St. Jude CEO Dr. James Downing details ‘bold undertaking’

(courtesy of the Memphis Business Journal)

Putting together a strategic plan for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is no easy feat.

The research hospital’s ever-growing Memphis campus, global aspirations, and pursuit of serious pediatric health conditions — beyond cancer — equals genome-level complexity.

Over an 18-month planning period, more than 200 St. Jude staff members worked on the 2022-27 strategic plan announced Tuesday, April 27.

Over the summer of 2019, Dr. James Downing, president and CEO of St. Jude, put together 10 task forces of about 10-15 members each to focus in on the biggest problems and challenges in pediatric catastrophic diseases.

Reports to St. Jude leadership followed along with higher-level meetings with the St. Jude Board of Governors. Those continued into early 2020, paused for three months, then resumed as St. Jude got a handle on campus safety in the COVID-era.

The genesis of the new $11.5 billion strategic plan set to launch in July 2021 came about from that collaborative process.

“It is a very ambitious plan, a very bold undertaking, one that will take all hands on deck for us to accomplish. But, we are convinced that we are approaching challenges that no other institution can approach.” Downing said.

Memphis Business Journal connected with Downing and Dr. Charles Roberts, EVP and director of the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center, for their insights on some facets of the far-reaching expansion plans.

The following Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.

MBJ: The plan involves 70 new faculty members. How do you approach bringing that talent here to make this expansion possible?

Dr. James DowningWe get them on campus [to] see what’s going on in this institution, see the strategic plan, and see the vision of moving forward. And, we get them to think about what’s possible, what can they do here that they can’t do at Harvard, at Stanford, and at other great institutions across the United States or in Europe. We’re not 100% successful, but we’re pretty good at getting people to change the course of their career and come join this mission that we have here at St. Jude.



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Dr. Charles Roberts: The resources that are available — the intellectual resources, the financial resources — that is unique and the vision coupled with it. I picked up and moved here [from Harvard] and have not for one moment ever second-guessed my decision. And so, what I see now is a strategic plan that [will] become a hub for collaboration and innovation. A strategic plan that’s 50% larger than the one that got me here five years ago. It’s incredibly exciting.

What will the $3.7 billion in the strategic plan do for all the programs focused specifically on pediatric cancer?

Roberts: The $3.7 billion is focused on kids who have the worst survival rates. A major faculty recruiting effort of 10 new laboratory-based faculty dedicated to childhood cancers, plus all the people that will staff those laboratories. And, [we will be] using the information that comes out of them to accelerate our preclinical and clinical testing of new therapeutic agents that are coming out of our research laboratories.

One example is we have a new initiative in what we call translational immunology and immunotherapy using cellular immunotherapy, so the body’s own immune cells to attack cancer. We’ve now developed a leading program and already have success in leukemias and are now deploying that to attempt to improve cure rates for solid tumors and brain tumors. And then, we take these advances and bring them into clinical trials.

Across the strategic plan, we’re going to be increasing by 30% the number of children who are enrolled in our clinical trials. And so, from laboratory science to translational science to clinical sciences to survivorship, this $3.7 billion has the potential to underwrite major advances in the field.

One billion dollars is earmarked toward research and treatment for sickle cell and other diseases beyond cancer. How can St. Jude move care forward in those areas?

Downing: It’s focused on moving forward gene therapy and gene editing approaches as curative approaches for those diseases. It’s building the infrastructure for the fundamental science to move that forward, and the infrastructure required for moving those kinds of approaches into clinical trials. It’s also providing increased support for the patients and their families. These are chronic diseases that they will have throughout their life.

As we look at COVID-19, we see a new opportunity and we see that St. Jude can contribute to better prepare the world for that next pandemic by developing the research infrastructure to look at the infectious diseases of childhood. As part of this plan, there’s a new center for pediatric infectious disease research and investment of 10 new faculty members and a buildout of a floor in the Advanced Research Center that we’re going to be occupying in about six weeks.

What does this latest expansion mean for the Pinch District and the City of Memphis?

