by James Coleman —
Developers of a proposed 30-45 story glass highrise in the Pinch District made their pitch to the Memphis City Council in an effort to gain backing for the acquisition of the parcels of land earmarked for the project.
The $180 million “Tower Project” includes a hotel called “The Beckford,” 85 independently owned condominiums, 20,000 square feet of ground-level commercial space, as well as a rooftop lounge.
The design calls for the tower to sit atop a subterranean parking garage. It has already been submitted to the city and the mayor’s office.
“We are proposing the first major modern highrise, mixed use project for the city of Memphis. Not only will it be the tallest highrise in the city of Memphis, but the tallest highrise in the state of Tennessee,” said Kennieth Richardson, senior project architect for the HOK architectural firm, which will engineer and design the project.
“The design will be very contemporary with luxury accommodations and with class A offices. The hotel is our thing. Hopefully it all evolves into one fantastic project. We think it is a great mixture,” said Richardson, who is originally from Memphis and now lives in Miami.
The building would be similar to the Brickell World Plaza building in Miami’s financial district, which Richardson designed.
Construction is estimated to bring 300 jobs to the city. In addition to the 55 full-time hotel employees, the proposal calls for the creation of 65-125 living wage jobs, ranging from $35,000-$180,000.
Work would begin by October 2021. It is estimated to take 30 months to complete.
“This is something that can be the catalyst for other developments to come along as we are building ours. Eventually this district can lead to more growth,” said Richardson.
Efforts have been made to revitalize the Pinch District on Downtown’s north end in recent years. Organizations like the Memphis Medical District Collaborative and the Downtown Memphis Commission have worked to buoy its economic fortunes.
Located along North Main Street, the two parcels proposed for the project are owned by the city. Combined, they have been appraised at $249,000.
“Our first objective is to get the land, which is always the first thing. Once we get the land, we have a very layman goal. Our goal is we are ready to move dirt,” said coordinator and lead developer Bill McCrary, DDHEC LLC Development.
Acquisition of the lots would boost investor confidence too, he argued. Pilot funding and further investment in the project would follow.
There also is demand for a new highrise with luxury spaces Downtown.
The plan was met with doubts.
“I always appreciate the aspirational dreams of developments and people who want to invest in Memphis. I’ve got some experience in trying to develop a high rise Downtown … with very little success. So, I’ve got a significant amount of apprehension about the viability and feasibility of this project. Although, I’ve been proven wrong,” said councilman Chase Carlisle.
McCrary said that feasibility studies had been conducted on the hotel and condominium, which met their price points. He did concede that no third-party review had been conducted, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Obviously, with something like this, it makes a key part of a project of this magnitude to have control of land. Those who are investing, when we apply for a pilot, when we apply for these different things, we want to show we can move forward or say we are going to do these things. And then we don’t have the land to do it on…,” said McCrary.
Demand for the project — and its spaces within — isn’t the issue, argued Carlisle. It’s the potential for underestimating costs. A three-level underground parking garage located in a seismic three zone could run $60-70 million. The costs would be passed on.
“It’s not that people won’t want to live in them, I think the sticker shock in what you would have to pay for it in order to make the numbers work, I think we may disagree a little bit,” said Carlisle.
He also said that the parcels would be too small to support an above ground garage and the tower.
That issue could be resolved through design changes, countered Richardson, who said the Brickell building also had an above ground garage on a similar sized footprint.
Not everyone on the council expressed skepticism. The Memphis Theater, which is on land donated by the city, was cited as a gamble that paid off. Of course, if nothing comes of the plans, the land would be required to revert back to city ownership.
“For me, it’s about the development group coming up with the financing to do it. If we’re talking $250,000 and, hey, if you can’t do it, we get it back no expense. We haven’t lost anything,” said councilman Martavius Jones. “I almost see this as a kind of riskless transaction.”