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See Inside: Ballet Memphis' new Midtown home

Meagan Nichols
Memphis Business Journal

Over the past year, a prominent Overton Square corner has gone from a vacant hotel to an empty lot to the future home of Ballet Memphis.

Ballet Memphis purchased the property at the corner of Cooper Street and Madison Avenue in August 2015 for $4.23 million from NCE Realty and Capital Group LLC, according to the Shelby County Register of Deeds website.

Despite the fact that the former owners of the land had announced the vacant French Quarter Inn would be redeveloped into Hotel Overton, they approached Ballet Memphis about buying the parcel.

“They actually came to us at the last minute,” said Philip West, managing director and CAO for Ballet Memphis. “We were focused somewhere else, and they came to us and said, ‘Are you interested?’ They gave us 30 days.”

Currently, the company has a 21,000-square-foot facility at 7950 Trinity Road. Ballet Memphis plans to sell that building once the Midtown location is complete. But, Dorothy Gunther Pugh, CEO and founding artistic director for Ballet Memphis, said they would still have some sort of physical presence near their current Cordova building.

“I had long thought, we’ve got to get back into the city because we are sort of sidelined and hidden. We are in big box land,” Gunther Pugh said. “We are not in people walking together land. We love our families out there; we have made some fast and wonderful friends out there; so we will have some kind of presence out there, but we don’t need two large buildings.”

At 38,000 square feet, the new Overton Square building will be close to double the size of Ballet Memphis' current home. It will house staff offices, conference rooms, dance studios, a physical therapy room, a Pilates room, dressing rooms, a cafe and a double-decker costume room.

And, if the building appears exceptionally tall in some parts – it is. The large professional studio will have 45-foot ceilings to enable Ballet Memphis to practice some of its high-flying productions such as "Peter Pan."

With retractable seating that can accommodate 200 people, the facility will also have the ability to host smaller, informal shows, but the main stage shows will continue to be performed at Playhouse on the Square and the Orpheum theater.

Gunther Pugh and the rest of the Ballet Memphis team started to plan the relocation four years ago, and the Midtown location is on track to be finished next June. A grand opening is planned for next August.

Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. is the contractor on the project and archimania is the architect. A building permit valued at $12.6 million was filed for the development in April 2016.

The building was designed to be integrated into the local area, so there will be lots of windows and a few courtyards to make the space inviting.

“We want to have a way for people to feel welcome and not that this is something that they can’t relate to,” Gunther Pugh said. “We want to have a lot of entry level points — and I don’t mean physical, but mental and emotional — so that people will understand this is a place of joy and that we welcome them coming here.”