Good News, Bad News for Downtown

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Developing downtown Memphis is sort of like plugging leaks in a dam. When you fix one, another one pops up somewhere else.

The city of Memphis and the Center City Commission, along with developers, announced the forthcoming Court Square Center this week. The centerpiece of the project is the old Lincoln American Tower and the Rhodes-Jennings Building, smack in the middle of the downtown skyline and adjacent to Court Square park. The project will include apartments, offices, and retail and is expected to begin later this year.

Center City Commission executive director Jeff Sanford called the financing package one of the most complicated he has ever seen.

Court Square Center should help the Main Street Mall and neighbors such as the Burch Porter and Johnson law firm, Morgan Keegan, and Calvary Church.

At the same time, however, there are troubling signs for downtown. In general, the ends are stronger than the middle. At the north end are Mud Island, Harbortown, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and government buildings. At the other end of the mall, South End, South Main, and the National Civil Rights Museum are more than holding their own.

The middle is weak. Sun Trust Bank (formerly National Bank of Commerce) has moved several employees out east and is reportedly going to move several more, leaving First Tennessee as the last downtown bank headquarters. And at the corner of Union and Main – arguably the epicenter of downtown – there are no fewer than four vacancies, or one on each corner. The former tenants include offices, retail, and a Smoothie Store. A block away, Holiday Ham closed its store in Peabody Place earlier this summer, and the Front Street side of Peabody Place, which once housed a grocery store and entrance to a food court, is vacant.

All in all, there is as much cause for concern as there is for celebration. — John Branston

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