Finalists announced for 100 N. Main

The Downtown Memphis Commission announced that six teams are still being considered to lead the redevelopment of 100 N. Main, Memphis’ tallest building and a symbol of investment potential for many.

DMC president Paul Young announced the six finalists Wednesday, Nov. 3 at the commission’s annual State of Downtown event, held virtually this year.

Of the 11 initial bids, the following six were chosen as finalists:

  • 100 North Main Development Partners. Primary: Kevin Woods
  • The Alexander Company. Primary: Joseph Alexander
  • Block Real Estate Services & Sunflower Development Group. Primary: Aaron Mesner
  • Carlisle Development Company, LLC. Primary: Chance Carlisle
  • Flaherty & Collins. Primary: David Flaherty
  • Russell Glen & Matthews Southwest. Primary: Terrence G. Maiden

The Rebirth of Memphis’ 100 N. Main – Courtesy of Architect Magazine

By Ben Schulman.  “Within a 5-minute walk of [100 N. Main], there’s $438 million of property value, 700 hotel rooms, and 1,200 residents,” says Brett Roler, the DMC’s vice president of planning and development. Roler helped orchestrate the DMC’s plan for the next phase of 100 N. Main’s life.

In June, the DMC issued an RFP for the disposition and redevelopment of not only 100 N. Main and its 579,000 square feet of space (429,000 of which is rentable) but also nine adjacent parcels totaling over two acres. The neighboring properties include four historic, late 19th-century buildings, a surface parking lot, and a pocket dog park. Taken together, the RFP offers the opportunity to remake a significant swath of downtown Memphis.

In 1963, developer Harry Bloomfield broke ground on 100 N. Main St. in Memphis, Tenn. Bloomfield was a prodigious real estate magnate who, like his contemporaries across America, was busy reshaping cityscapes with the introduction of new forms and ideas. In 1955, he led the development of Memphis’ Holiday Inn Towers, utilizing slip-form concrete construction for the first time in the world. Modernism was on the march, a mark of a city’s progress, and Bloomfield was Memphis’ messenger.

For 100 N. Main St., one of the city’s most visible locations in the heart of its downtown, Bloomfield employed architect Robert Lee Hall and his eponymous firm, Robert Lee Hall & Associates Architects, to articulate his vision. Hall was an adept interpreter of Modernist principles, able to express the emerging vernacular of the age in design and detail. Hall had designed the Mid-South Coliseum, an indoor arena that, after opening in Memphis in 1963, would soon play host to The Beatles, as well as projects such as the starkly vertical concrete-and-glass Anthony Wayne Bank Tower in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Memphis in the late 1950s and early 1960s was experiencing an economic boom as it maintained its status as an inland cotton and lumber exchange while accommodating a growing shift toward services. 100 N. Main was originally announced in 1962 as a 22-story development. Its ambition grew—first to 32, then to 37 stories. The skyscraper would open in 1965 as the tallest building in Memphis, as it remains to this day. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

Its intricate façade of precast concrete vertical fins is accented by white chip marble, and surprisingly, operable windows that provide depth to its otherwise smooth exterior. The building is supported on concrete pilings, allowing its reinforced concrete frame and floors to rise lightly, culminating with its space-age top that once contained a restaurant that rotated around completely every 90 minutes. “The Top of the 100” is actually 100 N. Main’s “38th floor.” When it opened, it offered views of the Mississippi River, the city of Memphis, and beyond, as well as the Japanese rock garden on the roof of the building’s 37th story.

A Building’s Death

Memphis today is more diverse than the average U.S. city: According to the most recent census data, 64% of the city is African American. Additionally, almost 21% of the population lives below the poverty line. For this reason, buildings like 100 N. Main hold the keys to the city’s upward trajectory in the next decade and beyond. A redevelopment project has the potential to serve a broad spectrum of the city, especially if it encourages MWBE participation and offers additional subsidies for those looking to start a business, as the city’s Crosstown Concourse project did.