Downing: The expansion is important for Memphis. It’s 1,400 new jobs. And these are, by and large, highly trained individuals coming into the City of Memphis. Many come from outside the city and many from outside the country. That’s an infusion of new, highly trained individuals coming to live in our community. The construction of the new outpatient building, clinical office building, scientific and administrative office building, the new housing project, and the completion of the Advanced Research Center, all of that is new construction, new dollars into the Memphis community, and changing the look of the Pinch District. I hope the investments in the commercial areas of the district continue and accelerate and develop a vibrant neighborhood for St. Jude.

You talk about accelerating progress. How far and wide can St. Jude go beyond this latest expansion?

Downing: Is there a size limit to St. Jude? I think it’s a good question. I don’t know if there’s an ultimate size limit. But over a period of time, there is a limit to how fast an organization can grow. We were at a rate that we felt we could manage, but we were pushing the envelope. This plan is exactly in the same position. We’re at a rate we think we can manage, but we’re at the limit of what we probably can manage. We’re within that limit, but not pushing beyond it. We think we can accomplish what we’re laying out over this next six years.

South Point Grocery Store Headed to South Main

Fresh foods will be the focal point of a new grocery store planned for Downtown Memphis.

Castle Retail Group, parent company of Cash Saver and High Point Grocery stores, will bring a new store to South Main at 136 Webster sometime this year. The store, to be called South Point Grocery, is sandwiched between Central Station on the west and the U.S. Postal Service facility on the east.

Tom Archer, owner and president of Archer Custom Builders, bought the building in 2017 with visions to bring a grocery store to Downtown Memphis. The store will be small — with a sales floor of about 8,000 square feet — compared to other stores. Its size and the neighborhood pushed the focus on fresh foods, said Rick James, owner and CEO of Castle Retail Group.

“We know in a space of this size, we’re not going to have 48-roll toilet paper; it just won’t work,” James said. “But we can handle high-end, fresh produce, deli, bakery, and a butcher shop. Quality and freshness would be two of the key words.”

We can handle high-end, fresh produce, deli, bakery, and a butcher shop. Quality and freshness would be two of the key words.

Rick James, owner and CEO Castle Retail Group

Another grocery store has been on the Downtown to-do list for more than a decade, as some have said Miss Cordelia’s feels far away and disconnected from Downtown’s Central Business District. For years, Downtowners have have told surveyors that another grocery store is a missing gap for the neighborhood. James said many now drive five miles to Midtown stores, like Cash Saver or Kroger, to stores in West Memphis, Arkansas, or to big-box stores like Costco on Germantown Parkway.

James and Archer said South Point Grocery makes sense now with Downtown’s new population density. Nearly 26,000 people lived Downtown last year, according to the latest numbers from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), up slightly from the nearly 25,000 people who lived there in 2010.  DMC data says nearly 88,000 occupy Downtown during the day.

“We’ve been down here all these years and South Main has been kind of on the edge of busting wide open,” said Archer, whose company is headquartered on South Main. “We wanted to get ahead of that but it beat us. It’s been crazy down here the last couple of years. So, this is perfect timing.”

South Point Grocery was, in part, inspired by Castle’s success at High Point Grocery. James said before buying the beloved community grocery store, his company had not really done a small-format store. Without it, “we wouldn’t have had the confidence that we can” run a smaller store Downtown. Archer said he’d been looking for a partner for his Downtown grocery building, saw James talking about High Point Grocery on the news, and walked away impressed when he went to see it for himself.

The building features a parking deck on the east side with plenty of public parking available on Webster. A covered patio with ceiling fans front the street, which James said will be used for dining and, perhaps, live music.

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What’s happening with some of Downtown Memphis’ most prominent blighted buildings?

Courtesy of the Commercial Appeal.

As the pandemic begins to wane and people look toward the return of normal life and an economic rebound, some long-vacant properties in Downtown Memphis could see action for the first time in a long time.

Over the past year, work has stalled on some projects around the city while others, like the redevelopment of the Joseph Oliver Building on Front Street, have plowed ahead.

