Downtowns – what used to be the heart and soul of cities nationwide – have become a rambling example of urban decay. However, the trend to revive these business districts is gradually spreading westward from some the country’s most historic cities. Such is the case in Memphis, where vagrants and pigeons overran the former William R. Moore Dry Goods Building until 1997 when a Cinderella-scale transformation brought renewed vitality to the city that is home of the Blues.
Constructed in 1913, the William R. Moore Dry Goods Building, a 200,000-square-foot, eight-story facility, is located on the eastern border of the city’s downtown. The building achieved National Historic Register status in 1982, just two years after the company sold the business and moved out. For nearly two decades, the Moore Building lay abandoned.
When Dean and Kristi Jernigan began dreaming of a minor league ballpark in downtown Memphis, the vision for development expanded beyond a home for the Redbirds Team. According to Rob Norcross, principal in charge, Memphis-based Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) Architects, “Dean Jernigan started out owning the whole piece of property, and the idea was to build a ballpark downtown. He saw, and we did too, that to do that successfully, it had to relate well to other buildings in the whole urban context of downtown.”
Parkway Properties Inc., a Jackson, MS-based real estate investment trust, took ownership of the building and its modernization, an ambitious project for a company not accustomed to development. “When we first looked at the property four years ago, it was dilapidated, neglected, and in a questionable area of the city,” says Jack Sullenberger, senior vice president, Parkway Properties Inc.
Past Meets Present
The project team faced a myriad of challenges in the four-plus years it took to complete the modernization. “When we started, we had a building that we could look at but there were no plans – there was no record of how the building was actually constructed,” explains Tony Pellicciotti, project manager, LRK Architects. Without this documentation, architects and engineers were unsure of the structural integrity of the building. With the help of Memphis-based renovation and materials engineering consultants, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., and some historic research, however, the team formed a theory of where holes could be placed to house stairs, an elevator, and anything that needed to run vertically through the building – all without structurally reinforcing the load.
Due to its status as a historic building, the National Park Service (NPS) and the local/state preservation officer were consulted regarding modernization plans. The building has two primary façades and two secondary façades – each treated very differently with approval from the NPS. “The primary façades of the building facing 3rd Street and one facing the original Monroe Street have been restored. We’ve tuck-pointed the brick, replaced damaged terra cotta, and specified new windows to match the profile of original windows,” says Norcross.
The two other building exteriors were less refined, and faced with a textured, rough brick. Additionally, window openings were randomly spaced. The NPS and local/state preservation offices gave LRK more flexibility to make changes on these two sides – allowing larger window openings to be exposed, the use of more modern glass, and some graphic elements to be added that reflect what’s going on at the adjacent ballpark. “We were able to preserve history on two façades and then acknowledge what was going on in our context today on the secondary façades,” explains Norcross.
Making It Happen
Associates at LRK served as a single point of contact, working on both the AutoZone Ballpark and Toyota Center. Every effort was made to reduce construction costs and ease the burden of financing for the ballpark. In an effort to do so, the district energy plant that serves the ballpark’s needs for heated and cooled water, emergency power, and sprinkler systems is provided by Toyota Center, which bills the ballpark for their use. “The ballpark and the Moore Building operate at different hours and operate differently. There was enough diversity to reduce the size of one central plant vs. having two,” says Norcross.
Five tenants currently occupy the revived Toyota Center. “Each tenant is radically different,” says Pellicciotti. Spaces range from Moulin-Rouge-chic to rich, wood-warm sophistication to bold, geometric simplicity. From the exclusive environment of the Plaza Club restaurant to a space indicative of one Fortune 500 company’s identity, each space blends old with new seamlessly.
Now 100-percent leased, this former warehouse space has become Class A office space and an integral part of downtown Memphis’ new development district. “I think this project is a good testimony for any Central Business District that has old and historical buildings that are candidates for rehabilitation. With the proper vision and expertise of the owner and the professional team assembled to perform the work, a development of this type can become a catalyst for urban renewal,” Sullenberger confirms.
What was once a sad story about the demise of Memphis’ downtown doesn’t have the city singing the blues anymore.
Jana J. Madsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.