Something’s happening at flex-industrial building on the northeast corner of Tillman Street and Broad Avenue, and it’s a lot more than the arcade bar Rec Room that opened there in April. The addition of a new 16,000 square foot fitness facility called The Box at 580 Tillman brings the total hybrid retail uses in the center to almost 30,000 square feet. Relevant Roasters, Rec Room and The Box together represent a new approach to repurposing the aging, largely abandoned industrial building stock so prevalent in Memphis.
The building at Tillman and Broad is really no good for modern industry. Even if the location worked for a logistics or distribution user, the low ceilings and small truck turnarounds limit its efficiency and capacity. But this is the kind of building that Memphis and other cities built in the 1960’s and 70’s, and they built a lot of them, sprinkled throughout what is now considered the urban core. Generally in places not ready for new residential building, it doesn’t make financial sense to bulldoze these places and start over. So we’re left with a challenge: what kind of businesses can operate and thrive in these places?
As evidenced by the Tillman development, we should see these places as fertile ground for business innovation. Rent is ultra-cheap and locations are generally convenient for those riding the wave of anti-suburban sprawl, whether with their staff or customers. It’s safe to say none of the businesses above could have located at any of the more established retail or office destinations of Memphis. But on Tillman each was able to lock down a relatively large amount of space at an affordable rate and get open.
That “getting open” thing is interesting here. Each of the businesses is taking a scaled approach, opening with the bare minimum and pivoting to add new infrastructure based on market feedback. Relevant Roasters opened with little more than a roaster and a restroom, but now has an office and cafe, complete with reclaimed wood walls and polished concrete floors. Rec Room opened on a shoestring budget without air-conditioning or a full bar. Since adding both, plus new games, lighting and art the business is adjusting to its success in real time, rather than risking it all at the beginning. The Box will operate similarly after it opens next month, beginning with basic equipment and classes and not even using its entire 16,000 square foot space.
As Memphis looks to revitalize its urban core it could learn from what’s happening at Tillman and Broad. Transitioning neighborhoods require imagination, but in return offer unparalleled opportunity for experimentation and creation.
Rec Room converted over 10,000 square feet of flex industrial space into an arcade bar with six 20′ screens to play video games on.