Opinion » The Rant

Peabody Place? Fill ‘Er Up!

ServiceMaster’s decision to move into Peabody Place is a big win for Memphis.

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It's not going to be an aquarium and tropical bird sanctuary, much to my chagrin.

It's not going to be a fancy grocery store with old-world wines, grab-and-go lunches, and myriad unpronounceable cheeses, unfortunately.

Or a Target. Damn it.

Know what else Peabody Place isn't going to be? An empty building.

And that right there is enough of a reason for any Memphian to celebrate.

When Peabody Place opened, it was the coolest thing going. Well, to me at least: I was fresh out of high school and enjoying what little freedom is available to an 18-year-old still living at home in Collierville. I'd trek out there with a few friends, and we'd, well ... I guess you could say we did a lot of loitering, come to think of it.

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We might catch a movie at the Muvico. Sometimes we'd bowl or play video games at Jillian's and split a burger and fries. We'd bypass the Gap and Victoria's Secret — there were locations much closer to home — to pass hours in Tower Records. We'd read the imported magazines, sample new CDs, and thumb through the bargain DVDs, but rarely did we walk out of there with a yellow bag.

In other words, I'm probably part of the reason the whole thing failed. Sorry. Could the property have been salvaged as a retail concept if not for the recession? Looking at the condition of other malls in the city and elsewhere across the country, I wouldn't put my eggs in that basket.

So what do you do with 300,000-square-feet smack in the middle of downtown Memphis? You bring in one of the city's biggest companies and its 1,200 employees and you set off a ripple that can transform the area forever, that's what.

Y'all. I don't mean to devalue the impact of ServiceMaster's decision merely to stay in Memphis. Their departure could have been disastrous for the city, and I'm glad that out of the 10 to 13 cities they considered, the one they chose was "home." But I haven't been this excited about Peabody Place since I was old enough to order my first drink at Club Atlas.

I know it'll be a while before they move in, but I am ready to roll out the red carpet for ServiceMaster right this moment. I don't mind that a thousand more vehicles on I-240 will probably slow down my morning commute. I can accept a longer wait in the food truck lines at Court Square on Thursdays. Construction might gunk up Second and Third streets, but it's a small price to pay for the luxury of not having an abandoned mall in the center of all the action.

I'm hoping ServiceMaster's arrival inspires a little restaurant boom. (Sidenote: There are a few spots for lease on Madison, so if you have an idea and a few grand lying around, you should get to work, ASAP.) But in any case, I welcome all 1,200 employees to discover the best lunch spots (three tacos for $8 at Maciel's, thank me later); the best wifi-enabled places to escape the office; the joy of an afternoon cheesecake break at the Peabody Hotel deli.

Bring 'em on. There's plenty of room. Because downtowns are supposed to be busy. Bring the jobs, and the people follow. Provide those people amenities, services, things to do, places to live. Then come visitors who want a piece of the action — they'll need a place to stay. Yeah, I'm oversimplifying things a little — but that's the recipe.

I've worked downtown for a decade, and so much has improved these past few years. We've been fortunate the improvements have not come at the expense of the history in our buildings: the U of M law school is one particularly gorgeous example. Hopefully, the Tennessee Brewery will be another. The Chisca connects the core and South Main so seamlessly I've honestly forgotten what it was like before. Just think — in a few years we'll have forgotten what it was like to walk, cringing, past that abandoned mall.

But for every Chisca, there's still a Sterick lurking on the skyline. There are still too many empty storefronts and not enough hotel rooms. The trolleys and public transportation in general seem to be in a perpetual state of "TBD." But the gaps are filling in, slowly but surely. ServiceMaster is filling a massive one.

Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and digital marketing strategist.

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