By 2014, 900 state employees in Memphis could be searching for new locales to go to lunch.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who paid a visit to the Bluff City on Tuesday, wants to close towering and nearly 40-year-old state-owned Donnelly J. Hill office building, located in the Civic Center Plaza. But what will it mean to downtown synergy if the landmark lies abandon in the heart of the city governmental plaza?
For decades if you worked in an office setting in Memphis you probably had a job downtown. But, over the last decade business fled to the east and the evolution of downtown as an entertainment venue and hot residential spot has left the need for office buildings literally in the dust.
"We just don't think that building is economical for the state and its taxpayers," Gov. Haslam said. "We're like everybody else. We have to make certain we're not throwing good money after bad."
Yet, it's not bricks and mortar, but the fate of the 900 employees the deteriorating building houses that's set up some premature hand-wringing about its fate.
No. 1, remember this not a decision "etched in stone," since it's just part of Gov. Haslam's state budget proposal. If approved by the legislature, a relocation move wouldn't become a reality until mid-2014. So, there's plenty of time for conjecture about where to ship the employees while exploring the options on the fate of the office building.
What about the venerable building erected in the 1960s along with all the other steel edifices that make up the plaza of state, federal, county and city government? Let's just say, you'd probably find better value in a blind locker on "Storage Wars."
"That building, probably, for many people, I wouldn't take it if they gave it to me," said Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz. "To take it down is going to cost money just to get back to a vacant land status."
Yes, it's quite possible the Hill Office Building could meet the same functionally obsolete fate as the once tallest building in The South - the long dormant downtown Sterrick Building, heading into another decade of dormancy since closing in the 1980s.
Yet, Gov. Haslam insists state employees will be relocated somewhere downtown. That leads to a wealth of possibilities just as the voice of history excitedly echoed in the bustling mid-1960s.
"We have an inventory of office space that was built at a time when the only place to go to work in an office was downtown," said Paul Morris of the Downtown Memphis Commission. "Now that's not the case. There's office environment all over our region."
"They probably could no together into one building like the NBC building where Pinnacle (Airlines) is leaving or other buildings downtown," added Commissioner Ritz.
There's also the possibility of new construction. The state, in its report from the JLL Real Estate Firm, did look at the possibility of building a new building.
"The upside potentially is there's other state employees in the city and if they're going to be doing a real estate deal in downtown for new office space," Morris said. "It might make sense to bring even more employees downtown and that would be a net win for downtown."
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