Downtown Memphis did not experience the urban growth that was anticipated in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The shockwaves of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the city’s Lorraine Motel in 1968 spurred an exodus from downtown that decimated the area’s population and property values, the reverberations of which still echo in the city’s core today. Because of its proximity to city, county, and federal buildings, 100 N. Main continued to function for many years as a place for lawyers, doctors, and other professionals, even as maintenance on the property began to decline.

That decline was slow but steady. By 2012, approximately 30% of the building’s space was occupied. By 2015, that number was zero.

Until recently, New York-based Townhouse Management Company (TMC) owned the structure. The company announced various plans for the building’s redevelopment, including a mixed 200-residential-unit and 550-hotel-room conversion. The hotel was to be branded as a Loew’s property in anticipation of the $200 million renovation of the close-by Renasant Convention Center. However, Loew’s, citing additional development commitments in downtown Memphis, pulled out of any involvement in 100 N. Main’s redevelopment in early 2019.

TMC unsuccessfully sued Loew’s, attempting to get the company to honor its commitment to 100 N. Main. With no development plans or partners in place, and with the onset of the COVID pandemic, the building fell even further into disrepair. In March 2021, the Downtown Mobility Authority (DMA)—an affiliate of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), tasked with spurring investment in the city’s downtown—purchased the entire block on which the building sits for $12 million.

Life Again

“Within a 5-minute walk of [100 N. Main], there’s $438 million of property value, 700 hotel rooms, and 1,200 residents,” says Brett Roler, the DMC’s vice president of planning and development. Roler helped orchestrate the DMC’s plan for the next phase of 100 N. Main’s life.

In June, the DMC issued an RFP for the disposition and redevelopment of not only 100 N. Main and its 579,000 square feet of space (429,000 of which is rentable) but also nine adjacent parcels totaling over two acres. The neighboring properties include four historic, late 19th-century buildings, a surface parking lot, and a pocket dog park. Taken together, the RFP offers the opportunity to remake a significant swath of downtown Memphis.

Roler recognizes the monumental task that comes with redeveloping one of Memphis’ monuments. But he’s also keenly aware of Memphis’ ability to turn insurmountable projects into reimagined and revitalized places. “One of the things we believe at the DMC is that adaptive reuse and historic preservation is vital to creating neighborhoods that have authenticity and character,” he says. “And one doesn’t need to look far to see [adaptive reuse] projects like Sears Crosstown. We already do this.”

lready do this.” Sears Crosstown, which is now known as Crosstown Concourse, is located about three miles east of 100 N. Main. Locals often refer to the 1927-era Art Deco building as “The Chrysler Building tipped on its side.” All 1,500,000 square feet of the structure used to serve as a distribution and retail hub for Sears. By 1993, Sears had entirely left the building.

In 2010, a local arts organization, Crosstown Arts, was formed to realize visions around the redevelopment of the building, as well as build a hub for Memphis’ creative community. What began as a grassroots effort rooted in arts-led revitalization culminated in the successful rehabilitation of the building with its reopening in 2017. It is now an activated vertical village—with a mix of restaurants, retail, theaters, residences, offices, artist and gallery spaces, and even a community radio station—that sees upwards of 3,000 people walk through its doors every day.

“When you think about the project as a whole and what we needed to happen to realize it, it was crushingly overwhelming,” says Todd Richardson, the co-director of Crosstown Arts who led the redevelopment effort and currently leads the Crosstown Redevelopment Cooperative. “The only way to approach it was hour-by-hour and to break it down to its component parts, from curating tenants to financing to design—the 20 different things that all needed to line up,” he says.

Richardson, an art history professor by trade, highlights the project’s goal of achieving 25% MWBE participation on construction as an example of how its approach can be utilized on massive rehab projects. “What we ended up doing was breaking the project down to nine different projects,” he says, noting how the scale then became approachable. The Crosstown project ended up with 32% MWBE participation.

