December 13th, 2019

Pinch First Phase

(published in The Daily Memphian)

(inset: Pinch, Phase One, courtesy: 18 Main)

Even as I write this, it seems another boutique hotel will open and another 200 to 500-room famous brand (flag) hotel will be announced as on the way. Before you finish reading this paragraph, more millennial bait will be spread across new bar tops and menus the length of South Main, more apartments will be shown the length and breadth of Downtown and Midtown, more boomers will board more tour buses from more riverboats, and somebody, and somebody else from somewhere else, will buy some more of us to make something from us.

Promises will be made. In billions.

Union Row promises to revise, remake and repurpose 11 Downtown gateway acres – no wait, 20-something acres – hold on, maybe more – and put a lovely park-like cover over Danny Thomas – or not – and build (pick a number) of hotel rooms and (pick a number) of square feet of office and retail space in (pick a number) of buildings (pick a number) of stories tall some of which will engulf the Hunt-Phelan House – they’ll get back to us on that – and a grocery store, actually, maybe two grocery stores, maybe even a big grocery store, some kind of grocery store – and we will give them $150 million of tax incentives – no, no, that’s wrong – instead we will give them $185 million of tax income they can do pretty much whatever they want with for 30 years – and then we’ll get some of that tax income back.

They promise. And they promise to spend a billion bucks or so to do it all. They swear.

Tom Intrator, a promising young man from New York, promises to turn nine or so scarred and blighted blocks of the Pinch into a towering and shiny new urban wonderland of more mixed office, residential, hotel and retail space totaling some three to four million square feet. In addition to buying up available land in the Pinch, he’s already bought buildings up and down South Main and Front that nobody else seemed to want and announced plans for them nobody else saw coming – a hotel on top of Royal Furniture being just one. Younger than all but three or four of my ties and less well known around here than Brooklyn street names, he’s already been approved for $20.3 million in incentives on the south end of Downtown, and he’s looking at covering more than 40% of phase one of his Pinch project in further incentives … some $264 million. He getting that up front, and that’s going to make phase two work.

He promises. And he promises to spend a billion bucks or so to do it all. He swears.

Right about now, you’re thinking this is a column about skepticism, and you’d be right. But if you think it’s about my lack of faith in Union Row and somebody from New York, you’d be wrong. They have imagination. They have guts. They have hope. They see things in us we fail to see in ourselves.

This is and always has been a city of promise, and a city that fails to live up to it time and time again.

These are people who are trying to spend a couple of billion dollars in places we’ve spent time driving by or avoiding all together, joining St. Jude’s billion or so worth of additional bricks, mortar and hope, and Crosstown Concourse, and the Orgels’ new projects and those like them, the risk Jack Belz took, and the abiding trailblazing imagination and faith of Henry Turley.

These are people who still do what they do in this city, even though this city makes a hotel deal that leaves a dark and empty threat 38 stories tall looming over it, a fairgrounds development deal with no development guarantees and no plans for a dark and empty historical arena at its very center.

These are people who still invest in a city whose council won’t invest in its own utility’s infrastructure, won’t pay for improvements in its own waste removal, would take three contentious readings to approve the time of day, and lacks the personal courage and political will to address a regressive tax structure and an immoral poverty rate.

Put another way, if driving over the same potholes on Walnut Grove every day is stressful, imagine the size of the stress in Orange Mound, Frayser, and Hickory Hill. 

Certainly, we need to police our Pilots, our TIFS, our incentives of every kind, and we need to claw back every penny we’re owed for every promise not kept. But in return we owe the investors that take a chance on us the kind of city that deserves their optimism and shares it. We can’t wait 30 years for the city all this new investment envisions to rise before we lift the city around it.

Our time is now. Embrace it.

I’m a Memphian, and that’s promising.

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