Bocce has landed on South Main with a new court and an already-full tournament that are part of a larger plan to bring people and possibly new development to what was once an empty lot.
A bocce court was built last week diagonally across the square lot at Talbot and Main. The lot has been empty for years and has been mainly used as a green space for South Main dog owners. But the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) began working last year with the lot's owner, antique auto preservers Kisber Enterprises, to lease the property for the court.
"All we really hope to accomplish is having a good time and making an amenity for the neighborhood," said DMC President Paul Morris. "We want people to just come and enjoy South Main, one of the coolest neighborhoods anywhere."
The bocce court was born in the DMC-hosted South Main Design Challenge that sought new ideas and plans for seven vacant lots in the neighborhood. None of those plans were promised for implementation. But construction of the court was only going to cost around $1,000 and bocce had proven its popularity in a prior DMC tournament in the empty lot next to Earnestine & Hazel's, Morris said.
Play on the court will be kicked off with a tournament beginning Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and continuing on the next two Thursdays. Sign-up for the single-elimination tournament is already full with two-person teams with names like "Hibocce!" and "Boccee-lism."
But anyone can use the court to play. Bocce balls will be available to check out for free at South of Beale and The Green Beetle in exchange for a credit card or a driver's license.
The overall project is designed to "pre-vitalize" the lot. It's a method that has used food trucks and pop-up shops in some empty areas across Memphis to help people imagine what those places would be like if they were filled with shops, restaurants, and people. For example, the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team has used its MEMShop events to pre-vitalize Broad Avenue and Overton Square, and they'll soon be kicking off a MEMShop event in South Memphis.
"Just by way of getting people down [to the South Main lot] and interested in it, it sort of activates it in a non-traditional, commercial real estate kind of way," said Michael Carpenter, who worked on the bocce court project and owns Memphis advertising agency Loaded for Bear. "We figured that would in turn help develop it for something more permanent."
But before that, the hope for the court is to simply bring people and visibility to the neighborhood, said South of Beale owner and operating partner, Ed Cabigao.
"Public spaces like this will help strengthen the authentic identity of the South Main Arts District," Cabigao said. "The bocce ball court fits perfectly within South Main's vibe, and we're just happy that we get to be in such close proximity."
For more information, visit www.gosouthmain.org/bocce.