Thursday, August 30, 2007

Should St. Jude Build an On-Campus Stadium?

Let's get real. If St. Jude is serious about becoming a major research institution, they'll need a new stadium. The only question is, where?

There are those who think a renovation of the Liberty Bowl will suffice. But a renovation will not provide the state-of-the-art amenities that patients and researchers have come to expect of a top flight research institution.

Again, where?

Here's my proposed, on-campus, location for the stadium.

I don't really want a stadium at St. JudeThis location would be on the present site of the Patient Care Center, which could be moved to a more convenient location on the outskirts of the campus. Also, traffic down North Parkway could be routed through a tunnel underneath the stadium. If this proves to be too expensive, ambulance and other emergency traffic could easily be routed down Chelsea on game day.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Conversation Has (Long) Begun

Harlan T. Bobo poster, Goner Records, Young Avenue, MemphisIn their series of articles about Memphis music, Smart City Memphis stated that we need "a new conversation about our music future".

How's this for a conversation? Or the conversation, What (if anything) can local government do to improve the local arts scene?, which included these words from Col Bat Guano:
First of all, and more important than anything, make sure there's good music and art instruction in the public schools.

The city should make it attractive for artists to live here. It's already cheap to live here, mostly because no one wants to live here. This is usually good for artist types, who tend to be either very poor or very rich. The fashionable way for governments to encourage businesses to locate in a city is tax breaks. If you want to encourage musicians to live here, why not waive sales tax on musical instruments bought within the city limits? As part of their downtown revitalization project, Knoxville renovated an old building and made very cheap studio space available. Why not do something similar here, and include band practice space, too? Didn't there used to be a concert series in Court Square? Bring that back, and make sure it pays the bands. Have weekly shows in the Overton Park Shell and other parks around town. And we should have three times as many local acts at the Beale Street Music Festival. None of this sounds very expensive to me, in the big picture of city funding.

Since the problem cited in the study on Smart City Memphis study was that we had practically no music industry, the city should offer the same kinds of economic incentives they would offer, say, the worst professional basketball team in the Western Hemisphere. Since the music industry is currently pretty broken, I don't really know how to do that and make it work. But my guess is that labels will be smaller and cater to more and more specific niches. And, of course, promote themselves on the internet. This also has the advantage of promoting entrepreneurship and all that other free market claptrap that opens the public purse like a prostitute's pubis. Maybe FedEx could be convinced, with the help of city, to offer free or greatly-discounted shipping to record labels and distributors. It would actually be pretty good PR for FedEx if hip young people got FedEx packages full of music.

And decriminalize marijuana.
A good example of the Goner message boards' honest quality. The intelligence, irreverence and give and take are the equal of Slashdot, as good as it gets, imho.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Summer Drive-In Nights Numbered?

Bonnie and Clyde, seen at the Summer Drive-In in first runThe Commercial Appeal reported Sunday that the Summer Drive-In and the Perimeter Mall are "under contract to be bought by an unnamed group."

This can't be a good thing, especially since one of their screens burned down earlier this summer. Will the unnamed group maintain a drive-in?

Very unlikely.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The Empty: Triage

The threatened C&I Bank Building, with the Sterick Building behind

Assuming that we won't be able to fill all of our empty buildings in the next year:

What kind of empty should we have?
  1. Do we want the empty of a surface parking lot or vacant lot?
  2. Or do we want the empty of a standing structure?
One of the most frustrating ideas that regularly circulates these parts states:

"that old building is not being used, so we should tear it down."

That's it. That's the idea.

If it were followed by

"and replace it with a community center",


"a high-rise hotel",


"an art museum",


"a school"

it would be a (more) palatable idea. But so few times do I hear the second part, what will replace it. Tearing it down solves the problem of the empty building.

No doubt, an empty building can be a visual reminder of economic decline. But that's only up close. No one looking at the Sterick Building from Interstate 40 or from the Peabody can tell if it's being used or not. From more than a block away, emptiness is an abstraction, but its vision is real. Remove the building and emptiness is real.

