Tom Shadyac unveils plans for Soulsville
April 07, 2017
The Commercial Appeal
A benevolent ex-Hollywood director with strong Memphis ties will turn a failed Soulsville grocery into Memphis Rox, a community center complete with climbing gym; cafe; juice bar; meditation, yoga and dance space; and an area for outdoor events.
The project will cost $2.5 million to $4 million. But otherwise, money is no object. Youths unable to pay can still get access by participating in mentoring or doing community volunteer work.
Application for a permit for partial demolition was to be pulled Friday. If all goes to schedule, Memphis Rox will open by Thanksgiving.
Tom Shadyac ("The Nutty Professor,'' "Liar, Liar,'' "Bruce Almighty" and "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'') is the driving force behind the 28,000-square-foot project to transform what was the bankrupt Town Center development into a safe place for recreation and mentoring youth.
The 7-year-old complex of brick buildings — across McLemore from Stax Museum of American Soul Music — included a speculative building at 879 E. McLemore to lure a much-needed grocery for Soulsville. But the development went bankrupt having never attracted a grocery.
Shadyac successfully bid $1.85 million on the property in August 2015 with the goal of helping revitalize the Soulsville neighborhood. On Friday, his nonprofit One Family unveiled phase one of its plans that have been in the works for 20 months.
Shadyac's One Family team, helped by LRK architects, Grinder Taber & Grinder construction and real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors, got involved in the neighborhood and identified recreation and safety as big needs in Soulsville. They determined the recreational climbing gym as a "perfect fit,'' according to a release from the organization.
Shadyac even coordinated with Street Ministries to introduce some Memphis youth to rock climbing by flying them to Boulder, Colorado, said Jeremy Turner, vice president of asset management with Commercial Advisors. The kids' enthusiastic response inspired Shadyac, Turner said.
"The experience for all was nothing short of life changing,'' states a release from the project team. "Finally, after sharing his vision with community residents and receiving their input, Shadyac gave the green light to the project.''
The Walltopia climbing gym will offer boulder and rope climbs.
Shadyac has three strong ties to Memphis. His late father was Richard Shadyac, chief executive of ALSAC, the fundraising arm for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Tom Shadyac's brother, Rick, is now the ALSAC chief executive. And Tom Shadyac has volunteered as an adjunct professor in storytelling at the University of Memphis.
More recently, he has been working with students at LeMoyne-Owen College in Soulsville, Turner said.
Initially in Soulsville, Shadyac wanted to find a way to connect his University of Memphis students with youth across the city. The idea for the gym blends Shadyac’s love of climbing with his passion for education.
Among those teaming with Shadyac on the project are architects Rob Norcross and Rebekah Francis of LRK, Bobi McBratney and Brett Grinder of Grinder, Taber & Grinder, and Turner of Commercial Advisors.
Norcross recalled, in a prepared statement, his first meeting with Shadyac and getting a better understanding of "the dark box of poverty, where kids in the neighborhood have a hard time seeing what their potential can be."
"Tom’s goal is to create venues to learn leadership, individual potential and to provide resources for building individual goals for advancement using unique individual talents,'' Norcross said.
“At first I did not understand the role of the climbing gym but as we began working on the project we have grown to understand how a ... climbing gym will build confidence, fitness and individual growth and confidence. This will be a unique place that all of Memphis will utilize and will have an opportunity to meet a diverse group of people,'' Norcross said.
Converting a building meant to be a grocery store into a climbing gym presents some challenges to Grinder, Taber & Grinder, Brett Grinder said in a prepared statement.
“The project has a unique challenge in removing and substantially raising the roof of an existing building to allow for the extended climbing wall heights that are planned for the space,'' Grinder said.
"This will require new structure and foundations to support the climbing zones as well as support the taller building area,'' he said.
Shadyac experienced an epiphany after receiving a serious head injury in a bike crash in 2007. He sold his Hollywood mansion and most other possessions to pursue what was for him a more meaningful, less materialistic life.