Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jewels of Memphis: Tennessee Brewery

This is the third 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.

Gates of Memphis: What's the status of the Tennessee Brewery?

June West: At the present time there is a contract on the building.

It's owned by Kevin Norman who has been a lover of preservation and that's one of the reasons he bought the building years ago. He has been wanting to sell it. He obviously wants the right thing done with the building but his interest at this point is marketing the building and selling the building.

There was a group in town from Illinois who had planned the 14-story property. I don't know if you saw that material but they had projected they would tear down a tremendous part of the Brewery and build 14 stories on top. They got approval for the variance in height from Land Use, but they were turned down by the Board of Adjustments for the density. So they were going to fight that and finally that group decided it was just too big a battle and they pulled out.

There is now a contract on the building with a group that I had been working with during that time, who's very interested in purchasing the building and keeping it as is. I say, as is, not ruining the integrity of the original structure, probably using it for commercial /mixed usage, with a fairly good plan. They are also planning, I think, to use what's called the Conservation Easement program, which allows a developer to take a structure that is historic, is on the National Register, or is eligible for the National Register, and say, "because we have the capability of doing this to the building, we would generate revenue". For instance the people who said they'd go 14 stories, obviously they'd increase their square footage, so therefore there's more value. Instead of doing that this new group would say "we know it's been approved to go up 14 stories, but we're not going to do that". You get a tax credit for not doing that to the building. So that is the plan they're now working on, to use the building effectively and get some of that cash up front to help develop it.

So my fingers are crossed, I feel good about the group. It's on the agenda and right now I feel fairly confident about a positive outcome at the Brewery.

If they use it the way they say they're going to use it, they don't really have to get any variances. They'd obviously want to meet with the neighborhood and the people on Tennessee Street. But the usages would be commercial /mixed , which is what that is, so I'm hoping that all will go well.

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