July 17--In a Downtown where one fifth of the office space stands vacant, a big bank and local merchants have allied to bring life to a little boarded up piece of Madison.
Plans are underway to tear down a long-abandoned Burger King alongside the First Tennessee Bank tower and replace it with about 6,900 square feet of green space.
A Victorian relic that once housed the original Anderton's Restaurant and Oyster Bar, the 119-year-old building was bought by Center City Development Corp., an arm of the Downtown Memphis Commission.
Money for the purchase was volunteered by merchants, neighborhood stakeholders and nonprofits including First Tennessee Foundation interested in improving the avenue, commission president Paul Morris said.
"This development will eliminate the blight and be a positive neighborhood amenity," Morris said.
The purchase of 151 Madison comes at a time when entrepreneurs have brought new life to Madison storefronts, increasing foot traffic in a Dowtown where the departure of companies and law firms has raised the office vacancy rate to 20.5 percent.
Adding a small park will attract nearby workers and law school students to Madison, said Scott Crosby who helped spearhead the idea. Crosby, a Memphis lawyer, is part owner of the Brass Door, a three-year-old bar located at 152 Madison.
"It will be open to the public," Crosby said about the park. "Maybe it will be a spot for outdoor movies, art presentations or small concerts. It's exact use is still up in the air."
Avery Family Trust sold the property for $175,000, The Commercial appeal reported in February. Brass Door co-owner Seamus Loftus looks forward to demolition, which could begin in August.
"I'm so sick of looking at this building," he said as he unlocked the plywood-covered door at 151 Madison. Mildewed air rushed out. Inside a pile of chairs and tables hid in a corner while a window sign offers a $2.99 Whopper meal.
"With the Cuban restaurant and cake shop that just opened up, this block is becoming a daytime attraction," Loftus said.
"The bank's headquarters has been located (by) the new development for 150 years," First Tennessee spokeswoman Kim Cherry said. "We are excited to be a part of this group so eager to create a unique identify on this end of Madison."