Roler, with the DMC, is already thinking about how the mix of uses for 100 N. Main can mirror the sort of activity now present in Crosstown. “One of the goals is to have an 18-hour vibrancy on the site—to have mixed-use where people are coming and going multiple times a day,” he says. “Maybe it’s a place to live and also a place to work. Maybe there are retail opportunities and also hospitality. But we need to bring in different types of people to the site as often as possible to create the street-level vibrancy that the site can really help us build.”

The City of Memphis is ready to help make the deal pencil out, including making a commitment—if it works with the developer’s vision—to lease out 60,000 square feet of office space as an anchor tenant, as well as providing an additional $10 million subsidy through its Accelerate Memphis program to “facilitate catalytic community projects.”

The Future Is Now

The DMC has been creative in publicizing the RFP for 100 N. Main’s redevelopment, touting a “Free Skyscraper!” in an op-ed and advertising campaign. Roler has led numerous parties on tours up the building. It’s an urban explorer’s dream to see the guts and, for now, faded glory of a prominent and imposing presence of architectural and urban might.

The DMC anticipates executing a developer agreement with the selected party by the end of 2021.

“Large skyscrapers get a bad rap,” says Leah Fox-Greenberg, the chief executive officer of Memphis Heritage, a preservation advocacy organization. “For Memphis, this was our show of being a formidable city. It is a formidable building because it showed our strength on a pattern of growth. You just weren’t a city until you had a 100 Main.”

Luckily for Memphis and 100 Main’s future development team, the city still has it.

100 N. Main revitalization project in the works

From a distance, the Memphis skyline is a picturesque sight.

Up close, however, its tallest building at 100 N. Main Street is a bit of an eyesore. The thirty-seven story structure has been vacant since 2015 and has quickly spiraled into a state of disrepair.

In late March, the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) stepped in to change that.

“If not us, then who?” said Brett Roler, DMC’s VP of Planning and Development.

DMC, along with their affiliate the Downtown Mobility Authority, purchased the property using the Pilot Extension Fund, which is a fund used to pay for public infrastructure.

It’s also a fund that requires city council, county commission, city mayor and county mayor approval.

WMC Action News 5 by Parker King

Touring 100 N. Main: Shattered glass, shell casings, law books and spectacular views

The Downtown Memphis Commission is to issue a request for proposals June 15, but is taking steps already to find a new developer and life for the city’s tallest building.

“We’re at 12,300 steps,” Brett Roler announced midmorning Sunday, May 30. Roler had glanced at his Fitbit as he, a reporter and photographer descended 100 North Main Building’s dark stairwell.

This is the fifth or sixth tour up the 38 floors that the commission’s vice president has led since April.

Developers. Architects. Engineers. Public officials. Roler will take anyone who can help breathe new life into the dark, vacant, ransacked and vandalized skyscraper is welcome to take the guided hike.

He plans more tours, and soon. Summer is approaching, and climbing up the powerless tower in the heat may be too dangerous.

“Wear sturdy shoes,” Roler advised, because of all the broken glass.

“Wear a mask,” he said, because of the dusty stairwell.

“Bring a flashlight,” he said, because light is limited in the powerless building.

“Bring a water bottle,” he said, because of the exertion.

The 10 high-speed elevators – the five express ones ascended 700 feet per minute in their day – are useless now.

But Roler’s leadership made the challenge surprisingly doable for a reporter who hasn’t strenuously exercised since the pandemic started 14 months earlier.

Roler often stopped the stairwell climb to explore an entire, deserted floor. On Sunday, the trio caught their breath by wandering through floors 14, 18, 21, 25, 28, 30, 34, 35, 36 and 37.

Roler’s sunny curiosity elevated the dimly lit tour. “Let’s see what’s in here,” he said before opening the door to floor 30. “There’s a surprise around every corner.”

But the urban trek began with an orienting stroll around the entire block, followed by a pre-amble up the parking garage’s spiraling ramp.

Someone mentioned the oddity of a kitchen blender sitting on the ramp. Roler responded, “That’s not the weirdest thing you’re going to see.”

Right he was.

