Improving Visibility 

Local music college plans to move downtown.

Downtown building to house music college.

Bianca Phillips

Downtown building to house music college.

Located on Huff N Puff Road in Lakeland since 2000, Visible School Music and Worship Arts College hasn't been all that, well, visible.

But that may change soon with the college's planned move into Francis Gassner's C&I Bank building, most recently the downtown Bank of America branch, at 200 Madison. Last week, the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, the building's owner, announced a pending contract with Visible School.

"Visible School is a much better fit for downtown, where we've got the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Blues Foundation, and the Music Commission," said John Moore, president of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce. "You also have music venues downtown and recording studios. Rarely do things line up so nicely."

Visible School president Ken Steorts wants to bring students closer to heart of the Memphis music scene.

"The reason we've been out in Lakeland is because we had a free building, but we've always been an urban-oriented school. Our goal is to connect the industry and the church together, but we have to drive 50 miles round-trip to Grammy meetings downtown," Steorts said.

Offering three-year bachelors degrees in music, music business, and music production, Visible School is the only such program in the region. It attracts nearly 100 students each year from about 40 states.

The Chamber Foundation purchased the building in 2004 with plans to move the chamber's offices into the downtown structure. But those plans were derailed by unanticipated renovation costs.

"The cost of materials continued to rise, and there were some maintenance issues with the building that were not detected earlier," Moore said. "By September 2005, we realized it wouldn't make sense to continue to pursue money to invest in that building. Ever since that time, we've been trying to sell it."

The building, which boasts an angled glass atrium, was built in 1974 for C&I Bank. Designed by Francis Gassner, the building was recognized in 1979 by the Museum of Modern Art as one of 400 buildings that "have had a significant influence in recent directions of architecture."

Visible School is expected to close on the building by the end of October, and if all goes as planned, they hope to relocate to the building by next summer. This week, the school will make a temporary move to Lifelink Church in Cooper-Young.

Students already are moving into new dorm space at the Madison 19 condominiums. Previously, the students were housed at a Days Inn in Lakeland.

"We'll have young people learning their trade downtown, and hopefully, they'll apply that trade in Memphis and stay here," Moore said. "And since [Visible School] will house students in the urban core, that will bring more people downtown to live and spend their money on food, retail, and parking. It's a win-win all the way around."

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