Heavy construction pounded on at a fevered pace to transform the sleek, shiny Memphis Pyramid into Bass Pro Shops. But over in the Pinch District — spitting distance from the Pyramid's storm of industry — things were quiet.
Westy's was opening for lunch. The red picnic tables in front of Red Fish were empty. The people who were outside on Main Street appeared to be locals. No outside visitors, it seemed, came calling for the vibe of the neighborhood. But there's a plan to change that.
Livable Memphis and community leaders plan to make the Pinch District the place to be, at least for one day, by holding a MEMFix event (the city's ongoing series of neighborhood revitalization festivals) there. On Saturday, April 11th, the Pinch will be filled with pop-up shops, the sounds of live music, and tons of people who haven't been to the Pinch in awhile.
Though the MEMFix event will transform the district for only one day, leaders hope it will leave a lasting impression and re-energerize a part of town adjacent to next year's hottest spot for new Memphis tourists.
"We want to put the Pinch back on the map," said John Paul Shaffer, program director for Livable Memphis.
Shaffer's group, local business owners, property owners, and neighborhood groups met last week to begin planning April's MEMFix in the Pinch.
Tanja Mitchell, past president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said she thinks a "little road striping, and a little paint, and some landscaping can go a long way." She's looking forward to the MEMFix event to spruce up the Pinch District, get it ready for the Bass Pro opening in May, and she hopes the event inspires some development in the area.
"We just hope Memphians notice the Pinch again," Mitchell said. "It's been dead there for awhile, but we're here and we're not going away. It's a unique part of Downtown, and there are a lot of businesses that are hanging on there and they have been for awhile."
The neighborhood took a hit in November when T.J. Mulligans owner Lee Adams announced he was going to close the bar. The Irish pub was a favorite of locals from Downtown and Mud Island, and it was a major magnet for outsiders to visit the Pinch.
But Adams told Memphis Business Journal at the time that he'll remodel the building and either lease it or build a new restaurant concept there himself. That concept would likely have an outdoor theme to attract customers visiting Bass Pro, he told MBJ.
Redevelopment plans have come and gone for the 23-acre Pinch District. Those plans have always been a secondary priority for city officials, behind the Pyramid redevelopment.
A new study of the area, published in 2013, said the Pinch was "too sparsely developed to feel like Downtown" but said the area has "good bones," which gives it potential for redevelopment.
The area has the potential to attract some spin-off energy from Bass Pro, the study said, but how much depends on what's there and how easy it is to get there.
Originally, the city wanted a single master developer for the area, but the plan fell through. Development now will likely happen through one-by-one deals with developers and individual property owners.
"The quality and speed with which these out-parcels are developed will have a profound impact on the spin-off energy provided by the reuse of the Pyramid," according to a 2013 Pinch development study.
That spin-off energy, too, will need to be conveniently funneled, and the study suggested a pleasant pedestrian connection from Bass Pro to the Pinch.
Overcoming these possible pitfalls and realizing the Pinch's potential is exactly the mission of April's MEMFix event.