Incredibly, just over a year ago in Memphis, local media was talking about demolition of the historic Chisca Hotel on South Main Street. After all, the Chisca had never been one of Memphis’ more elegant hotels. Less expensive and more prosaic, it was the choice of business travelers on a budget, and its fortunes began to wane in the 1950’s, despite its lobby being the location of WHBQ’s studios. The owners built a garish and awful “motor hotel addition” in the early 1960’s in an attempt to halt the slide, but it didn’t seem to work. Any chance of saving the Chisca as a going concern ended with the 1968 Sanitation Strike, as the South Main neighborhood was engulfed by rioting. The hotel ended up in the hands of the Memphis-based Church of God In Christ (COGIC) who used it as housing for delegates to their annual Holy Convocation in Memphis. But presumably, delegates preferred to stay elsewhere, and the denomination quit maintaining the property. Eventually, even the Convocation moved to St. Louis, and the Chisca sat on South Main, rotting away as an eyesore, detracting from the new South Main Arts District. Built in 1913, during an era of small hotel rooms, redevelopment as a hotel would have been costly and unlikely, and so the Chisca’s future seemed dim at best.
But the emergence of a new owner for the building, Chisca Redevelopment Partners also led to a new vision, that of turning the hotel into a downtown condominium. On Friday, April 26th, work began on the project, and a kickoff party was held in the Chisca garage under the motor hotel addition. While there weren’t any bands, Bryan Fenkart the lead in the touring Broadway musical Memphis which has been playing nearby at the Orpheum came by to sing the very-appropriate song “Memphis Is In My Heart”, and Grizz, the mascot from the Memphis Grizzlies was on hand to lend his support. Despite the rain that poured down during the brief announcement, there was a feeling of optimism in the air. The plans really do look pretty, and if there’s one thing Memphis needs more of, it’s optimism.