The skyscraper was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a fine example of late International style architecture. But inside, the atmosphere created by darkness and massive evidence of misbehavior was more Gothic.

An unknowable number of humans have breached the tower since the last of the paying tenants left seven years ago.

The benign ones, perhaps, have been the urban explorers, who just wanted to be photographed illegally atop the city’s Mount Everest.

But the vandals have been ferocious.

Glass is their enemy, and they shattered a lot of it: Light fixtures; the small, square windows of every stairwell door; scores of exterior windows; glass partitions of desk cubicles; the plate glass separating the floor lobby from a law office’s reception desk.

The dining tables and chairs of the old Top of the 100 revolving, rooftop restaurant were hurled through the large, angled windows onto the gravel roof below.

Of all the wall-mounted, glass encasements for fire extinguishers on each floor, tour-takers on Sunday spotted only one that had not been shattered.

Graffiti marks much of the interior. From “Chance in yo pants” in the stairwell on floor 17 to “Don’t B A Democrat” on level 21.

Just as destructive have been the thieves of copper and other material of value. Gaping holes are punched through the sheetrock walls. Ceiling panels are torn away, and uncountable light fixtures dangle by their wires.

The stairwell’s concrete steps on the lower floors are consistently and mysteriously chipped in the middle of each step. Roler speculates that perhaps copper thieves damaged the stairs by dragging heavy objects down them.

The commission has taken a number of measures to secure the property since its Downtown Mobility Authority bought 100 North Main for $10.75 million earlier this year. But the preceding owners, including New York-based Townhouse Management, had allowed the building to sit vacant, deteriorate and be abused the past since 2014.

Roler had to unlock the outside gate and two more doors to get inside. Commission personnel monitor the fence twice daily for telltale damage and illegal entry.

But 100 North Main is so vast that the best way to secure the building is to populate it with tenants, Roler said.

Even the legal visitors left disturbing waste.

The Shelby County SWAT team has used the building for training. So on the floors are countless simulation cartridges, which have metal casings but paint instead of harmful bullets. And on numerous walls are posters with the target images of men with the kind of head scarfs that are perhaps worn by terrorists. Images of angry looking women pointing a gun are also used as targets.

A large knife lay ominously on one office floor.

Not that the skyscraper doesn’t shelter a ton of more benign, even humorous objects. Like the antique Battle Creek brand vibrating belt “fat shaker” in the massage room of the Tennessee Club on the penultimate floor.

The club’s space was of its time. At the rear of the dining area is a door marked, “Men’s Dining Room.”

Despite the daunting destruction, 100 North Main’s unrivaled views prevail over the darkness. By floor 30, the tour-takers could look down on the nearby Raymond James Tower.


<strong>Despite the daunting destruction, the unrivaled views from 100 North Main prevail.</strong>&nbsp;(Brad Vest/Special to the Daily Memphian)
Despite the daunting destruction, the unrivaled views from 100 North Main prevail. (Brad Vest/Special to the Daily Memphian)

If those south-facing offices were somehow turned into, say, apartments, the sight of the layered, gorgeous architecture of the Shrine Building, the Sterick Building, One Commerce Building and other towers would serve more like wall art as a window opening.

Coming with the purchase by the Downtown Mobility Authority was the entire, two-acre block on which the tower sits. Main, Adams, Second and Jefferson form the block. The property comprises the tower’s nine-level parking deck of about 400 spaces, an adjacent surface parking lot, and a row of historic buildings on Main built between 1890 and 1920.

The latest appraisal by CBRE counts 579,000 square feet of gross space, 429,000 of which is leasable, Roler said.

Despite all the interior destruction, Roler describes the property as “two acres of prime opportunity.”

“Within a five-minute walk of this there are 7.5 acres of surface parking lots … $428 million in property value, 1,200 people who live within a short walk, 713 hotel rooms,” he said.

Two blocks south is the newly renovated Renasant Convention Center. Two blocks west is the Mississippi River.

