Commercial Appeal

Food 'Renaissance' Cooking On Highland Strip

One new restaurant opened this week and three more will soon serve food on the Highland Strip near the University of Memphis.

"Before the renaissance we had the same restaurants for 20 years,'' said Tk Buchanan of the University District. "Food has arrived in abundance.''

Those four new restaurants within Loeb Property's newly renovated Highland Strip are in addition to three restaurants that opened in recent months just a block north in the Highland Row development as well as the debut of a popular new fast-food restaurant a few blocks south of the Strip.

"The goal when you plan any community is to create opportunities to live, work and play as close to your home as humanly possible,'' said Buchanan, who is community liaison for the University District. "... That yields quality of life. When I have to leave this district for anything I act like it's killing me.''

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Five Things to Look Forward to in 2017

1. “Sun Records” premieres: What could be the most significant made-in-Memphis television series, about the rise of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records and the Memphis portion of the birth of rock 'n' roll story, premieres on CMT on Feb. 23. It will be followed by a couple of notable Memphis music anniversaries: the 60th birthday for Stax Records and the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.

2. Crosstown Concourse opening: In a period of big projects from Bass Pro Pyramid out to Shelby Farms Heart of the Park, I’m not sure anything is as interesting, unlikely or potentially impactful as Crosstown Concourse, the “vertical urban village” at the former Sears building on Cleveland. It throws out the welcome mat on May 13. Some, though, are already moving in.

3. ServiceMaster moves Downtown: When ServiceMaster announced early last year that it would relocate its corporate headquarters to the empty former Peabody Place mall in Downtown Memphis, work began at the site pretty much immediately. Though no exact date has been set, they’re expected to move in this year, and bring more than 1,000 new employees into the Downtown core.

4. Highland Strip reborn: There was a lot of construction and activity on Highland in 2016, but 2017 looks to be when the redevelopment University of Memphis district main drag is ready for its close-up, with new businesses (bar/music venue The Bluff, Insomnia Cookies, a new location of local restaurant Petra Cafe), more apartments and streetscaping in concert with ongoing development around the university.

5. The North, the South and the West: ServiceMaster is a big deal at the heart of Downtown, but 2017 is shaping up to be a potentially transformative year for wider Memphis Downtown, with the beginnings of a mammoth and long overdue redevelopment of the Pinch to the north, the continuation of a recent surge of activity around the South Main Arts District and the Civic Commons project transforming Downtown’s “Fourth Bluff” to the west.

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Petra Cafe coming to Highland Strip

The redeveloping Highland Strip is adding yet another restaurant, Petra Cafe.

Loeb Properties announced the Mediterranean restaurant will add a second Memphis location at 547 S. Highland. Petra Cafe now has a restaurant in Carrefour at Kirby Woods, 6641 Poplar.

At the Highland Strip, Petra Cafe will inhabit a 1,015-square-foot bay that is two doors down from Newby's pub bar. Construction is about to start and the restaurant should open by early next year, according to the landlord.

"They have a great reputation as a quality, longstanding Mediterranean restaurant,'' said Aaron Petree, vice president for brokerage at Loeb Properties.

"The appealing part is that they do a very heavy lunch business, which we'd like to see more of at the Highland Strip,'' Petree said.

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Memphis council committee OKs Highland Strip plan

A plan to boost development west of the University of Memphis campus received preliminary approval Tuesday from a City Council committee.

The Economic Development & Tourism Committee voted to endorse a plan to make the Highland Strip area a tax-increment financing (TIF) district, allowing a specially created corporation to collect additional property taxes for reinvestment into the district.

The resolution could receive final approval from the council Oct. 18.

The TIF district would capture an estimated $83.4 million over 20 years, 22.8 percent of which would be reinvested in the district by the Economic Development Growth Engine, according to a presentation to council last month. The rest of the money would go to the city and the county.

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Forget Big 12, Memphis may be in running for college cookies

There's about 90 of them in the U.S., including one on Cumberland Avenue in Knoxville, on Lamar in Oxford, on Cotton Mill in Starkville, on Chimes in Baton Rouge, on 11th in Birmingham, on University in Tuscaloosa, and on Hardy in Hattiesburg.

And now Insomnia Cookies has filed for a building permit that indicates possible plans to locate at 545 S. Highland on the Highland Strip.

That site cozies up to the University of Memphis just like those other Insomnia Cookies operate near the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Alabama and University of Southern Mississippi.

The Memphis space is next door to the venerable Newby's pub.

The 16-year-old Insomnia Cookies was founded by offering students at the University of Pennsylvania a warm, sweet guilty pleasure for their late-night study breaks.

