Memphis Revivals

Posted on November 25, 2014

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Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

By: Lees Romano

Memphis is known to be the home of many old and abandoned buildings, all in need of renovation in order for the city to thrive again. Many Memphians are working to revive these buildings in an effort to help the city itself. Currently, there are plans for one of the oldest and most prominent figures in the Memphis business sector to restore and transform the old Memphis Machinery and Supply Co. building. Plans to revive the building, which was a place that used to be home to a former premium liquor brand that disappeared with Prohibition, and restore the structure to its prominent role in the community, are underway. D. Canale & Co., a longtime Memphis food and beverage wholesaler, is investing around $5 million to develop Old Dominick, a spirits distillery and public tasting room at 301 S. Front St. Downtown, to its former glory. 

Old Dominick is expected to brew its first batch of spirits around this time next year with a product line including several whiskies, bourbon, multiple vodka lines, and whiskey-based liqueurs.

The name of the building is a nod to Dominick Canale, who founded D. Canale & Co. in 1866 after emigrating from Genoa, Italy. The company bottled its own selection of fine whiskies, a practice that ended with Prohibition. After Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch began seeking out food distributors with refrigerated storage units so their suds would remain cold; D. Canale was the company for the job.

Crews from Archer Custom Builders have been busy working on the nearly 100-year-old building, but the seeds for the project were planted two years ago. A New York-based investment banker suggested that the D. Canale president, Chris Canale, Dominick’s great great grandson, revive and sell the Old Dominick brand.

Old Dominick also represents the way that family-owned companies could once again occupy a brighter spot in the local business sector. As the company evolved over the years, it had begun to fade from the public spotlight. However, in 1999, D. Canale sold its food division to Sara Lee, and in 2010, the company sold its Anheuser-Busch distributorship to the Clarksville, a Tennessee-based Hand Family Beverage Co. The company went from having hundreds of local employees to around a dozen occupying an office space above the Huey’s Restaurant on Second Street Downtown.

D. Canale is seeking to tap into the growing demand for premium spirits. Due to the family’s decades of experience in distribution, the sales and marketing within the food and beverage industry, and an authentic up-from-the-bootstraps family story and history, the business will propel forward in the coming years.

The 54,000-square-foot Front Street location of Old Dominick, near Beale Street in the booming South Main Historic Arts District, provided a nearly perfect spot for a distillery and tasting room. After a few other deals fell through, the business explored the old warehouse in an area dripping with family history. Across the street at 324 S. Front St., Dominick’s uncle operated a wholesale liquor business. 

The building at 301 S. Front St. is built like a battleship and is laid out in three separate, distinct structures. On the southern end, Canale is planning a multipurpose area, including a spot highlighting the family’s rich history. In the middle area, there will be an entrance from Front Street and a tasting room and a bar that looks into the distilling area. The distilling area itself includes an almost two-story bank of windows letting in natural light. From a rooftop deck, visitors can per down into the tasting room and production area. On the northern end, Canale will place six 1,800-gallon fermenters.

Because Old Dominick is a distillery, Canale’s plans for operating a bar and restaurant at the location may have to wait or be leased to a second party due to state laws currently prohibiting distilleries from selling liquor by the drink. Once the Old Dominick is fully operational, it will join a growing list of projects reviving Memphis, projects that include the Chisca Hotel redevelopment and The Orpheum’s expansion.

The 300,000-square-foot Chisca Hotel at 272 South Main Street in the South Main Arts District is set to become the Chisca Apartments, a 160-unit complex with retail on the first floor. The Church of God in Christ sold an adjacent parking garage and the building to Main Street Apartment Partners LLC for $900,000 in 2012. A $20 million permit for construction was recently pulled by the partnership made of Terry Lynch, Gail Schledwitz, and Gary Prosterman.

Built in 1913, the Chisca Hotel was a large and imposing citadel that was never quite as ornate as the Peabody or Gayoso hotels; however, it did have a radio broadcasting booth on the mezzanine level from which Dewey Phillips ran his “Red, Hot, and Blue” program. It was on this program that Memphis first got a hint of what was to come when Phillips sent Elvis Presley’s first record over the airwaves and later conducted the singer’s first on-air interview.

The site, with windows boarded and a chain-link fence around its perimeter, has recently been undergoing $3 million worth of cleanup and readying for redevelopment.

Additionally, The Orpheum Theatre is in the midst of planning a $14 million expansion to the south of its home at the corner of Main and Beale Streets. A Permit for $10.2 million was recently filed with the Office of Construction Code Enforcement. The groundbreaking should take place in mid-March with the help of The Crump Firm Inc. and Grinder Taber & Grinder Inc.

Built in 1890 as the Grand Opera House, The Orpheum Theatre changed its name in 1907 when it became part of the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. The original structure burned to the ground in 1923 but was rebuilt and reopened in 1928. In the 1940s it was purchased by Malco and operated as a movie theater until 1977 when The Memphis Development Foundation purchased the venue and, after a $5 million renovation, The Orpheum as we currently know it opened in January 1984.

What is now the parking lot between the theater and an MLGW facility will become a 39,000-square-foot Orpheum Centre for the Performing Arts and Education, which will include a state-of-the-art 356-seat theater, a multi-use rehearsal hall, commercial kitchen, dressing rooms, and audio and visual equipment rooms. There will also be room for the non-profit’s office space as well as meeting areas available to the public.

The Centre will operate under the direction of The Memphis Development Foundation and will help The Orpheum to expand upon current outreach programs such as its Broadway 101 Masters Class, S.T.A.R. Council, and various summer camps, all serving over 70,000 students, teachers, and families annually.

Through these revitalizations, Memphians can look forward to not only the rebuilding of old structures, but to the building of a new and improved city with a familiar culture and feel to it.

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