Downtown Memphis sparked and boomed over the past 14 years, according to a new report from the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), and more fireworks are on the way.
Downtown's population grew more than any place in Shelby County from 2000 to now, the report said. The area is unmatched in the region for work and play, and it does all this in six square miles, only two percent of the county's entire landmass.
Downtown fell on hard times after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. in 1968. Businesses were boarded up, and residents raced to the suburbs. Signs of life returned in the 1980s; Beale Street was reopened, and some urban pioneers moved onto South Main. Progress was slow throughout the 1990s, but momentum mounted, the boom began, and that's good news for the entire city, said DMC President Paul Morris.
"I really, truly believe that [the growth of] Downtown is one of the most efficient and effective ways to save our city," Morris said. "I know that sounds like I'm exaggerating, but we strongly need new citizens in Memphis. And we need to retain the talent and the people that we have here now. Downtown is performing in that regard."
And Downtown's fireworks show isn't over. The report says $294 million worth of new attractions have either just opened Downtown or are on the way. That list includes Bass Pro Shops, Beale Street Landing, and the Main Street to Main Street bike and pedestrian path.
But a "tremendous amount of challenges" remain for Downtown, Morris said.
"This report shows a lot of the successes, but [the DMC] spends 99 percent of our time focused on the problems," he said. "That's our purpose, to solve the problems, not just to celebrate the successes."
Many blighted properties pock the city's sprawling Downtown landscape. The DMC is trying to increase the cost of holding blighted property and decrease the cost of redevelopment.
Downtown also shows a weak demand for office space, mainly because of competition from suburban office centers. Some of the vacant space Downtown has been successfully converted to residences, Morris said. But the Downtown market is also seeing organic growth from existing companies.