Some of the buildings below were previously identified by the Downtown Memphis Commission as “game changers” — buildings whose redevelopment could make a big impact on the future of Downtown as a whole.

Here’s the current status of some of those properties.

107 South Main Street Memphis, TN 38103

107 S. Main St.

Preliminary internal cleanout and selective internal demolition have begun inside the building and crews could break ground at the site within the next 30 to 45 days, said Brett Roler, DMC vice president of development.

Architectural drawings are complete. The project is in permit review with Shelby County, Roler said Wednesday.

New York developer Tom Intrator previously said he wanted to turn the 30,000-square-foot building into ground-floor retail with office space on the upper floors. He received a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes incentive in 2019 to redevelop the 107 S. Main St. building, along with several other Downtown properties he owns.

The total project cost, when Intrator first brought the project to the DMC, was estimated at about $7 million. The developer received a 15-year PILOT incentive to help fund the project.

18 South Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103

18 S. Main St.

Also owned by Intrator, the 23,500-square-foot property at 18 S. Main is another that could see some action soon.

Roler said the architect for the project, Designshop, was working on final construction documents for the refurbishment of the building.

Intrator received a $200,000 grant and a 13.5-year PILOT incentive from the Downtown Memphis Commission to help pay for the renovation of the vacant building into a mixed-use building with ground-floor and basement commercial space and office space on the upper floors.

The overhaul is expected to be a total investment of about $4.7 million.

Joseph Oliver Building

The $23.3 million redevelopment of two connected buildings at 99 and 105 Front St. remains ongoing and could be finished by the end of 2021 or early 2022, Roler said.

A former cold storage warehouse, developer Billy Orgel is turning the site into an apartment building with more than 100 apartments and an underground parking garage.

The long-deserted, 162,000-plus square-foot facility was falling apart when Orgel bought it, and the previous owner had considered tearing it down. There were localized areas of collapse inside, the roof was leaking and bricks were falling off the exterior, necessitating the scaffolding that remains around the site.

Since then, the building structure has been stabilized and blight remediation work has finished. Construction crews at the site are actively working on the internal framing of the building.

Orgel received a $650,406 grant and a 20-year PILOT incentive to help fund the restoration.

46 North B.B. King Blvd. Memphis, TN, 38103

Dermon Building

Prior to the pandemic, owner Amit Patel had signaled his interest in converting the 10-story office building at 46 N. B.B. King Blvd. into a hotel. Roler said some internal demolition had been done and lead paint and asbestos had been removed from the site, but COVID-19 stopped work on the building.

Built in 1925 for the Dave Dermon Co., the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and has been vacant for about a decade. The lower floors of the building remain boarded up, and some of the upper-floor windows are broken.

However, the building is in a good location near other properties that have been redeveloped for hospitality uses, Roler said. Hotel Indigo sits on the other side of Court Avenue.

“It’s in that emerging corridor where you have some nice boutique hotels,” he said.

November 9, 2016 - Sterick Building.

Sterick Building

Just south of the Dermon Building, the Sterick Building at 8 N. Third St. has been the subject of many development rumors over the years, but as of now, property owners have not put forward any plans for redevelopment.

Roler said the DMC’s anti-blight lawyers were actively working with the building owners and tenants on possible ways forward for one of Downtown’s most iconic buildings, which has been vacant since the 1980s.

He said he was bullish there could be a future for the property, but it depended on how it is marketed to potential future developers.

The 351,000-square-foot building’s distinctive architecture makes it one of the most recognizable buildings in Memphis, something Roler said would be an advantage in marketing it.

“Different is a competitive advantage. We don’t look like ‘anyplace USA,’” he said. “We don’t look like Toledo or Nashville. We don’t look like Chicago.”

100 North Main has long been vacant.

100 North Main St.

The long-vacant Downtown skyscraper could be getting a new life soon. A Downtown Memphis Commission body will likely soon own Memphis’ tallest building and be marketing it to local and national developers trying to entice someone to redevelop a whole city block in the heart of Downtown.