Left vacant, Roler said, “a building like this can harm the tax base and drive down property value. And it signals that disinvestment is OK, that we tolerate large vacant blight to go on. It discourages people from investing their hard-earned capital in our market.”

The request for proposals will ask questions about three areas, he said.

What is the developer’s experience in getting such projects completed and does the developer have the ability to attract capital and investors?

What is the developer’s vision for 100 North Main? The commission’s first goal is to save the tower. But if adaptive reuse is not proposed, what is the vision?

And what does the developer need to make the project a success? What public incentives, if any, are needed? And what would the developer pay for the property?

<strong>The 100 North Main Building is seen on a model of Downtown Memphis at the Downtown Memphis Commission offices on Sunday, May 30.</strong> (Brad Vest/Special to the Daily Memphian)
The 100 North Main Building is seen on a model of Downtown Memphis at the Downtown Memphis Commission offices on Sunday, May 30. (Brad Vest/Special to the Daily Memphian)

Downtown Development Round-Up

Courtesy Daily Memphian, by

Kris Shepherd started looking for something interesting to do after retiring as Varsity Spirit’s executive vice president of marketing and communications.

She found what she wanted after a friend of a friend mentioned that a 103-year-old building in the Edge District might be available to buy.

Shepherd made the off-the-market purchase of 413 Monroe – directly across Monroe from the new Rise Apartments – for $500,000 in early March, and goes before the Design Review Board on Wednesday, June 2, to seek approval for her plan to renovate the exterior.

Other designs to be reviewed by the board are: A new, five-story building at 386 S. Main that will fill an undeveloped lot with commercial space on the ground floor and 30 apartments above; lighting to accentuate the elaborate ornamentation of 99 S. Front’s front façade; and a covered patio dining area on the Main Street Mall at 135 S. Main for Bluefin Japanese restaurant.

<strong>Kris Shepherd plans to renovate the century-old warehouse at 413 Monroe, and find tenants for the commercial space below and an apartment above</strong>. (Tom Bailey/Daily Memphian)
Kris Shepherd plans to renovate the century-old warehouse at 413 Monroe, and find tenants for the commercial space below and an apartment above. (Tom Bailey/Daily Memphian)

“I wanted to take on a couple of projects in retirement and this was interesting to me, with everything happening in the Edge District,” Shepherd said of renovating the century-old warehouse with shopfront space on Monroe. “And I just wanted to be part of it.”

The long-described potential of the old industrial district between Downtown and the Medical District is being realized now at a fast pace. Historic renovations, new buildings, and even a new linear park – The Ravine – are either recently built, under construction or being planned.

Shepherd’s two-story, 8,000-square-foot building comprises several types of spaces: Shopfront street exposure with a large window and overhead door; deep warehouse space in back; and an 1,800-square-foot, loft-style apartment above.

Shepherd plans to renovate the building’s exterior, and also plans to renovate the apartment with a new kitchen, master bath and renovated flooring.

She will look for a tenant or tenants for all the spaces. The commercial space could house anything from a restaurant to photographer’s studio, and the warehouse is large enough to store 10 cars, she said.

She and her husband, Tim Newell, are not new to real estate.

“My husband and I renovated our own houses while we both had jobs,” Shepherd said. “Then my husband went into real estate. At one time he had about 300 houses. He was renovating and selling and renting houses. Now he’s sold all his houses and he’s retired and we’re both just enjoying retirement.”

Art will soon rise on The Ravine’s flour towers

The exterior renovation plan to be reviewed by the Design Review Board combines a previous owner’s never-executed design by CS Studio with updates by architect Charles Shipp, whom Shepherd hired.

“He really wants to keep the integrity of the neighborhood,” Shepherd said of Shipp. “I think one of his strengths is infill. When he does residential homes, it never looks like an addition.”

Agency supports, praises 3 adaptive-reuse Edge projects

The parts of the renovation plan that most excite Shepherd include keeping the storefront window; adding a metal awning in front, installing seven “beautiful large lanterns” on the long, masonry east wall, and renovating the upstairs apartment that will feature a “wonderful brick wall.”