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County commissioners look at Highland Street project

Plans for the Highland Strip Improvement Project were presented to the Shelby County Commission on Wednesday by officials with the University Neighborhood Development Corp. and University of Memphis President David Rudd.

The project, which will eventually need Memphis City Council and commission approval, would utilize TIF or tax-increment financing, and garner the city and county $64 million over 20 years, Mike Kenney, UNDC chairman told the commission’s economic development and tourism committee.

Commissioners were supportive of the TIF project, which funds the ongoing development through increases in property tax revenues.

The development, Rudd said, enhances the university and makes the area more walkable and safe for students.

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Highland Strip seeking aid to growth

Highland Strip boosters want to establish an economic development zone funded by property tax growth generated by the area's ongoing resurgence.

The University Neighborhood Development Corp. proposes to include 601 tax parcels on or near Highland between Poplar and Park in a University District-Highland Row tax increment-financing or TIF district.

A TIF district, which would require Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission approval, would divert a portion of increased city and county property taxes into improvements within the  district.

The Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County has scheduled an Aug. 17 public hearing on a proposed economic development plan supporting the University District-Highland Row TIF. EDGE published a public notice about the TIF this week and has a map available at its offices.

"We think we've got a compelling case, especially with the University of Memphis behind us and working in concert with the university and the surrounding neighborhoods," said development corporation president Mike Keeney.

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The Bluff to bring live music, restaurant to Highland Strip

"A new music venue and restaurant called The Bluff is coming to the rejuvenated Highland Strip.

Remodeling of the 5,952 square feet at 535 S. Highland should start within a month, landlord Loeb Properties announced Monday.

The Bluff will include two downstairs bars, a large stage and green room, a 1,300-square-foot mezzanine with an additional bar, outdoor patio seating next to the stage, and another patio facing Highland that offers an outdoor/indoor atmosphere. The Bluff will have entrances on Highland and in the rear closer to the renovated, back parking lot.

Among The Bluff owners are Hudson Chadwick, who owns Rafters Music and Food and The Corner Bar in Oxford, Mississippi.

"The venue will feature live music including country and rock-and-roll acts appealing to nearby University of Memphis students and Memphis residents alike while also offering a great place to watch sporting events on the multiple televisions and projectors,'' states a release by Loeb Properties."

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Giant 'Highland Strip' sign comes to district near U of M

Photo by Brad Vest / The Commercial Appeal

Photo by Brad Vest / The Commercial Appeal

"For anyone standing or driving by Highland Street at Walker Avenue, there should no longer be any mistaking what commercial district they're in. 

A sign proclaiming the "Highland Strip'' now stands in bright red letters that are 6 feet high, 77 feet long and mounted high on the rooftop of the tight row of commercial buildings long known as a hangout for University of Memphis students.

And for the record, the font is slightly modified copperplate gothic.

Loeb Properties had Frank Balton Sign Co. install the letters on Friday. Loeb owns the two buildings underneath -- Whatever smoke shop and another space available for lease -- as well as other buildings the company has purchased on the Strip and in the University District over the past two years.

Neon outlines the inside edge of the letters, poised to be illuminated at night."

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Highland Strip roars back with $350 million worth of projects in U of M area

"Those loud sounds coming from the Highland Strip last week included jackhammers, the beeping of heavy construction equipment and rushing traffic.

The roar of more and more Tigers — students from the nearby University of Memphis — should add to the cacophony.

The once distressed college district is fast re-emerging nail by nail, paint can by paint can.

More than $347 million in new construction and renovations will have occurred in the area between 2014 and 2018. That’s according to a list of 18 projects compiled by one of the new commercial developers there, Loeb Properties.

The total includes $204 million in public/private projects, mostly on campus, and $145 million in private construction just west of campus."

Great balls of fire! Public art adds to Highland Strip's transformation

"Fireball Alley is the latest — and perhaps crowning — proof that the University of Memphis is finally getting one of those vibrant, walking-friendly commercial districts that tend to border campuses where students live.

The same developer that transformed Overton Square with colorful murals and sculptures has just installed its first public art in the Highland Strip. There’s more to come, said Bob Loeb, president of Loeb Properties.

“It makes the place special,’’ Loeb said of what the new installation does for the alley between the buildings Loeb Properties now owns on the Highland Strip.
“It’s not just floodlights. It’s a way of adorning the space and saying ‘This is special.’ And so the patrons’ experience over there, it’s different.’’

Over the past year or so, Loeb Properties has acquired 65,000 square feet of buildings on Highland, 35,000 square feet north of the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and 30,000 square feet south of them.

In addition to renovating buildings and parking lots and installing landscaping, Loeb is adorning the district with public art. The first call was to Bob Loeb’s old friend, Dallas artist Taylor Boyd."

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