Bull's Eye 

When it comes to big box retailers, Midtowners seem to have a love/hate relationship.

Ever since I moved to Memphis, there are two things I've heard Midtowners say over and over: They want a Target and they want better grocery shopping.

But at the same time, a big box retailer — and aren't they all these days? — with its sea of parking and megasize lots doesn't fit with the character of Midtown.

Now, though, there is a project on the books that may offer a little retail therapy for the relationship.

WSG Memphis has plans to build a 26-acre lifestyle center near Poplar and Cleveland. The project would include retail, restaurant, and residential space. And instead of acres of parking in the centers' front yard, the master plan positions stores close to the street.

"We're not doing a big-box suburban-type development," says WSG president and CEO Eric Sheppard. "We want to do more of an urban-type shopping center. It's not going to be big, boxy looking sites. It's going to be an area people can walk around. ... It will be very user friendly."

Sheppard, who developed a 15,000-square-foot shopping center on Winchester 10 years ago, said it took the company about four years to assemble the land needed for this project.

"In Midtown, there is a real demand for retail. There's a hole in the market," Sheppard says. "Part of why we're so interested in this particular site is because there are a lot of strip shopping centers on Poplar but not a lot of lifestyle centers."

Sheppard says WSG is trying to blend the charm of downtown with a more contemporary feel. In addition to the shops being right on the street, plans include small green areas inside the center to make it more conducive to walkers.

"A lot of developments are based around movie theaters. But people just go to the movies and come out," Sheppard says.

Though the company has met with Target, WSG also is in talks with two other national retailers that do not have stores in the Memphis market. Because of a confidentiality agreement, Sheppard cannot say who they are but says that they have locations in Atlanta.

Because of those two retailers, however, Sheppard and WSG will be refining and modifying their site plan within the next 45 days. If they get government approval, they should start construction by the end of this year.

Though it's known for upscale developments in Florida, this isn't the first time WSG has set its sites on a blighted area.

"Our whole mentality is being cutting-edge and being in areas that people have left vacant for a while. We did a project in Miami Beach where the value of the real estate went up 300 percent," Sheppard says. "By cleaning up multiple city blocks, re-energizing an area, and creating a new project ... people are going to be thrilled with it."

That area at Poplar and Cleveland — near a former furniture store turned children's dental office and vacant lots — couldn't get much worse. But new development in Midtown is always a thorny issue: As much redevelopment is necessary, Midtowners want to preserve the neighborhood's authenticity and creative energy.

Being ignored by national retailers and restaurants means fewer barriers of entry into the market, and makes it easier to open locally owned businesses. But even local owners need customers. If new development could lure shoppers to Midtown, it could benefit local owners, as well.

Heck, the proposed project could even create a spillover effect for retail in the nearby Sears Crosstown area, but maybe that's too much to ask.

And Target, if it happened, could work well. Within the last decade, Target has begun using the character of the surrounding community in designing some of its stores. In major metropolitan areas, there are multi-story Targets. A Napa Valley Target, with faux stonework and wooden eaves, was designed with a rustic Tuscan estate in mind. And Target has installed rooftop vegetation on several of its Chicago-area stores.

But the idea of two other national retailers — ones that are not currently in our region — is more exciting to me than a Target. I won't speculate (in print), but there are definitely some retailers currently in Atlanta that I'd love to see find a Memphis home.

This development sounds on target — whether Target is there or not.

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