Memphis Police and Fire Consider Moving Offices 

Memphis is considering several departmental location changes that consultants say could save big money.

The Memphis Police Department (MPD) headquarters is "crowded and costly." The Memphis Division of Fire Services headquarters has a nice river view and is "not the highest and best use of the property." The two departments could cut costs for taxpayers by moving in together and sharing some back-office staffers. 

click to enlarge TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells

Those ideas come from the city's five-year strategic management plan published in January by the PFM Group consultants. The real estate ideas have come back into focus recently, as the Memphis City Council considers a deal to take over the Donnelly J. Hill State Office Building.

The building is worth about about $2.4 million, and the state would hand over its title to the city for the use of 400 parking spots in the Peabody Place garage for the next 15 years.

The city now has eight leases for office space around town. It pays about $3 million each year in rent to provide office space for about 460 employees. Real estate consultants have told councilmembers they could consolidate many of these offices into the Donnelly building on Civic Plaza, including the Memphis Housing Authority, Housing and Community Development, and Information Technology. 

But much of the conversation on the state building has at least touched on moving MPD. The department is now housed on three floors of the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex, more commonly known as 201 Poplar. MPD moved there in 1982 but quickly outgrew it. Complaints about space constraints have come from former police directors James Bolden and Larry Godwin and current director Toney Armstrong.     

"Honestly, I think we have outgrown 201 Poplar," Armstrong told councilmembers in budget discussions in 2012. "We have been able to grow at the uniform patrol level but not at the investigative level, simply because we don't have the space for it."

The cost to rent the currently cramped space is $1.4 million per year. That's way too high, according to the consultant's five-year plan. At the end of 2012, the average rate for Class A office space — the very best office space — in downtown Memphis was $16.75 per square foot, according to the city's consultants. Taxpayers are leasing the MPD space in 201 Poplar for about $17.70 per square foot. 

The fire department has largely been left out of the recent conversations about office moves and consolidation, but the PFM report said its Front Street location is "not ideal" and is in "what could be a prime location for development." 

The five-year plan said that Memphis police and fire should consolidate some of their office functions, and even communications, to save money. And, it said, sharing a physical location would help do just that.

But the Donnelley building wasn't on the table in January when the five-year plan was published. Instead, the plan said the city should renovate the old police headquarters at 128 Adams, which has been vacant for the past 30 years. 

The renovation price tag of about $30 million puts the project out of reach, the city's Chief Administrative Officer George Little has said in past budget discussions.

Consultants said the cost would be offset by eliminating rents in other places or could be paid from the sale of the fire department headquarters on Front Street. Or, the report, said 128 Adams could be sold to a private developer.

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