New life coming for abandoned downtown riverfront building

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A downtown building along the river has been abandoned in recent years after once housing the Pier Restaurant, and it almost had to be demolished due to disrepair.

The prominent building on Front Street near Union Avenue has had scaffolding for nearly two years, though it’s been empty much longer than that. The Downtown Memphis Commission announced new plans for a face-lift this week.

“It's been nothing but a lot of homeless people in and out, plus rats and animals, so it made it hard for you to want to walk past the building," said Lugene Bishop of Picture Perfect Haircuts.

Bishop takes pride in his work; trimming the perfect edges for his customers. Unfortunately, he can’t say the same for his next door neighbors, where scaffolding covers the buildings at 99 and 105 South Front Street.

In fact, officials said the former owners had to put up scaffolding just to protect pedestrians from falling debris. Owners have used a tarp to cover it.

The Downtown Memphis Commission awarded developers tax breaks for the next 20 years to convince them to spend $23 million on renovations.

“It’s 112 units of apartments, has two commercial spaces on Front Street, as well as parking underneath the building," Jennifer Oswalt, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission, said. "Without the abatement, the project wouldn’t have gone forward because it was too expensive."

Oswalt said Memphis and Shelby County currently make about $30,000 per year in taxes on the building, and that would increase to more than $100,000 per year with the redevelopment.

That buzz is also reaching Bishop at the barbershop.

“It would be good to have more business; probably get some more people to open up around here, too," he said.

Officials said construction will start early next year.

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