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Memphis in May lands first HQ

Memphis Business Journal

Andy Ashby, Staff writer
Date: Friday, November 25, 2011, 5:00am CST

Memphis in May International Festival Inc. now has a permanent home that will help it handle current operations and future growth.

The nonprofit organization bought a 14,600-square-foot building at 56 S. Front St. for $250,000 and plans to move into its new headquarters by spring 2012.

“We’ve been looking for a permanent office building for the organization since 2002,” James Holt, president and CEO of Memphis in May, says. “The board thought that as mature an organization as we are, we should have a permanent home. Memphis in May is linked to Downtown and we wanted to stay in the core business district.”

The three-story building with a full basement was once owned by Robert ‘Prince Mongo’ Hodges and served as Prince Mongo’s Planet, a nightclub and restaurant.

Memphis in May plans to use the first two floors for office space for its 14 full-time employees.

The third floor will be left as shell space for future expansion or use by another non-profit.

The basement will be used for storage and meeting space, as the organization has more than 1,000 volunteers working through various committees.

Memphis in May organizes the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphony.

“We are pleased to be creating a headquarters in an otherwise abandoned space,” Calvin Anderson, chair of the Memphis in May board, said. “Our board’s vision is that this purchase will immediately bring energy to a building and an area, thereby assisting in the vitality of Downtown. Our events in Tom Lee Park bring the largest number of people to the Downtown area and so it is appropriate that our first home be a part of the revitalization of Downtown.”

Memphis in May has operated in leased space for its 36 years of existence. It moved to its current 7,300-square-foot space at 88 Union Center in 2003.

Built in 1875, the organization’s new building shares a facade with two similar buildings at 60 S. Front and 62 S. Front.

The property was originally part of the historic Cotton Row, where merchants graded cotton. Each floor has 20-foot ceilings.

Local developer Joe Sinkovich, operating as Bull Bear & Banker LLC, had initially planned on turning the three buildings into The Grade Hotel. He changed the planned use to apartments, but the recession stalled those development plans.

Gary Garland, president of Garland Co. Real Estate, had been listing the three properties together for sale at $950,000 earlier in the year.

“Being able to afford to purchase Downtown building depended heavily on the willingness and support of a strong local owner who recognized the contribution of Memphis in May to the Downtown development,” Holt says.

Jeb Fields, vice president with Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Advisors, helped Memphis in May find and buy the building.

“It’s going to be an iconic location for an iconic Memphis institution,” he says. “Memphis in May will now have a front door that is theirs and that people can point to. From a purely real estate perspective, just taking those buildings and starting something there, it will be great for the city and clean up a part of the city which hasn’t looked so great.”

Joey Hagan, principal with Architecture Inc., is designing the project while Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. will handle construction.

First Tennessee Bank is providing construction financing.

Hagan has been involved with the building for five years working on the Grade Hotel project.

The Memphis Landmarks Commission has approved work on the facade.

"I think it is the best location in the city of Memphis for Memphis in May,” Hagan says. “It’s a high-profile organization and they’re renovating a historic building. It’s a great fit.” 

 

ALAN HOWELL | MBJ
Memphis in May International Festival officers Diane Hampton, Jim Holt and Mack Weaver across the street from property that will serve as the organization’s headquarters

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