Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Former Downtown Bank Building May Survive

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

It looks as if a bank across the street from AutoZone Park that was slated for demolition might be saved or at least will not come down without a fight.

The former C&I Bank Building, opened in 1972, has a distinctive atrium and sloping glass front side. It is on the north side of Madison across from the ballpark and next door to the long-abandoned Sterrick Building, the second-tallest building downtown.

Last week the Memphis Regional Chamber of Commerce, which owns the building, indicated it would be demolished and replaced with a parking lot. On Tuesday, however, John Moore, head of the chamber, said, "An interested party has a plan for the site and we are running the traps to see if we can meet their needs in a potential sale."

In a letter to architect Tony Bologna, Moore said he was previously ignorant of the building’s history "and the community’s love for it. This is valuable information and changes the perspective."

It is unclear how much "love" the community has for a building that cannot find an occupant. It was once proposed as the site of a minor-league baseball hall of fame -- an indication, perhaps, of its prospects. Moreover, the Sterrick Building and other neighbors on Madison are in the same empty boat. The vaunted downtown revival is largely confined to housing and entertainment, with commercial buildings not showing much sign of new life.

Bologna, who has designed downtown buildings and was a partner with Henry Turley in many successful downtown developments, said in his letter to Moore (copies of both letters were sent to this newspaper) that the former C&I Bank is a "one-of-a-kind design" by the late Memphis architect Francis Gassner. "The building stands as an icon among the city's most notable architectural creations," Bologna said. "The removal of this building will not in any way promote the redevelopment of the Sterrick Building. There are many serious obstacles to the redevelopment of the Sterrick Building but the need for additional parking is not one of them."

Gretchen Gassner Turley, daughter of Frances Gassner, wrote a letter to The Commercial Appeal about the building that was published Wednesday. She also urged that it be preserved.

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