But, forget vision for a second. We want the buildings, or the land they're on, to be used. One of the arguments that support vacant lot/parking lot demolition/replacements is that these are just halfway houses to real development. Demolish the building, remove its ADA/HVAC/water damage/asbestos/etc. problems, clear the land, and it will be good and ready for the next developer to step up.

Except they don't step up. Even if you accepted this as a reasonable tradeoff, Memphis history shows that the promised development never comes or comes too slowly to base civic policy on.

Think of the 30+ years that the areas around Beale Street sat empty except for surface parking, the 20+ years that the once building filled block surrounding Morgan Keegan has sat nearly empty.

Despite being contractually obsolete as an arena for 5 years, the Pyramid is still surrounded by a dead sea of surface parking lots. Despite being surrounded by some of the hottest real estate in Memphis, the site of the Eureka Hotel is as desolate as when the last bulldozer drove off 2+ years ago.

A quarter of downtown is filled with surface parking lots, yet destroyers and their apologists cite future development as justification for demolition of more buildings. The fact stands that speculative demolition, the New UrbanRenewalism, does nothing (except destroy history, architecture and the fabric of the city). Destroys without creation. Destroys.

And we still have the problem of the empty.

The "tear 'er down" faction advocates amputation with a spurious promise that the limb will grow back better and newer than ever. What we need is urban triage that keeps Memphis whole while we decipher the problem of the empty.

If the C&I Bank Building is saved from the Regional Chamber's plan to add 15 parking spaces by 2012, it will be a half-victory. The full victory is when the building is bought and used by an organization that is committed to its preservation. An empty building is not good enough.

An empty lot is sure as hell bad enough.

The site of the demolished Eureka Hotel, 2 years after its demolition
(photo at top courtesy of Justin McGregor)

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memphis Destroys

Reasons why the Regional Chamber's plan to destroy Francis Gassner's C&I Bank Building stinks:
  1. They're going to tear down the building, a very distinctive building.
    C&I Bank Building on the right, overlooking AutoZone Park

  2. They're going to replace it with a surface parking lot. Not with another building, not with a parking garage, but with a surface parking lot!

    Maybe there are no nearby surface parking lots.

    surface parking lots in close proximity to C&I Bank Building

  3. The architect of the building is the late Francis Gassner, the namesake architect of the Memphis AIA's premier award. The award "honors architects and others from associated businesses for their contributions to the quality of the built environment in Memphis."

  4. The surface parking lot will be diagonally across Madison from the AIA's headquarters.

  5. AIA's view before demolitionAIA's view after demolition
    A spaceless insult to the AIA's award and their vision.

  6. The Chamber's pitch, by Nick Clark, chair of the Chamber's facilities committee:
    "It would be a vacant piece of land that wouldn't be a detriment to Downtown as well as provide an asset in terms of providing parking for AutoZone Park and surrounding buildings, including First Tennessee," Clark said.
    (emphasis mine)

    He adds:
    "The challenge we face is if we make a choice to preserve this building how does it impact our ability to preserve surrounding buildings?"
    Does that mean that the Chamber will make it a mission of theirs to preserve the Sterick Building? If so, then I retract everything most everything some of what I write here. But is that what it means? Or is the statement using the Sterick Building as an architectural shield to get something they want?

  7. This approval (or apology) by one of Memphis' architects and leaders:

    Frank Ricks, founding member of Looney Ricks Kiss architects, said he understands both sides of the issue.

    "In one sense I'd hate to see it torn down, but for years I've thought that piece was probably an important component to the redevelopment to that section of Madison Avenue," Ricks said.

    Ricks faced a similar issue with the development of AutoZone Park and the surrounding neighborhood, which required the destruction of historic stables.

    "You hate to see any building that was significant torn down but in order to get the ballpark built we had to take down the old stables on Monroe," he said. "And look what happened because of it."
    What happened was not a surface parking lot. If the Chamber has an architectural peer of AutoZone Park envisioned, they should/would lead with that, not "a vacant piece of land that wouldn't be a detriment".

