Shadows are 'small price' for Clipper's benefits

By Published: May 20, 2019 11:36 PM CT

The Clipper’s twin towers will cast a long shadow Downtown, and no neighboring building will be overshadowed as much as Chisca on Main.

That’s the conclusion of the Office of Planning & Development. Its planners referred to a shadow study commissioned by developers of the $250 million Clipper hotel and office buildings that will rise up to 275 feet on the block bounded by Second, Pontotoc, B.B. King and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The study “indicates that the property casts a significant shadow to the west during the winter season,” states the OPD’s report to the Land Use Control Board.

“During the hours of 9 a.m. to noon, the Chisca Hotel will be in shadow,” the staff planners state, referring to the former historic hotel now renovated as apartments and commercial space at 272 S. Main. “As the day continues, the shadow changes direction and extends northward to the former Gibson Guitar factory.”

That Gibson building will be renovated and expanded to become the new headquarters for FedEx Logistics. 


The temporary shading of the Chisca does not bother Chance Carlisle, chief executive of Carlisle Corp., which led the $31 million redevelopment of the old hotel.

Carlisle acknowledged he wasn’t aware of the shadow study, adding, “But I’m also not concerned …

“The Clipper will be great for the Chisca. We get a little shade, so be it. A little shade is a small price to pay for a better Downtown,” Carlisle said.

“… Generally speaking, the stronger the Clipper will perform the better Downtown will be. If we have to be in the shade for a couple of hours, so be it," he said.

Sometimes an issue

The shadows created by the proposed tall buildings can have consequences for the wider civic space, like the way a new building can impact parking or the look and feel of a commercial district.

Shadows are a hotter issue in larger, more densely developed cities such as New York City and San Francisco where direct sunlight is more commonly blocked.

In Memphis, The Clipper promises to be the first tower since completion of the 10-story building at the International Paper campus headquarters about five years ago, the 12-story Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in 2010, the 15-story Tower at The Peabody in 1997, and the 21-story Raymond James Tower in 1985.

Exception granted

Existing zoning limits building heights to only 90 feet where The Clipper will rise. But on Thursday, May 9, the Land Use Control Board approved an exception for The Clipper, for up to 275 feet.

Office of Planning & Development planners recommended the exception.

“We believe the shadow study shows the height of the towers will have minimal effect on surrounding properties for two reasons,” Josh Whitehead told The Daily Memphian in an email on Wednesday. He is planning director for Memphis and Shelby County.

“There are very few residential buildings affected by the shadow,” he said.

“And most of the nonresidential uses affected by the shadow are either surface parking lots or the windowless facades of buildings like southern sides of the Gibson Building and FedExForum,” Whitehead said.


Commercial Real Estate Downtown Memphis The Clipper
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.

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