18th & Vine Concept Called ‘Beale Street,’ Sparks Council Clash

The facade of the historic Eblon Theater at 1822 Vine St. would be saved and incorporated into a $23 million redevelopment proposal approved by the City Council.

By Kevin Collison

A $23 million mixed-use redevelopment proposal backed by Mayor Quinton Lucas that would add apartments and retail space to the 18th and Vine District is being opposed by Council members who fear it would turn the area into another “Beale Street.”

“On this first day of Black History, we are working to protect the Historic 18th and Vine District from displacement that is all too often the result of gentrification,” Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson stated in a Tweet last week.

She added “We will not be another Beale Street,” referring to the popular entertainment district in the Black commercial area of downtown Memphis, Tenn.

Robinson, along with Third District Councilman-at-Large Brandon Ellington, want the redevelopment proposal rejected. The project would be located in their district.

Lucas, along with Fifth District Councilman-at-Large Lee Barnes, Jr., are supporting the proposal submitted by McCormack Baron Salazar and Taliaferro & Browne, longtime developers in the area, for the west side of Vine between 18th and 19th streets.

Proposed site plan submitted by a development group calling itself 18th & Vine Developers LLC. (Map from developer response to city RFP)

They responded to a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the city with a redevelopment concept that would save historic facades along the street including the Eblon Theater and Roberts Building.

Their proposal calls for building 33,000 square-feet of first floor retail behind the old facades below two levels of residential space totaling 54 apartments. The project also includes 28 parking space.

There are no renderings available and the project is in the early stages of planning. The developers also said their $23 million redevelopment proposal has an $8 million funding gap that would need to be filled.

Currently, the redevelopment site is mostly parking lots and derelict buildings. The facades of the old buildings were touched-up as backdrops during the filming of the Robert Altman film “Kansas City” released in 1996.

Tony Salazar said the proposed development would be similar to apartment projects his firm developed flanking the Negro Baseball League and Jazz Museums.

Lucas and Barnes could not be reached for comment.

McCormack Baron Salazar have developed similar scale apartment projects in the 18th and Vine District. (Photo from McCormack Baron Facebook page)

Robinson and Ellington have submitted an ordinance to the Council demanding the city reject the current proposal and issue a new RFP.

Neither Council member could be reached directly for comment, but Robinson posted a series of Tweets last week accusing the developers of trying to “gentrify” the area.

Robinson expressed displeasure at what she said was the failure by city staff to formally publicize the terms of the agreement. It calls for the city to sell the redevelopment site to the developers for $1.

“The disrespect is real-in no other district would they “forget” to upload the development agreement for a sale of City property,” Robinson stated.

In another Tweet, the councilwoman staked out their position.

“Right now, your two Third District Council members are on record that the 18th and Vine Agreement doesn’t go far enough in protecting against displacement,” she stated. “What we do today will impact us for generations to come.”

The city request for proposals covered most of the block between 18th and 19th streets from Vine to The Paseo. (Aerial map from city RFP)

Leonard Graham, president of Taliaferro & Browne, said he has met with Robinson since she registered her opposition on social media last week.

“There’s been a number of misunderstandings with regards to the project,” he said. “Quite frankly, I hope some of as that’s been worked out, at least with Ms. Robinson.

“Anytime a project is proposed for an area and properties as important to the African-American community as 18th and Vine there sometimes are misunderstandings about the scope and that creates confusion.”

Graham said if the full City Council approves his group’s proposal for 18th and Vine, it would likely be at least nine- to 10 months before any construction activity would begin.

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  1. I lived in Memphis for 4 years, and this plan is nothing like Beale Street. BS is 4 blocks worth of rowdy bars and crappy restaurants that cater to tourists who think they’re getting an “authentic” Memphis experience. You have to go through metal detectors to walk down the street. There is no housing or remotely thoughtful design beyond how do they build more bars and cram in more people each Friday and Saturday night without people getting shot. It’s a nightmare. This…really doesn’t seem like that.

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