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Closer to closure: Development group buys Hotel Chisca

Thu Nov 01, 2012 3:21 pm

ImagePhoto by Dave Dannell

The windows at the Hotel Chisca are boarded up and the Linden Avenue entrance marquee is rusting.

New owners of the historic Hotel Chisca say their bid to save the long-neglected Downtown landmark is halfway home.

A local investor group closed on a $900,000 purchase of the long-neglected hotel Friday from the Church of God in Christ.

The acquisition clears the first hurdle in a $20 million to $24 million redevelopment that's conditionally approved for $3 million in public incentives.

Plans call for the eight-story structure to be converted into 150 to 195 apartments and street-level retail including a tribute to its place in Memphis music history.

"We're halfway there," said development team member Terry Lynch. "We've been working on this 18 months, and about 18 months from now, we'll have people moving in."

"It's monumental. It really is."

Main Street Apartment Partners LLC, which also includes Gary Prosterman, J.W. Gibson, and Gail and Karl Schledwitz, has had a contract to buy the building for more than a year.

The Chisca, at South Main and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., was built in 1913 and has been owned by the Memphis-based church since 1972. It's historically significant for its age, architecture and rock-and-roll pedigree.

The mezzanine level in the 1950s housed WHBQ-AM radio station studios, where legendary disc jockey Dewey Phillips put Elvis Presley's music on the air for the first time. Phillips also conducted the first radio interview with Presley.

Lynch said owners plan to hold community meetings to explore ways of recognizing the music heritage, probably in early 2013.

Prosterman, president of Development Services Group, said the closing means project design can kick into high gear.

"Realistically, it will be early spring before we get going, hopefully early spring. It takes a while

to get the design complete and get everything out to bid," he said.

Bounds & Gillespie is lead architect, Looney Ricks Kiss is consulting architect and Tony Bologna is a historical consultant on the project.

Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said the Chisca's sale marked a milestone, although much work remains.

"That's very significant, because we've been working with the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) for years on having them either develop it themselves or transfer it to someone who would develop it. Crossing that milestone is very significant."

Downtown officials are happy to deal with local owners, rather than out-of-town leaders of COGIC, which had come under criticism for letting the building deteriorate.

Morris said the church deserves credit for its part in the deal.

"They were good citizens in the sense that they cooperated on this project. They sold it at a price they thought was a lot less than the building was worth."

Developers have said the project would cost about $20 million, including $17 million in private investment, if the 99-year-old original building is only redeveloped. Expanding the work to include a 1960s era motor court addition would push the total to $24 million, including $21 million private.

The City Council has committed $2 million to blight remediation on the project, and the Downtown Parking Authority would spend another $1 million to buy and renovate a parking garage that serves the site. The public incentives are contingent on various conditions being met, starting with property acquisition.

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