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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Villages of Satan's Plantation

the Deviloper strikes again!Just thinking about the heat waves, drought and clear-cutting in Memphis and its nether regions.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

The Rozelle House

Panorama of the Rozelle House, Arts Collaborative, Memphis, TN
With the urge to create & improve that lies within the mindset of artist, we have banded together in agreement for an alternative way of living and working by means of cooperation.
We as a group are creative, hardworking, and problem-solving, which is precisely what the building is in need of. Instead of it turning into a private boat storage, a pile of rubble, or a commerical strip mall, we'd like to see it become a haven for artists and community members alike. Our original idea of a simple artists co-op has evolved into thoughts of both residence and studio space, a self-sufficient garden in the immense yard, an indoor or outdoor music venue, and a community arts guild with complete facilities for photographers, potters, painters and whomever else would like to create.
From the Rozelle House's About Me: statement on their myspace page. Go there and check out the space's walkthrough video and other details of this project/collaborative.

They appear to have events/fundraisers fairly regularly (I got their webpage address off of an event they held last Tuesday) so be on the lookout.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Neighborhood Map of Memphis?

Does anyone out there know if a neighborhood map exists for Memphis? Offline or online is okay.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Jewels of Memphis: Sears Crosstown

Sears Crosstown hovers over Evergreen neighborhood on dreary January day
This is the second part of a conversation I had with June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage about the 4 great and threatened buildings of Memphis: the Sterick Building, the Sears Crosstown Building, the Tennessee Brewery and the Chisca Hotel. I've split the conversation into 4 parts for each building in the order above, the reverse order of the apparent threat.

Since the recording of this discussion the Commercial Appeal has reported that Andy Cates has put a contract on the property. At this point, June doesn't know what his plans are for the site.

Gates of Memphis: What's going on with the Sears Crosstown building?

June West: The latest information I have is that it's actively being marketed for sale. The realty group that has it is trying to get as much PR as possible. Obviously the problems with that building are multi-faceted one being it's huge square-footage. Not one use -- I don't think anyone can take that property and make it one use and make it effective. So I think what you're going to see is a collaborative of groups coming together to do multi-use, residential, business offices, retail, and so on. I know of one participant in that group who has discussed it with people, developers, who would even have a museum of some sort in there.

This is like pulling a bunch of puzzle pieces together. The biggest issue -- how do you deal with a building that size. We had an article in the Keystone about other Sears properties that have been successfully done across the country.

One of the benefits that the other buildings have had is they've been in downtown proper. Our Sears tower is in a more difficult area of town.

I think its renovation would be a tremendous benefit to the surrounding neighborhood. I think the tower redevelopment would be a real smart thing. North Parkway goes straight past the Sears Building down to St. Jude and downtown . There's all sorts of potential impacts with the medical center, the Bioworks area. I don't have any inside scoop on the building but I think it's going to have to take a group of players that can put the puzzle pieces together to make it all work.

GoM: One thing I was wondering about, obviously I'm not a developer but a lot of greenfield development, people buy a giant tract of land and they develop it in phases. What's the reason you couldn't do that with this building as well? Obviously it's a huge risk if you try to do it all at once. But the building was built piecemeal, it was built in pieces.

JW: You're going to have to replace all the HVAC systems and all that, so it could be engineering issues . Again, I'm not that up close and personal with that structure. There's an issue with the parking lot -- the parking garage is cool. Do you keep the parking garage? It's all in the numbers. I think a piecemeal development is possible but something that big, if you were to start it piecemeal, if you had one group that was going to do it in phases, I still think that you would still have too big a risk for one person to jump into it . It will take a good master plan for the area.

I think it's going to take multiple partners to come in and take varied risks. One group could come in and take the risk of the residential, one group come in and take the risk of the business and retail , etc .

GoM: The building itself, when it was sold the last time, wasn't that expensive, like $3 million. How much are they marketing it for now?

JW: I don't know what the asking price is. I will try and find out. But with any redevelopment it is location, location, location.

Update: Amos Maki of the CA reports this morning that Andy Cates purchase of the Sears Crosstown building is complete (hat tip to Mediaverse). Gates thinks that Cates, who rebuilt the demolished Capitol Theater on McLemore, aka Stax Studios, can make it happen. Huzzah!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Join the Conversation, Memphis

Mediaverse would like to use your 30-sec. video
in upcoming conversations with Memphis mayoral candidates.

