Tennessee Brewery: Untapped potential

High Ground News

April 23, 2014

(feature & photos)

Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery

From Crosstown to Binghampton, Memphis has proven that temporary neighborhood activation projects can yield long-term results. With Tennessee Brewery: Untapped events ready for rollout this week, the city is once again ready to reimagine a forgotten space.

Beginning April 24 and lasting through May, live music, pop-up retail, craft beer and other programming will reactivate and animate one of Memphis’ hidden jewels, weekend by weekend. It’s a jewel that might still be considered a lump of coal just awaiting the right amount of polishing by a visionary developer.

The Tennessee Brewery at 495 Tennessee St. was built in 1890 and at one time produced 250,000 barrels of beer a year and employed 1,500. It last operated in 1951 and has sat idle since.

Tennesee Brewery: Untapped, as the event is known, isn’t the first such reimagining of a blighted neglected building, or the first time the idea that a few city blocks might benefit from the grassroots efforts of an enthusiastic few. Such successes can be seen in neighborhoods such as Bingampton and its Broad Avenue Arts District, and Crosstown with the redevelopment of the Sears Crosstown building.

“Our goal was to have 5,000 people, and 15,000 showed up,” says Pat Brown, vice president of the Broad Avenue Arts District, on the event that started it all–“A New Face for an Old Broad”–held during a single weekend in 2010.

A series of charettes hosted by the City of Memphis in 2006 was the jumping-off point for the district and garnered the interest of over 200 business owners, stakeholders and residents. There was promise, and with that promise came a lot of hard work and planning.

“It was very complex just with logistics and thinking through how you activate a space,” Brown says. “We were trying to activate all the different properties along Broad that had been closed up for years. Most of them did not have power, and so just getting electrical service, that was one thing we had really overlooked in our planning.”

At the Brewery, the team behind Untapped–restaurateur Taylor Berger, commercial real estate broker Andy Cates, attorney Michael Tauer and Kerry Hayes and Doug Carpenter of Doug Carpenter & Assoc.–has enlisted a revolving legion of volunteers over the past few weeks to clean and refurbish the 5,300-square-foot courtyard that will see much of the action. A stage has been built, furniture fashioned out of repurposed wood and electricians brought in to add lighting. It’s a physical effort to help people imagine the possibilities, the same challenge faced by the Crosstown redevelopment team when it held its MEMFixevent in November of 2012.

“The biggest challenge that we had, and they (the Brewery team) have as well, is getting people to see something beyond what they see,” says Crosstown co-developer Todd Richardson. “I can’t say it any more simplistically than that. What people see with the Crosstown building is the huge, blighted building that has been empty for 20 years and that defines an expectation. For us, the biggest challenge is getting people to see or to imagine something beyond what’s before them and that’s just harder than it sounds.”

Cates, Executive Vice President for Brokerage Services with Colliers International, is part of the Untapped team, not as a commercial real estate broker, but as a citizen who has known the other members for years and finds the project “exciting as hell.” Still, with his knowledge of the city’s real estate, his pragmatic point of view is invaluable . . . (read more)