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Rural King

Vacant storefronts in downtown Memphis

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Downtown is no longer a major commercial center, and probably never will be again. So what are the ideas/proposals out there to fill the store frontage throughout the core of downtown? I think addressing this "blight" on the image of downtown would go a long way in changing perceptions about downtown in the minds of many people who otherwise view it in a negative light.

So.....will it take downtown's residential population reaching critical mass? Enabling more retail and service orientated businesses to move in and get the ball rolling.

Will it take initiatives by local government to lure entrepreneurs downtown to establish specialty shops and businesses that cater to tourists and/or maybe a niche market via a special developmental tax zone or tax breaks.

Initiatives to lure non-profits and other groups to move their operations downtown?

A combination of all three? Plus other ideas?

What ideas/proposals do you all have? What ideas/proposals have you heard?

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I like the idea of this thread. I am not apart of the CCC or anything, but a concerned Memphian interested in the well-being of this city. What you stated sounds goods. How long would it take the city to complete those processes and how would they go about it? They sound like good ways to bring more activity to Downtown. I am still learning these things. I personally think One Beale is a huge start to a potential turnaround. Any news on a potential grocery store or something downtown?

-I think the city needs better ways to connect the Memphis area to Downtown. I live off of Hacks Cross and it seems that its always a commute to get to DT.

-More greenery DT. I have always liked the idea of seeing highrises sprouting amongst a sea of trees. Its uncomfortable to be out and about in Memphis 11 am-4 pm because of the heat and humidity so..maybe an increase of vegetation would make it more desirable?

- More attractions DT. Tourism does wonders for the success of small businesses. I personally would have loved to see the Public Library located DT. I like the idea of the new post office downtown but I don't know much about it though. ST. Jude, Autozone Park, FedEx Forum are good examples of a wonderful start.

- Remove the panhandling because I really don't feel like being bothered all the time and I am sure others feel the same.

This is all I have for right now.

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I honestly think as more and more people live down there, the little shops will make a return- Not so much the offices. For example i dont see sterick being considered occupied for another 10 years

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DT has a strong population, with healthy tourism figures. From a purely marketing standpoint, there's already enough going on to support a significant amount of retail.

I like TKid's idea of greenery. Aesthetics are always more important than the city realizes. But IMO, the biggest problem with DT is the panhandling. People (myself included) avoid areas where they're going to be heckled and it seems that's a big problem DT, especially on Main and Court Square.

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Yes panhandling has become a major issue in both downtown and midtown, i have never seen so many bums in my life in this city!

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no one should have to ignore bums all over the place, they should be removed from the streets, forcibly if need be.

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no one should have to ignore bums all over the place, they should be removed from the streets, forcibly if need be.

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i love memphis but not the bums that litter the street....especially when they are aggressive and have been known to be recently.

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^This is true. They can be very aggressive and I've felt threatened on several occasions. They also like to heckle my wife.

DT Atlanta has this problem, only a little more so IMO.

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in response to doctor gonzo, i live in midtown and work downtown, i encounter them everyday and do know how to deal with them...but shouldn't have to as much as i do.

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Gonzo, a city's public spaces, if the city seeks to be healthy, should never be the site of vagrancy, heckling, lewd comments toward women, or panhandling.

This is a discussion about retail in DT Memphis and what can be done to improve it. This is not a thread about the faults of suburbia or the people who live there.

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:offtopic: We're getting off topic, so lets move on from panhandling and get back into the main aspects of the question posed please.

So other than needing to address aggressive panhandling (a legit issue in many cities), what other things could be done to lure more life to the storefronts downtown?

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There needs to be dedicated PR campaign to lure people away from the Beale St. / FedEx Forum / Peabody Place area.

As it is, many people are unaware of what exists on Main St. beyond the stretch between the Arcade and Peabody Hotel. Given the paranoia about crime, many are also unwilling to explore without being told of some specific attraction. A visible police presence might help as well, for peace of mind issues.

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Here are my thoughts:

I believe there is a lot that can be done, and I especially agree with the suggestion for improved streetscaping.

Parking in downtown has always been an issue. Although the downtownmemphis.com site advertises an abundance of downtown parking (and i'm not denying this)

it is still a hastle to park a vehicle close to where you want to shop in downtown. Downtown has the residential population to support more retail, but i think many residents shop elsewhere because it's simply easier. I think we need to improve connectivity between the more dense downtown populations (Mud island the the North, South Main/ South End to the south, and Uptown to the North East) I think there is a lot of potential for retail growth in downtown, since these growing neighborhoods are scattered around the downtown core. Bike Lanes would not only encourage more pedestrian traffic, but also improve connectivity. We need bike racks placed throughout downtown as well. A good rack and a good location are two of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of bicycle parking. If people warm up to the idea of walking or biking, we'll see more people on the sidewalks, and more retail will follow.

