The Commercial Appeal

Archimania to leave South Main


Archimania has dropped plans to build its cutting-edge headquarte­rs on South Main, citing the spread of "suburban"-style apartments in that area of Downtown.

"We don't like how South Main has been extended with just apartments down to that property,'' Todd Walker said, referring to a corner of South Main and Carolina where archimania was to build. He is a principal with Barry Alan Yoakum of the 22-year-old firm.

Archimania put the vacant half-acre at 705 S. Main on the market for $425,000 last week.

The firm located at 356 S. Main is now searching for another place — either elsewhere Downtown or in Midtown — for a new headquarte­rs. The new site could be a renovation or new constructi­on.

Archimania has owned the vacant corner just south of Central Station since 2010. The firm received approval for a tax incentive to build there, got approval from the Design Review Board, and even hosted a ground-breaking ceremony on the site.

The firm's plan had been to build a 5,000-square-foot office in front and a separate, 6,000-square-foot, six-unit apartment building behind it. The buildings were to be net-zero-energy structures — meaning they were to consume less energy than they produce — much like the soon-to-open welcome center archimania designed for the State of Tennessee on Interstate 55, just north of the Shelby Drive exit in Memphis.

The $1.7 million project for archimania's headquarte­rs was to feature art and educationa­l components and even incorporat­e fruit trees and a vegetable garden.

Archimania's issue with the nearby apartments exposes a disconnect between two leading forces for progressiv­e, modern design and New Urbanism in Memphis.

Archimania for years has all but dominated design competitio­ns, gobbling up more than 150 local, state and regional American Institute of Architects awards. Just last September it was ranked 20th in the nation for design by the AIA's Architect magazine.

And Henry Turley Company is an icon for the city's New Urbanism movement. Starting in the late 1970s, the developer led the re-population of the once-declining Downtown with renovation­s and new constructi­on that made cars subservien­t in walkable neighborho­ods.

Over the past year, Henry Turley Company has been building 200 apartment units — called South Line Apartments — as part of the redevelopm­ent of

Memphis Area Transit Authority's Central Station.

Most the apartment buildings have risen in Central Station's former rail yard west of the tracks along South Front. But one building of 18 studio spaces now under constructi­on fronts South Main much closer to archimania's vacant lot. To archimania's disappoint­ment, the three-story, red-brick building at 671 S. Main will house only apartments, with no other commercial uses on the ground floor.

The apartments-only buildings "had started in the South End area farther west,'' Walker said. "We didn't imagine them going with mostly apartments on Main Street, especially between the train station and our property. It became a major disconnect.''

Said Yoakum: "I think as much as anything (the concern is) that type of density, of just people. Even though the Central Station redevelopm­ent is just great, we were 'it' from what we saw as common types of services and businesses. It was too much about residentia­l . ... We would have been this little thing of 20 or 30 something people.''

While bringing residents to a vacant, Downtown site is good, Walker said, "it just would be better if there would have been more thought into it based on the urban condition and community itself. Basically, they put sort of a suburban apartment community in an urban area.''

Reached for comment, Henry Turley said that as a whole the Central Station redevelopm­ent he and partner Community Capital are leading does offer a mix of uses: Residentia­l, hotel, movie theater and offices.

"We hoped that would be a role (archimania) would contribute to,'' Turley said. "We were quite excited about their work. ... I'm sorry they are leaving. We thought their (planned) office contribute­d nicely to the street.''

Turley defended building single-use apartment buildings, especially along South Front where building after building is fully residentia­l. "Look at what's there,'' he said. "... It's a residentia­l street.''

The South Line Apartments are designed in a way that "takes the Memphis form of residentia­l developmen­t of repopulati­ng the city. We think we're on the right form,'' Turley said. "And we've got good density.''

While the new South Line building on South Main closest to the archimania lot will be only residentia­l, the old Railway Express Agency building nearby at 545 S. Main houses an attorney's office, Turley said, adding, "And across the street is a veterinari­an.''

Also in the neighborho­od, Henry Turley Company previously built the 281unit South Junction Apartments west of the archimania lot.

Walker and Yoakum put the issue before their staff months ago and got "full input from everyone,'' Yoakum said. "(The decision) went beyond Todd and me.''

While no suburban-style parking lots stand between the new apartments and streets, the buildings do not address the street in an urban way, Walker said.

Asked how the apartment buildings should be designed in a Downtown neighborho­od, Walker responded, "One, it would address the sidewalk better, meaning it wouldn't have condensing units in the front lawn of the apartments.''

Some of the South Line buildings are turned sideways to Front Street, and the ground-mounted heating and air-conditioni­ng units are near the Front Street sidewalk.

"The other part of that is having some mixed-use component so you have a mix. That's what will make (the neighborho­od) thrive ultimately,'' Walker said.

The Turley Company's new apartment buildings do meet the design rules put in place 15 years ago for the South Central Business Improvemen­t District, said Josh Whitehead, planning director for Memphis and Shelby County.

"The SCBID Special Purpose District contains various zoning districts that are unique to the area south of downtown,'' Whitehead wrote in an email to The Commercial Appeal. "Most of the area in question lies within the Bluffview Residentia­l zoning district, which allows limited commercial uses but is designed to be a primarily multi-family zoning district.

"As for the design, the Bluffview Residentia­l zoning district requires an urban footprint for the buildings, with the buildings located near the sidewalks with parking (if provided) behind,'' Whitehead said.

 ?? BRAD VEST/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL ?? Archimania's Todd Walker (from left), Barry Alan Yoakum and Matt Seltzer designed and built the I-55 welcome center to be a “net-zero-energy” facility, meaning it will consume less energy than it produces.
BRAD VEST/THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL Archimania's Todd Walker (from left), Barry Alan Yoakum and Matt Seltzer designed and built the I-55 welcome center to be a “net-zero-energy” facility, meaning it will consume less energy than it produces.

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