The Downtown Mobility Authority will buy the property bounded by Adams Avenue, Second Street, Jefferson Avenue and Main Street. It includes a four-story garage, a surface parking lot and a small dog park, in addition to the 37-story tower.

The DMA will own the property and will put out a request for proposals. Ultimately, the ownership of the building will be transferred to a developer — if someone chooses to redevelop the site — but the DMA will retain ownership of any future parking developed on the site.

147 Jefferson Ave. in Downtown Memphis

147 Jefferson Ave.

The Jefferson Plaza building sold to a Texas-based company for $2.8 million in March. City Center Services Inc. sold the building to Houston company Trident Capital of America LLC.

The more than 100,000-square-foot building at the corner of Jefferson and Second Street was built in the 1950s and has been vacant for more than a decade. There were plans to redevelop the property in 2012 and an adjacent parking garage was demolished. However, the redevelopment plans later stalled.

Trident has not indicated any future plans for the site since the purchase went through.

Nylon Net building

Demolition of the long-vacant building at 7 Vance began in March. However, the development and architectural team have some more work to do before construction can begin.

At a meeting on Wednesday, members of the Design Review Board said they were unimpressed with the exterior design of the building, saying it would fit in in Cordova, but not in Downtown Memphis. The board decided to table the application and asked the architect to make some changes to the building design.

Co-developers Chance Carlisle and James Maclin are looking to rebuild on the site, paying homage to the former building on the outside, including the smokestack, and creating luxury apartments inside. They plan to use some brick reclaimed from the old site in the exterior of the new building.

Developers are preparing to tear down the historic Nylon Net building at 7 Vance Avenue downtown to build an apartment complex. However, preservationists have said the building is part of the fabric of downtown and it should be renovated, not razed.

Current plans call for more than 200 apartment units, about 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and a 246-space parking garage below the apartments. Construction will begin by the summer and is expected to last 22 to 25 months, developers have said.

The total project cost is expected to be about $52 million.

Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development, soccer and COVID-19’s impact on hospitals for the Commercial Appeal. She can be reached via email at or at 901-297-3245.

Downtown Memphis Offers Plenty of Romantic Date Options

Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, is an eclectic area that allows couples with diverse preferences to plan exciting dates. Outdoor lovers can enjoy the area’s many parks while music fans can find live blues playing on the famous Beale Street. Restaurants in downtown Memphis serve up a wide variety of cuisine, and couples can satisfy their intellectual curiosity at the area’s art and history museums. No matter how many times they’ve visited, couples can always expect something new in the bustling, yet laid-back, downtown Memphis.


Temporary Downtown Gallery Features Regional Artists

The pandemic has dealt a blow to artists, but the creatives, undaunted, are fighting back.

For the next several months, the space at 55 South Main will be the home of 2021 Projects, a temporary gallery featuring the work of established and up-and-coming artists from the region. It’s part of the Downtown Memphis Commission’s (DMC) Open on Main initiative to energize and bring attention to available spaces.

Posted by: Jon W. Sparks with Memphis Flyer

Dr. Bean’s Coffee & Tea Emporium has a new home on South Main Street

Commercial Appeal. December 2, 2020. 

Dr. Bean’s Coffee and Tea Emporium has a new home.

On Nov. 25, the coffee shop moved from Puck Food Hall, which closes at the end of this month, to a space in retail store Stock & Belle at 387 S. Main St.

“It’s come full circle,” said Charles Billings, Dr. Bean’s head roaster and director of operations. “Stock & Belle and the 387 Pantry was the first place we sold our coffee.”

Alcenia’s restaurant celebrates 23 years of service

Local 24. November 7, 2020. Saturday, Alcenia’s restaurant celebrated 23 years of great southern hospitality and delicious soul food.  The restaurant hosted an outdoor community party on N. Main Street in Downtown Memphis.  Alcenia’s celebration included a limited menu of some of the most popular dishes.  Owner Betty Joyce Chester-Tamayo says that Alcenia’s wouldn’t be possible without love from the bluff city.