As far as luring retail, I hope the Downtown Works initiative is successfull to recruit businesses downtown. Downtown not only needs those unique boutique retailers like we've seen open along South Main, but also a mix of recognizable stores that supply residents' daily needs. I have never understood why a large grocery store couldn't stay in business downtown.

The last time i was in Memphis, i made a concerted effort to go downtown and support the new (and old) downtown businesses. I bought a shirt at AmericanApparel, had a latte and checked email at Blues City Coffee, and had lunch at Gus's Fried Chicken. Everytime i come back home to memphis I get excited by the potential our downtown has. We have so many beautiful old buildings with a comfortable urban density, a large population of downtown residents for a city our side, and the development projects in the works maintain a small scale. Skycrapers are great, and i'm just as excited about OneBeale as everyone else, but the small 3-6 floor projects that are typical in downtown memphis are blending in well with the existing urban fabric and creating a downtown of variety, with a comfortable small scale. I think of these projects as an 'investment' in the future of downtown as a sustainable, walkable neighborhood.

I think when the Uof M law school relocates to the old post office, we'll see a boom in retail in the area. Having a larger population of young smart kids living (as i'm sure many will choose to do) and studying in downtown will make it more feasible for small businesses to turn a profit downtown.

I agree Panhandling is a major issue. Panhandling should be illegal, and should be enfoced. Downtown needs a campaign similar to what we have here in NYC. Posters in the subway advertise that it's illegal to panhandle, and encourage those interested in giving donate to legitimate charities that benefit the homeless. Perhaps Memphis should try this. It seems to be working here in NYC.

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We need businesses, large and small, with significant numbers of workers to locate downtown. Existing buildings should be redesigned and new ones designed to have street-level retail such as what you see in most large American downtowns, especially in eastern cities. Large numbers of employees downtown increases the chances that they may want to live downtown given the choices from efficiencies to large single-family homes down here.

Downtown workers increase the lunch crowd and also the lunchbreak/afterwork purchases from the various retail operations downtown. As additonal dining/retail/entertainment options locate downtown to serve the employees and downtown population, people from other parts of the city and suburbs discover the attraction and hopefully keep coming downtown, perhaps enough to the point where they want to ditch the long commute, move downtown and the cycle continues.

I think the scale of downtown Memphis can work. We have both the large street (Union) and the smaller streets (2nd/3rd) that can accomodate significant street level retail. 2nd between Union and Peabody Place has come a long way, and if a plan can ever come together to help the north end of Main, significant retail additions are not too far away. If anyone has been to Walnut Street in Philly, you'll see how the small street retail setup works well with a good mix of international/national/local retailers plus eateries on a smaller side street.

It can work here but we need the businesses here first; previous references to the DWI in this thread are correct and they need to get the ball rolling.

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I've read some great points from everyone so far about what should be done.

Working on what NickR78 said, increasing connectivity definitely seems like something that Memphis needs to get the whole downtown back into service. To that ends, would trying to create pockets redevelopment and attractions first be the course of action? An example of this would be something already happening between the South Bluffs and the Central Train Station area and Beale Street along the South Main corridor. You have two anchor areas with the area in between seemingly slowly but surely filling in.

Along those lines, would anyone have opinions on what areas of downtown should be targeted first under such a concept if they agree with it? I think maybe the area near the Goodwin Building and Exchange Building towards to old Library/new UofM Law School would be a good choice. You have new condo residences in the works along with the school population that the law school will bring in that area, so it seems like an area that might be prone for revitalization a few new storefronts that could hold and maintian traffic and encourage further development.

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I have never understood why a large grocery store couldn't stay in business downtown.

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I know that the CCC is working on a public art project to feature local artists in vacant storefronts along South Main with paintings, sculptures, etc.

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Yeah, that art project has already begun - the former juice place on the corner of Union and Main has some sketches by Dwayne Butcher on display in the window, and right next door to it is a former beauty parlor that has some collages (I can't remember the artist in this case) related to beauty products and advertising in the window as well.

