Pinch District Keeps Historic Designation 

Decision deferred to remove downtown neighborhood's historic status.

The Pinch District won't lose its listing on the National Register of Historic Places any time soon.

In January, the Pinch was in the crosshairs of the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) to be removed from the register. The commission said the area had lost many of its buildings, and "has lost the significance for which it was listed and no longer retains integrity of location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, and feeling."

But the THC deferred a decision on the removal in January. In a letter to state Senator Lee Harris, E. Patrick McIntyre, executive director of THC and the State Historic Preservation Office, said "I have deferred consideration for the de-listing of the Pinch District indefinitely."

click to enlarge View of the Pyramid and Pinch District
  • View of the Pyramid and Pinch District

Harris said Pinch constituents asked him to get involved in the decision just as he was taking office in January. Since then, he said he's been in talks with the THC and planned public meetings on the topic.

"For now, that fire is out," Harris said in a Friday meeting with Pinch stakeholders.

But he warned that things could change if the THC gets new board members or a new executive director.

Listing on the National Register goes beyond words on a plaque. June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage, said Friday the degeneration allows building owners to leverage historic tax credits to renovate their properties.

"If it had been de-listed, each individual property owner would have had to nominate their building as an independent, self-standing building to be on the National Register," she said. "In some cases, some of the buildings probably would not be allowed to do that on their own because they may not have the significance that the National Register might require."

The news comes as Pinch neighbors and business owners prepare for the MEMFix event (the city's ongoing series of neighborhood revitalization festivals) happening there on Saturday, April 11th. Friday's MEMFix meeting at the Crowne Plaza Hotel brought together stakeholders and volunteers to get the Pinch ready for hundreds of visitors expected at the event.

John Paul Shaffer, Livable Memphis program director, looked down at the Pinch from an 11th story window in the hotel. He pointed to lots of vacant properties there but noted the many opportunities for development. From the window, it was hard not to notice the huge, silver Bass Pro Shops sign on the Pyramid and just how close it is to the Pinch.

"The thinking on the part of the Pinch stakeholders was to get out in front of Bass Pro," Shaffer said. "to bring attention to the Pinch to say, 'We're here. We've been here. We've been waiting for this for a long time. Now's our opportunity to show everyone where we are on the map'."

Many of the vacant lots in the Pinch got that way by lack of restrictions on surface parking lots when the Pyramid was built. So many buildings came down as property owners looked to cash in on Pyramid parkers.

In fact, the original nomination to the National Register was comprised of 41 buildings or sites in the Pinch. The figure was bumped up to 43 in 1990 in an administrative correction. But in the time of the Pyramid's construction and its closure, only 19 of the buildings remain in the Pinch.

"The expanse of vacant lots is distressing for what once was the cradle of the City of Memphis," the THC petition says.


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