So nobody will open a restaurant at Beale Street Landing. That’s sad, because it’s such a beautiful spot on the river, with magnificent sunset and city views. It’s understandable though, because BSL has been cursed with problems since inception and now feels tainted despite its potential to transform the way we think about and use our waterfront.
The Commercial Appeal reported today the Riverfront Development Corporation is considering operating its own restaurant at BSL. Let’s stop and think about that before jumping headlong into another potential debacle. There have been two formal requests for proposals for a food and beverage operator for BSL. Both had tepid response from restauranteurs, and so far each deal has fallen through. The space is challenging. It is far off the beaten paths of Main and Beale, and has very limited parking. Some of the most innovative and successful restaurant professionals have passed on it. What makes the RDC think it is in a better position than them to operate something there?
I propose a solution taken from the pre-vitalization playbook. This method, branded by the Mayors Innovation Delivery Team as MemShop, has successfully helped breathe new life into challenging neighborhoods as diverse as Binghampton, Soulsville and Crosstown. Pre-vitalization tests new ideas and concepts before anyone makes large, risky capital investments. It is grassroots development that gets people thinking about places in a different way. I’m part of a team applying the model to the Tennessee Brewery building. For almost 60 years the building has sat vacant, but this spring we will bring it to life as a beer garden and community venue. We’ve already had developers asking questions about the space, as they watch us break the problem down into smaller pieces (think about it as a ground floor with a huge attic). I can’t wait to hear the conversation once everyone sees the space filling with people eating, drinking and wondering how this amazing structure has been here for so long empty.
So the RDC believes there is sufficient demand for a restaurant? Fine, I tend to agree. But let’s test that model first by letting food trucks come on site. Let them plug in so they don’t have to use generators; market it to downtowners, tourists and all Memphians; make it fun! Open up the inside of BSL, but maybe just sell beverages and let people hang out. The model could look a lot like the planned Truck Stop in Midtown, at least for a while. If it really takes, and BSL can demonstrate success, then the space becomes a much easier sell to local restauranteurs. And it could be a lot of fun in the meantime!