Developer Billy Orgel has already received board approval for the renovation design of the historic 99-105 South Front buildings. But the project to fill the buildings with apartments returns to the Design Review Board for approval of the exterior lighting plan.

<strong>Architecturally enhanced lighting is proposed to showcase the decorative facade of 99 S. Front.</strong> (Tom Bailey/Daily Memphian)
Architecturally enhanced lighting is proposed to showcase the decorative facade of 99 S. Front. (Tom Bailey/Daily Memphian)

The elaborately ornate front of the buildings, especially 99 S. Front, not only benefits from functional lighting, but lighting that shows the fine detailing, the application indicates.

Orgel proposes to flank the front entrance with replicated historical lanterns and down-lighting over the door, but also install linear up-lighting at three places: Along the first floor, the fifth floor and below the engraved text on the cornice, the document states.

“The decorative face of 99 S. Front is the most visually striking portion of the 99-105 S. Front development, and the lighting package focuses its architectural lighting in this area,” the board staff report states.

“The proposed uplighting for 99 S. Front will highlight the distinct vertical divisions of the façade, as well as the historic engraved text at the cornice,” the staff report states. “The custom fixtures near the central entrance pay homage to the character of the building’s historic lights.”

At 386 S. Main, New York-based developer Tom Intrator plans to erect a five-story building with ground-floor commercial space and 30 apartments above. The lot is now undeveloped and considered a development “gap” for the South Main district.

The Design Review Board declined to approve the exterior design at its April 7 meeting. The board not only wanted the Memphis Landmarks Commission to first review the application, but also had questions about the building’s relatively large scale for its block of South Main and for how the building fit the adjoining 390 South Main building.

Since April 7, the Landmarks Commission has approved the plan and Intrator has made changes to the design.

The balconies facing South Main project out one yard instead of 48 inches.

Contrasting wood material has been eliminated from the balcony area.

Second-floor windows now align with the windows of 390 S. Main.

Contrasting siding material between windows has been removed so that the building blends better with nearby buildings.

Metal siding on the top three floors has been recessed from the bottom floors’ plane of bricks.

Cement masonry siding replaces cement fiber board on the second floor’s east side.

The height of the parapet facing Main has been lowered by a foot, and the parapet facing Mulberry on the backside is lowered by 42 inches.

The brick on the first and second floors facing Main will be a lighter shade. And the the cement fiber board siding on upper floors of the building’s sides and back will be a lighter shade, also.

And Bluefin restaurant at 135 S. Main will seek approval for the royal blue awning and installation of a frame so sturdily built that its life expectancy is 10 years.

Bluefin already has a Main St. Mall patio bordered by a black-metal fence. But with not covering, outdoor dining there is weather-dependent, the application document states.

Bluefin will join a growing number of Main St. Mall restaurants that offer covered, patio dining, including Majestic Grill, Blind Bear, Aldo’s Pizza, Local and S.A.G.E.

The Design Review Board will meet at 4 p.m.

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He’s worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.


Applications open for program to help Downtown retail businesses thrive

A new program is set to help retailers in downtown Memphis thrive in 2021.

Downtown Retail Rx is designed to help existing retailers emerge from economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Apply here.]

According to a release from Downtown Memphis, the program provides professional advice in one of four key focus areas: 1) exterior improvements & curb appeal, 2) interior design & merchandising, 3) small business management consulting, and 4) marketing & PR strategy. Following the consulting work, a small DMC grant may be available to start implementing the recommended changes.

Existing businesses are eligible to apply.

Businesses must be located in a ground-floor commercial space Downtown, the release said.

First priority will be given to businesses on Main Street, within a targeted retail node or within the Downtown Core.

Preference will be given to direct-to-consumer businesses, the release said.

Restaurants and service businesses could be considered if funding is available.

National chairs and franchisees are not eligible to apply.

Applications opened May 14. The program will launch in June with a goal of having the work completed by October, the release said.

Apply here.