Group hopes to show endangered Tennessee Brewery can be viable

By Thomas Bailey Jr.

Originally published 05:52 p.m., March 14, 2014
Updated 10:01 a.m., March 15, 2014

A group of business people and city planning experts will try to save historic Tennessee Brewery by demonstrating to prospective buyers the Downtown landmark can host a successful business.

The group has been given permission by the owner to create a temporary café, by day, and beer garden, by night, on weekends (Thursdays through Sundays) from April 24 to June 1, said Tommy Pacello.

He’s a member of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team. Other partners in the effort to save the 124-year-old building from the wrecking ball include businessman and County Commission candidate Taylor Berger, commercial real estate broker Andy Cates, and Doug Carpenter and Kerry Hayes of Doug Carpenter & Associates advertising and public relations firm, Pacello said.

The 90-foot-tall stone brewery, once the bottler of Goldcrest 51, has stood vacant for decades on the river bluff at 495 Tennessee.

The owners since 1999 have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in upkeep in hopes of selling it for redevelopment. But their commercial broker announced early this year the owners plan to soon have it demolished unless someone buys it.

The list price for the 65,000-square-foot building is $1.2 million. It sits on nine-tenths of an acre.

The idea behind the pop-up café/beer garden is to show that the entire building does not have to be renovated, at a cost that would run into many millions of dollars.

The group organizing the demonstration will a fraction of the space, including the 5,300-square-foot courtyard, Pacello said.

“Think about things in a different way,” he said. “Don’t think about the building as a massive thing I’ve got to redevelop all in one fell swoop. But instead, think incrementally. Shrink the problem down and do a little bit at a time.”

Tennessee Brewery LLC is the trust of the family that owns Memphis general contractor BHN Corp. It purchased the landmark and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in stabilizing it for future development.

Redevelopment projects that have been considered over the years have included a luxury hotel, arts-related building, and a mixed-use project of condominiums with a 14-story tower on adjacent land.

The brewery, vacant since 1953, was a century ago regarded as the South’s largest brewery and a significant Memphis employer.

Historians say the business was founded in 1885 by a group including John W. Schorr, who had been superintendent of the Excelsior Brewing Co. in St. Louis.

On Memphis’ river bluff, they tapped a well into the artesian reservoir beneath the city and used the pure water as the basis for brewing Columbian Extra Pale, Faultless, Erlanger and the most popular brand, Goldcrest.

But currently, an agent for the owners says they are considering demolishing the riverside landmark unless a savior steps forward with a viable redevelopment proposal.


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