In the spirit of the CNN/YouTube presidential debates, Mediaverse wants to use the same style of voter-generated questions for an upcoming conversation with Memphis mayoral candidates. It’s called the Memphis Digital Conversation.

It’s not a debate. No podiums. It’s a much-needed, conversational forum, where the candidates will directly address voter concerns, not their own.

We need your video questions to make it happen!!!!

So, if you live in Memphis, get a video camera, or a web cam, or a picture phone and record your thought-provoking question in a 30-second video. You can submit as many single-question videos as you want.

(FYI: It is possible to make a creative, insightful and passionate video with your clothes on and using polite language that would make your Mother proud. We really like those videos.)

Upload your videos to The deadline to submit is Aug. 31.

We’re planning two digital conversations for September. Dates, times and location will be announced in the upcoming week. Visit for updates.

Join the conversation, Memphis!

Help us spread the word!

I've uploaded my own video, based on a post from a few months ago.

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Everybody Loves an Elvis

Here's the newspaper-selling Elvis at Union and McLean a few weeks ago.

Elvis selling Commercial Appeal, Union and McLean, Memphis
May your week be filled with Elvi.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

A Different Idea of Creativity

I saw a Slashdot comment a few weeks ago that impressed me with its passion, its simplicity and its point of view.

It was in response to a story about the RIAA forcing YouTube to remove free guitar lessons that used copyrighted songs. Much of the ensuing discussion focused on the general merits and specific abuses of copyright.

In one thread, "This is Madness - eradicate all copyright!" someone makes this defense of copyright:
what bullshit. And how exactly are you going to encourage people to create new works? J K Rowling (Harry Potter) was an unemployed single mother when she wrote her first novel. In your world, she would have gone to work stacking food in a supermarket instead of wasting her time thinking she might make money as a writer.
But the beauty is in the rebuttal:
Thousands if not millions of people have to work stocking supermarkets. What makes her any better than anyone else? What would be truly fair is if supermarket-stockers made a fair living wage. Hey, if people could work freely and not have to stress over feeding their kids, we might see a lot more artwork come from people that would otherwise be too downtrodden to be creative.
Do we prepare the fertile ground of Memphis for everyone to be creative? Or do we set aside special plots for special people and leave the the rest fallow?

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Memphis Music Turned On

Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission's new logoSometime in the past week, the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission website came back on line. It's new and very simple: a great new logo that links to their myspace presence.

Very simple is very good -- it will probably be easier to maintain and to have dynamic and inclusive content using myspace than by building a massive website upfront. Later they can move to a more completely branded site (which they can probably start doing now in myspace). In the meantime, their present setup gives them the power to easily communicate the breadth of Memphis Music stories without overwhelming them in geekery and costing them much/anything.

They'll still need content, but honoring King Content should be much easier now.

As for the old site, I'm still not sure why it was down -- perhaps it was due to the parting of the Commission and the Memphis Music Foundation.

Moving forward, it's a good yet simple step from the original site. And much, much better than dead air.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Via Rasa of Summer

This is kind of a repeat of an earlier post, with one difference: we now have a tabula via rasa -- the Summer Avenue viaduct.

Its guardrails are missing.

missing guardrails of the Summer viaductIf you look at the extreme left and right of the picture, you can see several bolts sticking up which is where the missing rails were attached to the bridge.

They've been gone at least a month, which is when I first noticed them missing. Probably much longer even, but I can't tell you when.

No matter, no beauty. If the missing rails look like any of the other rebuilt bridges of Memphis, they looked like this.

Linden (at I240) bridge railing

That rail is so ubiquitous that I think the City bought a million of them in 1973 and the supply still hasn't run out. Like a gross of off-brand cheese crackers bought at Sam's Club 2 years ago, these are stale.

We can do better than that.

We used to do much better. Here's the railing of a creek bridge near Leahy's Motor Court on Summer. I just happened to notice it as I passed by on my way to snap the photo above.

creek bridge on Summer Avenue, Memphis
Simple but beautiful.

