‘Devastating’ Development 

A new project leaves uncertain future for a Memphis institution.

The P&H Cafe has been a neighborhood staple in the heart of Midtown for almost 60 years, but now a neighboring infill development could limit access to the building, and the bar's owners worry that will hurt business.

click to enlarge P&H parking
  • P&H parking

On the large vacant lot to the east of the bar, where the BellSouth building once stood, developers 1544 Madison Partners want to build a gated 230-unit apartment complex spanning four buildings. Plans for the four-acre development call for parts of the public, one-way alley that runs behind the P&H to be closed and gated off.

Doing that would be "devastating" for the P&H, according to co-owners, Robert Fortner and Matthew Edwards. Many of the patrons who stop by the P&H during the course of an evening use that alley to reach the bar.

"Are we going to have to move?" Edwards said. "Or are we going to lose business or go out of business? You don't know what's going to happen."

Edwards also worries that on-street parking will become limited, while the bar's rear parking lot on Court will be "rendered useless" because it won't be as easily accessible with the rear alley closed.

To advance their cause, an online petition to "stop the closure of public access to the P&H Cafe" was recently launched, and as of press time, it had 1,683 supporters.

Despite the petition, hearing the concerns of Edwards and Fortner, and 11 other statements of opposition to the development last week, the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board approved the development and the alley closure with a 9-1 vote.

Opposition came from owners of the decades-old self-serve car wash to the east of the development site, the venue space at 1524 Madison to the west, and Cotton Row Recording Studio on the opposite side of the street. They worried the complex could negatively impact garbage pickup and fire department access, as well as on-street parking availability and traffic flow on Madison.

But, Adam Slovis with 1544 Madison Partners insists that the group has been working with surrounding business owners and residents to "make this opportunity work well for everyone."

"As an example, after many conversations and input, we made various changes to make sure and not close any alley or street sections that run adjacent to any properties other than our own," Slovis said. "The overall development idea here is to take the vacant lots and houses that are a part of the development site and bring back the vibrancy and activity that hasn't been seen here since the BellSouth building was torn down."

He said this will "create new customers and an energy for the area's neighborhood businesses" and "spur other positive development for the area."

Before the developers can move forward with the project, the Memphis City Council must approve the plans. Meanwhile, Edwards said he and Fortner will "continue to look for solutions" to allay their concerns and keep their business alive.

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