The Stewart Building on Cotton Row.
Developers will soon float an idea to the Memphis Landmarks Commission to leave the facades of two Cotton Row buildings but remove most of the rest of them for a new hotel.
Sachs-Haynes Development LLC, of New York City, has applied to the commission for the idea that would redevelop 99 and 105 South Front Street.
The two buildings — one known as the Oliver Building the other as the Stewart Building — are in a “prime location which includes unobstructed river views with close proximity to a trolley stop — both of which are uniquely Memphis waterfront features.”
But the buildings have challenges that have been too great for developers to overcome for years. Deterioration, termites, outdated construction materials and more have made the buildings financially unfeasible “for maintaining historic character while meeting modern life safety issues,” according to the application.
But still many developers have given it a shot. The application notes the site was targeted as a Hyatt Place hotel in 2006 but the recession blunted those plans.
In 2012, developers planned a project there called Icehouse99 Lofts
. But after cleaning up and stabilizing the building, developers decided the project was too expensive and sold the buildings.
An artist's rendering shows what was planned for the Oliver Building reimagined as Icehouse99.
A small fire in the Oliver Building last year brought a citation from the Shelby County Environmental Court. Judge Larry Potter ordered the owner to install scaffolding, netting and fencing to limit access to the exterior of the buildings. They fulfilled that order in October and it all remains today.
Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) officials asked for an inspection of the building by its independent consultant, Tony Bologna. He suggested (among other things) retaining the facades of both buildings and demolishing the rest “completely down to the footings.”
The Stewart Building “has major interior rot and decay,” too. Sachs-Haynes proposes to keep its Front-Street facade as well but keep many elements of the remaining building. Though, the center of the building may be removed “to create a courtyard to allow light into the taller, south facade of the Oliver Building.”
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If the owner can get the Landmarks Commission to approve the concept, they’ll ask for for a zoning variance that would allow hotel use. If they can get that, they’ll then develop a full redevelopment plan for the project.
The Oliver Building was once an industrial marvel in the South. According to historic-memphis.com, it was the area’s first cold storage warehouse.
”The walls were insulated with thick panels of cork and cooled by river water pumped through a maze of pipes, which were pressurized by a coal-burning furnace in the basement,” reads the website’s description of the building.
If you ever saw it before the scaffolding went up, the building’s Beaux-Arts style could make it a passable stunt double for the Ghostbuster’s headquarters.
If you’ve ever walked on Wagner Place (between Front and Riverside) and seen The Pier restaurant, that’s the backside of the Oliver Building.
The Pier closed around 2007 but had operated for decades on the riverfront offering mostly seafood. One Yelper
described it as ”a very nice restaurant with a beautiful view of the Mississippi River” but warned not to go underdressed.
“Catering to a fancier crowd, I'd be hesitant to walk in in just a tank top and shorts — I'd recommend your nicer jeans and a nice top,” wrote N.C. From Ann Arbor in 2010.
The Pier was also the site of that fire
that drew a citation from Environmental Court.
Not much historic information could be found immediately about the Stewart Building. We’ll add it as we find it.