it for use as a new hotel structure, he said.

"And I think the plan was then to tear it down," Pear said.

Downtown's Madion Hotel has successfully re-imagined an office building (the building wasn't even designed as a hotel) from approximately the same era, in a less prime location. Why can't the Chisca group successfully convert a structure built as a hotel, located a block from Beale Street and the FedEx Forum, on South Main, 2 blocks from the river, probably with river views from its roof (the landmark is 8 stories; the replacement would be 4) and with a built-in Elvis angle, without "prohibitive" costs? If you can't imagine this project successful without dynamite, then sell it to someone who can, and find an empty lot somewhere nearby.

This is the cost that is prohibitive: the opportunity cost to Memphis of ignoring, neglecting, bulldozing and blowing up our architectural soul.

More on this and the destruction of Elvis' Memphis soon.


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