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Saving 100 North Main; new effort launched to revive the 37-story tower

Developers asked to submit proposals to redevelop downtown's tallest building and 2-acre site.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis' tallest downtown building , 100 North Main could soon get a new lease on life. The Downtown Memphis Commission in partnership with the Downtown Mobility Authority and the City of Memphis issued a "request for proposal " Tuesday morning. In addition to the written RFP, a video presentation also explains the opportunity.

They are asking developers to submit plans to possibly redevelop the abandoned 37 story building and several properties around it.  

"It is more than the 37-story tower. It is a two-acre site. It is everything between Adams and Jefferson, Main and Second," said Brett Roler, Vice President of Planning and Development at the Downtown Memphis Commission. "We're going to issue a request for proposal and try and find a developer willing to take this on and take this vacant blighted building and put it into productive use and turn it into an anchor and a center for community again."

The project includes 8 parcels of land. The 37-story tower was built in 1965 and has almost a half million square feet of office space. A parking garage is attached to the structure. The tower has been vacant since 2014, and the last ground floor tenant left in 2015. The RFP says the preference for the building is to remain standing, but Roler said that may not be economically viable.

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"Imagine what it would do to our skyline to lose the tallest building in downtown and replace it with something much shorter, so our preference is to find a developer and bring it back to life," said Roler. He added, "It could be that the building needs to come down and be replaced, but that’s not where we suggest we start. We suggest we start at trying to save it and bring back into productive use and go from there."

100 North Main had about a 30% occupancy rate when its former owner decided to have tenants move out, leaving the property abandoned.

"The owner at the time realized it was going to be cheaper to kick everybody out than have to maintain the building and keep the elevators working and in just a few short years vandals broke in, people stripped copper and wiring and copper pipes out of the building. A lot of walls have been destroyed a lot of damage has been done windows have been broken," said Roler.

Since the closure, the abandoned building has been the center of a case in Environmental Court. Former judge Larry Potter ordered fencing be put up around the building because concrete from the facade was falling off the building. In 2017, vandals broke into the building and started a fire on the 34th floor. The inside of the building is still full of furniture, equipment, and debris. Just cleaning it out was estimated to cost more than $1 million.

"When the elevator stopped working in 2014 some of the tenants had to leave things behind, so you find boxes of files upstairs, you find computer equipment there, even old dental chairs on the 21st floor," said Roler, "It just goes to show you how in a few short years with the wrong owner a building can turn from an anchor to an eye sore."

According to the Request For Proposal, the project will be eligible for possible tax incentives and the City of Memphis has allocated $10 million to go towards redevelopment of the site. The RFP also requires 60,000 square feet of office space be leased to the city.

As for what would end up in the building, Roler said likely it's a mixed-use project.

"Some kind of mixed-use ground floor commercial a little bit of office and then apartments or hotels on the upper floor are what most developers think is a good mix for the project, but that mixed use is important."

While its previous use did not include residential, Roler said it could be a key part of this project, "Imagine how much more vibrant this street would be if 350 people lived in this building and came home every night and walked out to restaurants and bars?"

Since the property was abandoned, a previous owner announced plans to redevelop the project, which never came to fruition. The property also went into foreclosure before the Downtown Memphis Commission, Downtown Mobility Authority and the City of Memphis took over the property.

"This is tough. If this building was easy to fix, easy to save, it would have happened by now," said Roler. "It's a challenging project and anyone who looks at this and says it’s going to be quick and easy and cheap they probably have t seen a lot of commercial developments firsthand but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing."

Roler pointed out that the property is 2 blocks from the new convention center and many tourists are likely to pass the property several times a day, which is why the property needs to be redeveloped. "It’s going to damage their impression of Memphis; it’s going to damage their memories of memories and blight like this discourages investment."

According to the RFP, submissions are due by August 31, 2021, and the plan is to have a development agreement in place by December 31,2021 with construction beginning in first quarter 2022. 

"We see this as an unmissable opportunity for a developer to revitalize the tallest building in downtown Memphis and take 2 acres and bring it back into productive use," said Roler.

Roler pointed to the Crosstown Concourse as an example of how an abandoned property can be renovated and turned into a successful mixed-use project.

"Everything is impossible until it’s not. There were plenty of people who looked at Crosstown and said it’s never going to happen."

Local 24 News reporter Jeni Diprizio went inside 100 North Main to see for herself what the interior looks like, including piles of trash to remnants of when the Shelby County SWAT team used the building for training.


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