January 14, 2022

Edge District’s revival inches onto Union Avenue

Rental trucks and dumpsters are hauling away Coleman Taylor Transmission from the Edge District, carrying off another big chunk of the neighborhood’s gritty, industrial past.

Likely to rise in its place at 480 Union Ave. and adjacent properties are more apartments for the fledgling live-work-play neighborhood surrounded by Downtown’s core, the Medical District and Victorian Village.

The Edge District’s biggest developer is preparing plans to build a new apartment community that could front Union Avenue for nearly the length of 2½ football fields, including the space where the transmission shop now stands.

The future development may use a pedestrian bridge to straddle The Ravine, which is the sunken, former rail line that is being converted into a two-block-long linear park.

The three acres of new apartments could extend north to face Monroe, too. That would give the apartment community frontage on both Union Avenue — a major artery into Downtown — and Monroe, which serves the Edge neighborhood as a walkable street.

“We are assessing the merits of another apartment community which we are calling The Rise on The Ravine,” Robert W. Worthington told The Daily Memphian.

The principal with Atlanta-based META Real Estate Partners — formerly called Worthington Hyde Partners — said “another” because Worthington and his partners last year finished converting the Edge District’s Wonder Bread industrial bakery into The Rise Apartments as well as headquarters for Orion Federal Credit Union.

META has been amassing old industrial, automotive service and other properties in the Edge District for more than five years in partnership with Gary Prosterman’s Development Services Group (DSG) and its affiliated PGK Properties.

Development Services Group serves as the master developer for the partnership’s efforts in the Edge District.

With the involvement of AutoZone founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde, the partnership has been a deep-pocketed change agent to remake and enliven the neighborhood.

Other properties they’ve either redeveloped or recruited new owners for include the Cycle Shop Building at 421 Monroe, 430 Monroe, the old Kudzus Bar & Grill building at 603 Monroe, 571 Marshall, 411 Monroe, and the former Glass Factory Building at 435 Madison that is now called the Brewery Building.

META and DSG had been trying for five years to add the Union Avenue-fronting Coleman Taylor Transmission property to its holdings, and last year made an offer that chief executive Nick Coleman could not refuse.

“Finally, they offered us enough to make it worth our while,” said Coleman.

Employees there either are being moved to other Coleman Taylor locations or were of retirement age anyway, he said.

The META/DSG partnership paid $1 million for the business’s three properties -- 450 466 and 480 Union -- including a 97-year-old structure, according to public property records.

The acquisition increases the developers’ frontage on Union by about 100 yards to the west, bringing the total frontage to 245 yards including The Ravine entrance.

The site is bounded by Slim & Husky’s on the east and DeSoto Collision Center on the west. The frontage includes the vacant, 102-year-old building at 484 Union, which the developers aspire to preserve, the vacant and blighted 87-year-old building at 620 Union, and undeveloped property.

Coleman’s 84-year-old father, Larry Coleman, founded Coleman Taylor Transmission, which has grown to 12 other locations. Business remains not only strong, but sales have reached record levels the past two years, Nick Coleman said.

But the business’s old buildings at 480 Union are not only leaking, the masonry walls bulge inward and are unsafe.

“In my lifetime this building wasn’t going to bring any more money,” Coleman, 57, said. “We reached a point where it wasn’t worth screwing a new lightbulb into the building. It’s reached a point it’s not safe anymore.”

Coleman Taylor’s operation in the Edge district comprised two activities. Up front, it worked on cars. In the back, employees remanufactured transmissions to supply to companies like O’Reilly Auto Parts.

Coleman estimates that the shop has sent out 40,000 remanufactured transmissions over the years.

For the future Rise on The Ravine apartments, the developers now own about three acres that stretch from Union to Monroe and are split by The Ravine.

The META/DSG developers are partnering with the Downtown Memphis Commission to turn the former rail bed into a two-block linear anchor comprising an amphitheater, pavilion by the future Memphis Made Brewing Co. brewery/taproom, covered seating, park, food trucks court, and retail.

Phase I on the north end is complete, but an opening date has not been announced. Phase 2 construction to the south will start next.

The developers are still in the planning stages and are not ready to forge ahead with the Rise on the Ravine apartments, but plan to seek Opportunity Zone tax incentives, Worthington said.

The Rise on The Ravine would not only front Union but might span The Ravine with a new pedestrian bridge, he said.

About five years ago, the partnership bought undeveloped property fronting Union on the east side of The Ravine. That 1.2 acres had been owned by The Commercial Appeal, which for many decades operated across Union at 495 Union. The wooded front parcel fronts Union and the larger, back parcel is a parking lot fronting Monroe. The lot is next to the old Kudzu’s Bar & Grill building, which the META/DSG partnership is renovating.

“Our plan is to develop some more apartments,” Worthington said. “The Rise has been very successful for us.”

The apartments would fill gaps or dead zones on both Union and Monroe.

“If we can deliver on this next phase of Rise Apartments, that will bring along the Kudzu’s site,” said Ethan Knight, DSG’s vice president for development. “At that point, the Edge is complete as a fully functioning neighborhood we set out to build with other investors.”

The partnership once considered selling its new 200-unit Rise Apartments at 420 Monroe because the real estate market was so hot, but “Pitt (Hyde) is so invested in the well-being of the city, he didn’t want to let it go,” Worthington said.

“He wanted us to continue to try to grow the Edge District and continue to make it into a neighborhood that connects Downtown to the Medical District and that you can walk or bike.”

The development partners bought the Coleman Taylor Transmission property “because we could develop a plan to take the Coleman Taylor site and link to The Commercial Appeal site with a bridge over The Ravine and operate it as one apartment community,” Worthington said.

“Now we’re working with LRK (Architects) on some concept drawings,” he said.

Should the partnership go forward with the project, construction may not start this year because of the spike in construction costs, Worthington said.

Still, other large developers have become active in the neighborhood, including Henry Turley Co. That company with Archie Willis and his ComCap Partners is building Orleans Station, a mixed-use community of 350 apartments and commercial space.

“Five years ago people were saying, ‘You think people will want to live in the Edge District?’ ” Knight recalled.

“Yes, we think they do,” he said.

All of which promises to be good news for Downtown and its advocates.

“We are excited about adding residential capacity in the Edge neighborhood,” said Paul Young, president and chief executive of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

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