April 10, 2022

Creating a neighborhood: The Edge District

Ethan Knight stops on the corner of Monroe Avenue and South Lauderdale Street. He looks up at a stop sign, grinning.

“I’m pretty proud of this right here,” he said, pointing to the traffic sign.

The modest four-way intersection in the heart of the Edge District may seem trivial, but for Knight, it signifies a small catalyst. The stop sign and its trio of red-painted octagonal siblings help deter speeding that had previously plagued Monroe Avenue.

The lack of speeding meant the return of pedestrians. And walkability is a key factor in what Knight and Development Services Group (DSG) are trying to build inside the core of the Edge District.

As his team gears up for the second phase of development in the district, DSG plans to use The Ravine as a catalyst for potentially three more apartment buildings and a live-work playground.

‘Breaks in the landscape strangle urban life’

Knight used to live just a mile away in the Court Square Apartments. He remembers walking down Main Street with his wife and stopping at the Hotel Chisca. Back then it was a forgotten eyesore, a calling card for residents and visitors to stop and turn around before they crept too far down the dark, vacant corridors of South Main just beyond.

“I used to tell her I want to renovate that building,” he said.

Not too long after, he’d chase down DSG Inc. president and CEO Gary Prosterman, who was overseeing the renovation of the Hotel Chisca alongside Carlisle Corp.

“I just started knocking on his door for a job,” Knight said.

As the restoration of The Chisca on Main came to a close, Knight recalls that the DSG team began taking interest in the Edge District. DSG began buying vacant properties in the area in 2014.

The goal was to avoid what happened along South Main: A historical landmark operating as a pedestrian stop sign rather than a neighborhood anchor.

“Those breaks in the landscape sort of strangle urban life, the landscape and walkability,” he said.

Fast forward to today, Knight has already witnessed a change in the neighborhood his company began investing in years prior.

The team reconstructed the former Wonder Bread factory, converting it into a high-end office space now occupied by Orion and the notable The Rise apartments.

“This hole in the doughnut, as we described it, now makes its own live, work and play district,” Prosterman said.

‘We’re only in the third inning’

The team’s next step is converting the former Glass Factory Building at 435 Madison Ave. into a multi-use space with Memphis Made Brewing Co. on the ground floor, with additional office and commercial space throughout the three-story building.

Knight said the ground-floor build-out should be completed just in time for the nearby Ravine to be up and running. Construction on The Ravine began in 2020.

“We’re only in about the third inning,” Prosterman said.

Prosterman said his team still has a long way to go before the entirety of their development plan is complete. Right now his team is beginning the second phase of The Ravine expansion, which includes getting Memphis Made Brewing’s taproom on the ground floor and the lower level of the Glass Factory building up and running.

“We do like being part of an up-and-coming part of town,” Memphis Made co-founder Andrew Ashby said.

Ashby said the first floor of the building will serve as an expanded brewery and office space, with the taproom located below on the ground floor, which connects to the outdoor Ravine space.

The decision to open a second location was largely influenced by Memphis Made simply outgrowing its base of operations in Cooper-Young.

The addition of a second location and an area where they can focus completely on brewing and distribution creates a lot more flexibility for them, he said.

“It’ll be fun being just down The Ravine from High Cotton Brewing Co.,” Ashby said. “We both started breweries in 2013 and we get along with those guys really well. We’re already talking about ways we can work together to help bring people to the Edge.”

Construction on the taproom and brewery is still underway, but Ashby said his team plans to be open by the end of the year.

In addition, to Memphis Made’s occupancy, the remaining 18,000 square feet of the building will have split commercial space on the first and second floors.

Outside the building, a small stage has already been added at the base of The Ravine space near the Madison Avenue bridge. Lighting has been installed under the bridge.

A portion of the walkway has also been reserved for food trucks closer to the Monroe Avenue overpass.

DSG is also looking to dedicate a portion of The Ravine in honor of the late Memphis Medical District Collaborative president Tommy Pacello.

Additionally, work has already begun on the former Cycle Shop building. DSG sold the building to the Chattanooga-based Chestnut Fund in 2020.

Chestnut Fund is asking the Center City Revenue Finance Corp. (CCRFC) to extend construction on the site.

The property, which is also located in an opportunity zone, was originally expected to finish construction in June 2021 under its original PILOT lease.

Chestnut filed to get the building on the Historic National Register in February 2020, but was not approved until April last year.

The delay was cited as a main reason for the construction delays in Chestnut’s construction extension proposal to the CCRFC. If approved, the extension would move the completed construction date to June 2023.

In total, this phase of development includes completing the first portion of The Ravine between the Monroe and Madison overpasses along with the completed renovation of the former Glass Factory building, including the Memphis Made Brewing Co. taproom.

It’s the next step in the Edge District that remains in the preliminary stages.

Maybe more apartments, a dog park

Prosterman and Knight are considering a potential third phase of construction, which they’re calling The Rise 2.

The Rise 2 project could include 266 apartments, two 4- to 5-story buildings along Union Avenue, a 4-story building along Monroe Avenue, a 327-vehicle parking garage along with additional green spaces.

The former site of Kudzu’s bar and grill signifies where phase two ends and the next begins.

Knight said his team is planning to submit a PILOT proposal for $79.6 million with the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) to help fund the project. That conditional proposal is still in the preliminary phase and is subject to change even if approved.

The site of the project contains several vacant and dilapidated buildings.

A fitness and wellness space will reoccupy the lot where Kudzu’s is located. The parking garage will be located alongside extending towards the created alleyway and a 5-story apartment building.

Two additional apartment buildings will be built along Union Avenue along with a courtyard and a dog park. The Ravine will split between the middle of the two lots. This potential next phase will be all residential, according to Knight.

“For the Edge moving forward it is really contingent on getting the PILOT,” Prosterman said. “We are working on design plans but at this point, it is 50/50.”

Prosterman said construction costs have increased by 35% and cited several ongoing hurdles across the development spectrum. The resulting increases make the PILOT incentive vital for the project.

“Without the incentive, it makes it difficult to go forward,” he said.

DMC senior vice president of planning and development Brett Roler confirmed that the DMC has received some preliminary plans for the Rise 2 development and continues vetting the project.

He said the process is nothing new nor unique, it’s just ensuring that the DMC does their due diligence. Roler said the project could be discussed as early as the May 10 agenda with the CCRFC.

The pending development is looking to accent The Edge District’s portion of Union Avenue, which is a connector between Downtown and the Medical District, Prosterman said.

“If you’re going West it’s your first experience of Downtown. If you’re going East it’s your first experience of the Medical District,” Prosterman said regarding the potential project site along Union Avenue.

Despite a potential delay in the proposed Rise 2, both Knight and Prosterman remain positive about the influence their team has had on the redevelopment of the Edge District.

“In two to three years we will have accomplished what we set out to do: Creating a neighborhood,” he said.

Read the full story at https://dailymemphian.com/subscriber/article/27916/dsg-ravine-rise-2-edge-district-glass-building-memphis-made.

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