Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fight Flight Blight

CCL Label Building DemolitionI read 2 days ago in the Memphis Business Journal that CCL Label was destroying their former downtown Memphis home. CCL didn't want to maintain the building, which is diagonally across from Autozone Park on Union, so they're bulldozing it.

I emailed Jeff Sanford, head of the Center City Commission, to express my opposition. He responded very quickly,
Unfortunately, there is no legal prohibition against this demolition. We are most concerned about conversion of this property to surface parking. We have conveyed our concerns to the property owner's broker. We are told the demolition is being done to reduce the increasing cost of maintaing a vacant building, and that the surface lot, which must meet certain code requirements, is an interim use until the property can be sold for a higher and better use. Small consolation although there is some hope because we are seeing considerable developer interest in this and other properties along the south side of Union west of Danny Thomas.

So this means that despite all the private and public capital invested, and the hard work of people like the CCC, a landlord can knock down a downtown building for no better reason they don't want to be bothered. After hearing over and over again from urbanists like Jeff Speck and Maurice Cox about the importance of walkability, we still have no protection from willful blightings that leave walking dead zones that inhibit commercial development (e.g., the Edge).

Without protection, downtown's development is at the mercy of speculative landlords who sustain value from their neighbors' investments even as their own cheap disinvestments subtract value from everyone else.

Meanwhile, a mile north, the CCC works on a plan to resuscitate the Pinch district, except that "one of the challenges to development in the area is 25 percent of its land parcels is comprised of vacant lots, parking lots or is home to vacant buildings, according to the CCC." The lion's share are lots created by willful, unchecked speculative destruction around the time the Pyramid was built.

We plan to fight after what we have no plan to fight before.

But fighting the blight after is expensive and slow.

Less expensive would be to fight it before, by denying demolition permits to anyone not in possession of a legitimate building permit for an approved use. A vacant lot or parking lot is not an approved use. We should add this at the very least to zoning for Memphis' South Central Business Improvement District.

CCL Label Building DemolitionAt this point the destruction is at least half done. However if they want the interim use of a parking lot, they will still need a special exception that is subject to many conditions that must be approved by the City Council. I would like to remind the City Council that not only has this landlord destroyed a building on a gateway to downtown, they have fled the city taking their jobs and taxes with them. Memphis owes them nothing special.

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Blogger nathanwberry said...

if they were refused the city council's approval, what then? would they be forced to simply sell an undeveloped lot?

11:58 PM  
Blogger Justin W. McGregor said...

Memphis owes them nothing special.

I'd go you one further: Memphis owes them nothing at all. Looking at them purely as a property owner, sure the city has an interest in the property being re-used, but we can't continue to let Memphis be turned into a massive parking lot for Collierville/Olive Branch. The business has abandoned us so to hell with them; the city council should make any other process besides adaptive re-use of the structure as absolutely painful for them as it possibly can.

Not to turn this into one of those useless "us v. them" arguments because I really do think we're ultimately all in this together, but if the mayor and city council are ever going to do anything other than play their proverbial fiddles while Memphis slips into decay then they are going to have to create a regulatory climate that stops actively rewarding people and business for running for the suburbs. That means overhauling the tax structure and putting that money back into infrastructure improvements that benefit Memphians first.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Justin W. McGregor said...

(... and I swear I hadn't seen the latest Smart City post until after I posted that...)

9:27 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

nathan, I guess that's what would happen. If a motive is deriving income from parking without the civic responsibility of maintaining your former home, systematic rejection of special exceptions might stop/give pause.

justin, I think the CC should deny the special exception for everyone. Hopefully if they're prone to grant exceptions, CCL's flight should give them a reason not to.

12:53 AM  

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