Normally, missing property isn't good, but the missing guardrails of Summer can be an opportunity. We can use it to break out of the security barrier/freeway overpass influence, not just on Summer but all over town.

We have so many great metalsmiths in Memphis (small wonder). Here's a good example:

fence at Maria Montessori School, Harbortown, Memphis
We could commission an official guardrail of Memphis, or series of guardrails of Memphis. We would mass-produce them and they would be used for all of our bridges and overpasses. The commission should require the re-use of the 1 million guardrails and their material.

People are falling off the Summer bridge, and cringing at the ugliness at the others. We can stop the falling and cringing at the same time.

This could be another step in restoring utility and beauty to the streets of Memphis.

drain cover in front of City Hall, Memphis

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

on cl0uD EleVeN

Friday, August 3 at Java Cabana

nicole c. perugini at 11 Photographs provided the very nice photo of the Sterick Building I used in my last post.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Jewels of Memphis: The Sterick Building

This is the first part of a conversation I had with June West, Executive Director of Memphis Heritage about the 4 great and threatened buildings of Memphis: the Sterick Building, the Sears Crosstown Building, the Tennessee Brewery and the Chisca Hotel. I've split the conversation into 4 parts for each building in the order above, the reverse order of the apparent threat. So the Sterick Building, as least threatened, is the first post.

Sterick Building, Memphis; photo by nicole perugini, http://www.11photographs.comJune West: Obviously the Sterick Building is pretty amazing. It was built by a Dallas company that went bankrupt and never moved into it. I've been told that it has quite a bit of asbestos. It's one of the downtown buildings that was a land lease property . In other words, the people that built the building took a 99 year lease out on the land, they didn't buy the land. The land is owned by a separate group from the building. So until you can merge those 2 arrangements, it's very difficult to create a business proforma because you're not controlling everything. That to me is the biggest issue with the Sterick Building. If you buy the building, you don't own the land. I think that land lease is up in about 7 to 10 years. Now it doesn't mean something can't happen but it means negotiations have to happen with the land owners . The Grosvenors, the Grosvenor family owns the land.

Gates of Memphis: Would the Grosvenors own the building at that point?

JW: I don't know. There's got to be something, when that lease is up, something else happens or kicks in. I'm not familiar with the legal binding situation. It is my understanding that this is one of the problems with the property.

The other is, obviously, like the Sears Crosstown Building, it is such huge square footage, that creating a single use for that building would be almost impossible , plus the cost of abatement, of possibly gutting the building, the whole nine yards, and making it a feasible financial deal. If residential keeps growing downtown, I think it would be a great residential property. Because of the height, you can pretty much see anything you want to, but I don't know.

I'm not a wizard on what's going to happen downtown. I think when the law school moves in you're going to see an influx of students that need apartments. There's not a lot of apartments now downtown. It's mainly condominiums. So maybe residential apartments. Obviously one of the benefits of redeveloping these types of properties has to do with historic tax credits. There are ways of doing it where the developer can get tax credits and a possible conservation easement, which is a different type of tax credit.

GoM: Is it being marketed?

JW: Not that I'm aware of. If someone were to inquire about it -- I've heard all sorts of rumors over the last few years that so-and-so was interested in developing it, but it's never been confirmed. Honestly I've never had the time to pursue something that's a rumor, unless someone said that they were going to tear it down. So far, that's not been something that I have heard .

GoM: It's one of those things, you worry about the Brewery, you worry about Sears Crosstown, you worry about the Chisca, but not this. But there's chatter about tearing it down and if you don't watch out, the next thing you know, they're really talking about tearing it down.

JW: It becomes something real. I have not heard any rumors that somebody's trying to develop that land, where it stands.

Ironically, where it stands was the original Hill Mansion. There were 2 Hill Mansions. There was that one downtown and then there was the Hill Mansion on Union Avenue which was one of the catalyst for Memphis Heritage's growth . MHI was started in 1975 but the Mansion's demolition was one of the catalysts for the growth of Memphis Heritage.

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