Monday, April 27, 2009

Downtown Memphis: A Ghost Town?



I came across a letter to the editor in the Commercial Appeal that proposed that Downtown Memphis is losing young people,and we all should start preparing for its demise.

Here is what Ryan Haskett from Collierville had to say:
"With its walls collapsing on its citizens, Memphis has to face the reality that it is becoming very unattractive. With the closing of Jillians and the conversion of Peabody Place to a luxury suite hotel, the Grizzlies getting little traffic, John Calipari's escape to Kentucky, Downtown Memphis is losing its value to young people.
What do young people have to do in Downtown anymore? A ballet at the Orpheum? We need to polish up the city and bring the life back to Downtown. Otherwise, the conglomerate of suburbs we are creating will trouble the city financially forever. The suburban restaurants and shopping centers will be busy, while Downtown Memphis will become a ghost town."

Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. I can't quite see how you equated the physical collapse of an old building to the collapse of the vibrant life in downtown. My first recommendation would be to sign up for the Center City Commission's Livin' It Up newsletter. You can subscribe for free here

You will be amazed at all of the fun stuff there is to do down here. Fun stuff that may not receive a mention in the Commercial Appeal.

I also live in the suburbs but find myself venturing downtown more often than I ever have. Going to the movies or bowling and eating at chain restaurants can only sustain a person for so long. Sameness is pervasive. So, I come down here and try something new.

There are 71 restaurants downtown and the best of these compares with the dining experience in any other major city in the country. However, there are no Chik-Fil-A’s or Olive Gardens.

It’s true the Grizzlies are struggling for attendance but this is not a reflection on our downtown. Most NBA cities have difficulty filling the seats when the team is losing. When the team puts a respectable product on the floor and starts winning, fans will return to those games. We are new to the major professional sports franchise game. It hasn’t been 10 years yet. I remember sold out playoff games not that long ago. Cleveland wasn’t selling out any games 7 years ago. Now, they sell more tickets than New York, Boston , and Los Angeles.


Calipari left, but there is a capable coach to follow him. Calipari wasn’t the primary reason that fans packed the Forum. We should be excited about being the school where the best young basketball mind -as most insiders agree- is getting his start. Pastner may eventually solidify himself as one of the next crop of legendary coaches. Someone has to fill the void that will soon be left by Coach K, Bobby Knight, and Boeheim. It shall be interesting to see. Unlike the Grizzlies, Tigers fans are not fair weather and will continue to support this team by coming to the games. I haven’t seen people wearing less Tiger gear than usual. People aren’t taking the stuff off their cars.

Jillian’s was vastly overrated. Did you ever eat there? The food was terrible even for a bar, and the service was worse. It wasn’t really a young person’s “hangout”. The Flying Saucer is a much better establishment and appeals to young and old.

What do young people have to do downtown, other than see a ballet at The Orpheum? What’s wrong with ballet? Do you feel the same way about the opera and the symphony? Who says young people don’t like these? Opera Memphis has a Young Friends of the Opera initiative designed to mobilize its young professional crowd.

I urge you to check the CCC newsletter for an expanded list of things to do downtown, but here are just a few that keep me coming.
The South Main Trolley Tour… so much fun. I love the feel of this event. I don’t get it from any other Memphis event. All ages will enjoy this. There are some interesting shops with original design garments down this corridor. It’s stuff you can’t buy in every other place across the United States.

Beale Street…always something going on. Even as a local, you have to take advantage of this ever so often. Last month after a concert at the New Daisy, I had a Dyer’s hamburger for the first time and… it was amazing. Ground Zero Blues Club-- It’s a street over on Lt. George W. Lee Ave., but it was also very tasty last week.

What about the Redbirds? I still know lots of people who come down to watch our pro baseball team. In fact, I’m headed there this Thursday for the game vs. the Iowa Cubs. I don’t even like baseball but hey it’s a rite of spring.
The Memphis in May Events -- Music Festival, BBQ Fest, Sunset Symphony—will draw thousands of Mid-Southerners downtown in the next few weeks.

The Civil Rights Museum, it’s been here for almost 20 years. You should see it if you haven’t. No excuses. I recommend it to all of the Broadway casts that come to Memphis. It’s surprising the number of Memphians who haven’t been to see and to learn about this era. It is forever tied to our city and continues to inform its relationships.

Finally, there is more that happens at The Orpheum than ballet!! There are shows geared to small children, tweens, teens, young professionals, parents, and seniors. Great shows like Legally Blonde and The Color Purple and concerts like Death Cab for Cutie and Celtic Woman have all graced the Orpheum stage this year, and the audience has been predominantly young!


Nearly 60,000 people will come downtown for the three week run of WICKED this summer. Far from a ghost town, that’s 20,000 more than the population of Collierville. Also this summer, The Orpheum’s Summer Movie Series will allow those of us born after 1975 to enjoy films like JAWS on the big screen, the way they were intended to be seen. The pre-school set can venture to Main and Beale to see Bob The Builder (fresh from fixing the Denny’s Wall) LIVE on the Orpheum stage in June.

You don't mention safety, but this is often brought up by those who refuse to take advantage of the city's amenities. I feel you touch on this when you say we need to "polish up the city". I don't feel any less safe here than I feel in my neighborhood community. The statistics show that downtown is the safest precinct in Memphis. If you stay in downtown's core, you should be fine. People are everywhere down here on nice weekend nights. The number of Memphians you will see out should allay any fears of dangerous encounters. Check the Downtown Safety Report

Downtown Memphis has plenty to offer. It is the most exciting entertainment area in our region, and it is the responsibility of the unacquainted to change their mindset through exploration.

Here's how Susanne Heartsill responded in letter to the Editor published today:
"As a Downtown resident and business owner, I respectfully disagree with the rather grouchy take on the Downtown scene expressed in an April 21 letter to the editor.

My husband and I are young people as well as the parents of two young people, and we enjoy our surroundings greatly. Sure, we have the same problems and blight any large city must endure, but brighten up -- Downtown Memphis is full of life and possibilities.

Sunday afternoon lunch at Tug's, walks at the river, fabulous ballet at the Orpheum, beautiful and historic architecture, the Victorian Village, churches, the Memphis Farmers Market on Saturdays, art, barbecue, you name it.

Looking for something edgier? How about any of the fantastic bars, restaurants, roof parties, bands or Beale Street? Downtown is the furthest thing from a ghost town. The letter writer doesn't know what he's missing if he isn't here. As for me and my family, we wouldn't live anywhere else."

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