OK, a totally random store that I've been desperately missing since I moved to Memphis - ordinarily I always prefer a local independent place to a chain, and I really don't care if there aren't any big chain retail stores in downtown Memphis, I think it gives the place character. HOWEVER - on behalf of all women everywhere, I make an exception to my ordinary anti-chain policy - I want a frickin' Anthropologie in downtown Memphis! That store is simply girl heaven. I used to buy myself a new skirt there every time I completed another dissertation chapter in graduate school - it was both my present to myself and my motivation to keep writing. And frankly, the store would be an absolute perfect fit for the South Main area, with all its mid-to-upscale girly boutiques and such. I have no doubt that the same people who shop at Muse and Mode du Jour would be regular Anthropologie customers. How does one go about convincing a major retailer to open a new store??

I'd also like to see more furniture stores, with more modern and contemporary furniture. With all the people moving into lofts and condos, there is surely a market for this.

Another random note: given how scaldingly hot the summers in Memphis are, you can never have too much ice cream. I realize there is already a Ben and Jerry's downtown, but I think a great addition to downtown Memphis would be a specialty gelato shop. Nobody doesn't like gelato!

And here's a broader idea: I like the fact that a portion of Main Street is blocked off to automobile traffic, but it really doesn't live up to its potential as a pedestrian mall. One excellent way to make a space feel more like a pedestrian plaza is to encourage street vendors and street performers. Jewelry carts, hot dog vendors, jugglers, t-shirts, whatever. I realize this wouldn't address the specific question of filling in the empty storefronts, but I think it would contribute to the kind of pedestrian traffic which would create more of an incentive to start filling in those storefronts. It would also give downtown Memphis a totally unique marker in the city - nothing like this exists anywhere else in Memphis.

Sorry for the random, scattered ideas...I really don't have any brilliant overall plan here.

Quick note about the panhandling discussion: there are already pretty restrictive laws in Memphis against panhandling. There isn't an outright ban (such bans are inevitably declared unconstitutional - there is no such ban in NYC, it was rewritten under a court order to outlaw only various forms of "aggressive" panhandling - and the city was very recently nearly charged with contempt of court for enforcing the old, unilateral ban on all panhandling rather than the new, limited ban on aggressive panhandling) but you need a permit to panhandle legally, you can't panhandle at bus or trolley stops, you can't panhandle at night or in groups, you can't follow people who have already said no, you can't address people in an abusive, obstructionist, or derogatory manner, etc etc. Obviously these things still happen, and that yields a question about enforcement rather than the law itself... but that's a discussion for another day and another board!!

S

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OK, a totally random store that I've been desperately missing since I moved to Memphis - ordinarily I always prefer a local independent place to a chain, and I really don't care if there aren't any big chain retail stores in downtown Memphis, I think it gives the place character. HOWEVER - on behalf of all women everywhere, I make an exception to my ordinary anti-chain policy - I want a frickin' Anthropologie in downtown Memphis! That store is simply girl heaven. I used to buy myself a new skirt there every time I completed another dissertation chapter in graduate school - it was both my present to myself and my motivation to keep writing. And frankly, the store would be an absolute perfect fit for the South Main area, with all its mid-to-upscale girly boutiques and such. I have no doubt that the same people who shop at Muse and Mode du Jour would be regular Anthropologie customers. How does one go about convincing a major retailer to open a new store??

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I agree South Main could one day be a great location for Anthropologie, or Urban Outfitters. Or maybe a smaller high-end boutique chain like Lacoste. Of course if these stores located to the neighborhood, rents would go up dramatically and probably force the small local stores to close---then we'd loose the sense of place that makes South Main so distinct. But i like the idea of a few higher end, destination retailers mixed within the local art galleries, boutiques, coffee shops, bistros, and antique stores.

I also think a small cupcake bakery would fit in well in downtown. Here in NYC, Billy's and Magnolia are extremely popular for their buttercream icing. As much as we like our sweets in the South, i'm surprised the cupcake craze hasn't caught on in Memphis. I also have a favorite lunch spot that serves only mac & cheese (12 varieties), and each serving in a cast iron skillet. I'm thinking something like S'mac could do well in Downtown Memphis too.

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Do ya'll think south main can turn into a destination street? Many of the mature markets have a street that tourists and locals shop on because of its exclusivity. I would be thrilled if an anthropology or urban outfitters moved on to the street. My girlfriend loves those stores and always shops at them whenever we are in a city with one.

So I guess I will ask my question again, do you think our community will embrace a destination street?

I think it would work especially if it goes hand in hand with turning main street in to a true pedestrian mall like you would find in New Orleans or Mallory Square in Key West. This would elevate memphis to a destination city, in my opinion.

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