MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis has seen the renaissance of multiple old buildings throughout the Bluff City — could the Sterick Building be next?
Standing at 29 stories, you can’t miss it in the Memphis skyline.
“When it was built it was the tallest building in the Mid-South,” said June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage,
The yellow-hued, Gothic-style tower on the corner of BB King and Madison once housed more than 2,000 workers, complete with a barber shop, bank and beauty parlor, even putting out a monthly pamphlet with the latest news of the place.
“I think it had it’s own fan club if you will early on because of its height because it stood out and they used to say it was one of the eight wonders of Tennessee,” West said.
For a time, nicknamed the Queen of the South, the stunning building was the first of its kind for the area.
But since the ’80s, the once regal building has been mothballed. Tenants left, and its structure is now weathered.
“It’s an obscenely large building right in the middle of downtown Memphis that is completely empty,” said Stephen McBay, who wrote an article for blog Barn Burner.
The paint is chipped, while at the bottom new, bright artwork has been added, but there are dreams it could once thrive like it used to.
“It’s probably the next big thing,” West said.
Memphis Heritage is non-profit that works to educate and save historic buildings in Memphis.
West visited the Sterick as a child. “My eye doctor was there, Dr. Myers was there.”
She’s aware of some of the hurdles the building needs to go through to get a facelift.
“The big issue is that the land is owned by one family and the building is owned by a different company,” she said. “It was a 99-year land lease when the building was built in the late ’20s and that time is not up yet.”
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the ’70s, the Sterick would qualify for federal historic tax credits if remodeled.
In the last few years Memphis seems to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts, with iconic spots once again coming alive.
Recently the City of Memphis announced the tallest building in the city, the now-vacant 100 North Main building, could once again have a tenant.
The Tennessee Brewery, the Wm. C. Ellis building, Central Station, the Chisca Hotel and of course, the old Sears Building — now Crosstown Concourse, it’s revitalization into an art gallery, restaurants, shops and apartments, garnering nation attention — have gotten attention from developers recently.
“It could be a mini vertical village, like that is if somebody had the initiative to do that,” West said of the Sterick.
Of course it comes with its share of hurdles possible problems, from modern HVAC to reports of asbestos.
“I’ve heard the ceiling heights are not as grand as some of the other major downtown buildings,” West said.
But again she compares it to what’s been done at Crosstown.
“Breaking through the walls and literally the floors to get light in and all that. There’s all sorts of possibilities for the Sterick. … I love the vintage feel of it and that fact that we were able to bring back this building because it is so memorable in the Memphis market.”
Sitting right next door to the Sterick is the just-opened Hotel Indigo. The spot was once a Holiday Inn in downtown in the early ’60s.
The 119-room hotel provides guests with a retro 1960s vibe. Some rooms even providing a birds-eye view into the Sterick Building — you can even see old dentist’s chairs inside.
“With the excitement that is going on in this part of downtown Memphis we’re really hoping that soon it will be one of the next buildings to be occupied and rehabbed,” said Patrick Jordan, general manager of Hotel Indigo.
He’s far from the only one.
McBay said he published his article about the Sterick Building “to just get people to talk about it again.”
He questions the status quo of the empty high-rise, saying for a city with character and a turbulent past.
“The skeletal structure that is the ‘Queen of Memphis’ should be seen as nothing more than a battle scar,” he said. “One we indeed have to live with, but one we can embrace.”
He said don’t need to keep it covered in plywood, and could very easily make it look somewhat more presentable and find a way to slowly start integrating it into the city.
It may be the next page in a building that’s experienced many chapters, with more to go.
A recent report from back in November in the Memphis Business Journal says the families owning the land the Sterick sits on have listed it for sale with a large real estate firm, hoping to find the right developer to ignite new energy into it.
That developer must be willing to pour the millions of dollars needed into it and get everyone on the same page.
“I have no doubt that it will be restored at some point,” West said.
WREG tried numerous times to get in contact with those who own the land and building but never heard back. We also tried a number of times to get input from the Memphis Downtown Commission but did not hear back.