Brooks' plans to demolish garage causes 'concern, anxiety'

By Published: May 19, 2019 7:24 AM CT

Parking in Downtown Memphis is a puzzle, and the Downtown Memphis Commission is asking for patience from concerned residents and commuters as the organization tries to put the pieces together.

Carter Hord, a principal at Hord Architects, attended the Downtown Parking Authority (DPA) meeting on Wednesday, May 15, to voice his concerns about the City of Memphis’ plans to demolish a 468-space parking garage on Front Street to make way for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s relocation from Overton Park in 2023.

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“If the Brooks demolishes that garage, it could be a physical and economic bomb in the central business district,” Hord said.

Hord’s architecture firm is located adjacent to the Front Street parking garage in the Shrine Building at 66 Monroe Ave. He also serves on the board of the Shrine Building Condominium Association.

“What we’re hearing from the people who live and work in the central business district — the architects, attorneys, people in the Cotton Exchange building, Sue Lauck, who owns the Little Tea Shop — everyone is really anxious,” Hord said.  

In the time since the Brooks’ plans to move Downtown became public in 2017, the Shrine Building Condominium Association has been tracking the number of vehicles that park in the Riverfront Garage. Hord says the Downtown Memphis Commission’s (DMC) count of 468 spaces is wrong.

“We count close to 600 cars. The garage is regularly full,” he said.

DMC president Jennifer Oswalt said the organization gets varying counts on the number of available parking spaces for the Riverside Garage, but the Downtown Memphis Parking Study will straighten that out.

Some of the discrepancy comes from the valet services that use the garage for surrounding hotels and restaurants.

Southern Valet uses the Riverside Garage to park the vehicles of those eating at nearby Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar on Main Street.

“The agreement for that garage is with Flight Restaurant. They would probably be more, not inclined, but have a heavier weight and opinion than I,” said Chris McLemore, CEO of Southern Valet, when reached by phone after the meeting. “The valet permit mandates a garage. They’ve used that garage for more than five years. It will cause some frustration and angst.”

Southern Valet shares the spaces dedicated for valet services with the Hu Hotel, formerly the Madison Hotel.

“We probably have 30 to 40 spaces on a regular basis,” McLemore said of the vehicles being parking for Flight, in addition to the spaces reserved for the restaurant’s managers.  

After attending several meetings with Stantec, the consultants who are conducting the Downtown parking study, Hord did not get the sense that it is a precise evaluation that will count all of Downtown’s parking spaces to determine the needs.

“It’s not that fine-grained,” Oswalt confirmed. “But we have asked for them to look at specific details on that issue,” she said of the Front Street garage.

Since the Brooks is still in a planning phase, Oswalt said, the DMC is waiting on answers from the museum that will inform solutions to the parking issue.

“No doubt, we as a staff and DPA do not want to disturb the economic viability of the entire area,” Oswalt said. “I’m asking for your patience. We don’t have all the facts yet.”

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Reached by phone, Emily Ballew Neff, executive director of Brooks Museum of Art, said she shares the parking concerns that were expressed at this week’s DPA meeting.

“Parking has been a part of board conversations since we announced plans to move to Fourth Bluff,” Ballew Neff said. “We are still in the planning process, but I promise you we are doing everything in our power to ensure there is ample and accessible parking.”  

Even though it is early in the process and the Brooks has not yet started working with its architect, the museum is already exploring parking solutions.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options, even before we’ve got the consultants on board,” Ballew Neff said.  

The DMC is looking into shared parking options in which commuters could occupy garages during working hours and then free up spaces for those coming Downtown in the evenings for dinner or events.   

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“In the long run, that (Brooks relocation) benefits everyone, whether you see the immediate detriment or not,” said Southern Valet’s McLemore. “That’s more people coming to our restaurant. What you see today is, ‘What is that going to do to our business?’”

Oswalt stressed to those with concerns that parking is equally important to the DMC, both in the long term and in the interim when the parking garage initially comes down.  

The first draft of the Downtown parking study will be complete in late June, around the same time the Brooks board of directors is anticipated to reveal the architect it has selected to design the new riverfront museum. 

“None of them could say, ‘Don’t worry Carter. We’re going to make sure parking is put back into the development with the Brooks,’” Hord said of his meetings with parking study consultants. “There’s a lot of concern and anxiety.”   

Oswalt anticipates the parking study will recommend increasing rates and potentially adding onto or modifying existing garages to accommodate more vehicles.  

“I know one of the suggestions will be to raise rates and we’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of those types of things,” she said.  

The DMC has already determined a need for a second phase of the parking study to include the Memphis Medical District.

With the emergence of last-mile transit options like the shared bikes and electric scooters, the second phase may be expanded to include all Downtown transportation options, Oswalt said.

“It’s a whole new world parking-wise and we’re going to view it that way moving forward,” Oswalt told the DPA. “I’m just as anxious to see the study and how we move forward.”


Brooks Museum Of Art Downtown Memphis Parking
Michelle Corbet

Michelle Corbet

Michelle Corbet covers business for The Daily Memphian. Prior to, she was a reporter at the Memphis Business Journal. A native Memphian and University of Memphis graduate, Michelle covered business in Conway, Arkansas after college. Michelle got her start covering business as an intern at The Commercial Appeal.

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