Developer may jump-start plan that energizes Pinch District

By Updated: March 08, 2019 12:00 AM CT | Published: March 06, 2019 3:47 PM CT

The city’s ambitious concept for making the Pinch District into a denser, taller and more walkable urban area may get a turbo-boost from a New York-based developer enthusiastic about Downtown Memphis.

Tom Intrator just purchased multiple Pinch District properties – 400 N. Front, 396 N. Main and 429 N. Main – and commercial real estate sources say other, contiguous parcels along Front are under sales contracts.

Intrator did not reveal specific plans for the properties. But without being asked, the developer said whatever he does will adhere to the city’s relatively new growth guide for the Pinch District.

“We’re continuing to identify opportunities across Downtown Memphis and are big believers in this city,” Intrator said in a prepared statement.

“As to the future of the Pinch, we will use the 2016 Pinch Concept Study by LRK for the city of Memphis as a guide to future development of the District,’’ he said.

The 400 N. Front building is a 103-year-old, 20,130-square-foot structure directly across from The Pyramid, according to public records. The 396 N. Main building is 94 years old and has 7,200 square feet. And the 429 N. Main building is a 114-year-old office building of 4,300 square feet.

The goal of that LRK study is to create a mixed-use urban district based on: the Pinch area’s character and history; connections to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis Convention Center, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, and Uptown; and making the Pinch District a pedestrian friendly area.

The plan especially encourages more active sidewalk life spurred by commercial uses on the ground floors of buildings, with residences or offices upstairs. The plan calls for taller buildings that can concentrate more people in the district.

Intrator in January announced he purchased the Royal Furniture building, in Downtown’s core at 118 Main. He plans to add floors to the three-story building and possibly convert it into a hotel or some other mixed-use development.

TOM BAILEY: Downtown's Royal Furniture building may grow taller after sale

On the north edge of Downtown, the Pinch District has drawn neither the people nor investment that the core and south side of Downtown have experienced.

The City Council in 2015 placed a moratorium on granting building permits in the Pinch District until plans to guide appropriate growth were completed. The action was partly in support of St. Jude, which had been buying up Pinch property with plans for a substantial westward expansion of its campus.

The Pinch District is bounded by Front on the west, A.W. Willis on the north, St. Jude on the east and Interstate 40 on the south.

The city lifted the building moratorium after architectural firm LRK completed the Pinch District concept study in late 2016 following a series of public hearings.

LRK founding principal Frank Ricks never met Tom Intrator, but likes what Intrator said about following the plan.

“Folks like Tom are looking to do basically what the plan is suggesting based on input from a lot of people,” Ricks said Wednesday. “I think it’s pretty exciting.”

The nine-block area on the north side of Downtown is relatively small. But powerful forces border the Pinch District with the potential to send a lot of people into the area. They include St. Jude, the convention center, Bass Pro, Mud Island/Harbor Town and the Mississippi River.

“The Pinch didn’t have much going on, mostly parking lots … from The Pyramid (arena) days,” Ricks said. “We built The Pyramid but didn’t have a plan for what was going to happen. Some predicted if we didn’t have a plan we’d just end up with the parking lots. And we got a lot of that.”

The concept plan is designed to create vibrancy on the street level, on the sidewalks.

“Make it a walkable environment,” Ricks said. “If you've got a car you park it or never get it out because you live there. You have services there of all sorts that are available.

“With St. Jude and other (employers) you have a workplace environment of different sorts. Ideally, it’s a residential workplace with retail and a range of commercial from restaurants to other sorts of retail stores,’’ he said.

With the Memphis Convention Center immediately to the south, the Pinch District could be the most accessible retail and entertainment area for convention-goers, Ricks said.

He described Intrator’s commitment to the plan as “exciting.”

“Things are in motion and hopefully we’ll see some of the plan going into real action soon,” he said.


Commercial Real Estate
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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