Historic Memphis buildings have future with Orgel ownership - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Historic Memphis buildings have future with Orgel ownership

(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook) (SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook)
(SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook) (SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook)
(SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook) (SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook)
(SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook) (SOURCE: Tennessee Brewery Untapped/Facebook)

The Tennessee Brewery, Downtown Memphis’ Station #3 Fire House and the building that once housed the famous Justine’s Restaurant all have a future thanks to Memphis entrepreneur William E. “Billy” Orgel and his family.

Orgel’s son Benjamin gave a presentation to the Memphis Rotary Club on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 and outlined his family’s plans to convert the long abandoned brewery building overlooking the Mississippi River to residential units.

“Downtown Memphis is a hot area to be in with 25,000 current residents and an expected population of 40,000 in the next few years,” the younger Orgel said. A group of Memphians concerned that the city would raze the historic brewery held a series of events called “Tennessee Brewery Untapped” on the grounds in 2014.

“There were people of all ages, all walks of life in there having a good time, drinking a beer and having fun, “Ben Orgel said. “My father looked at me and said, we should buy this building.”  So begins the Tennessee Brewery’s new lease on life.

Over the past 20 months, the Orgels have won key support from the Downtown Memphis Commission, which oversees the Parking Authority, which will own the garage at the Tennessee Brewery. Orgel says a construction firm working for the Downtown Parking Authority broke ground at the Brewery in April 2016 on a six story parking garage with 349 spaces. It’s expected the garage will open by September and will provide parking for each residential unit in the Brewery complex, as well as additional public parking. 

Rotarians watched a short video about the Tennessee Brewery by Brian Manis that celebrates the building as a Romanesque architectural gem.

“You’re never going to be able to duplicate the architecture,“ Billy Orgel says in the film that showcases the Brewery’s irreplaceable iron work,
grand stairwell, columns, and many quirky elevations. It was all created in the mid-1800s to brew Goldcrest 51, the first and oldest beer in Tennessee now back in production at another location.

“Everything was built around the brewing process,” said filmmaker Brian Manis, clearly smitten by the Tennessee Brewery’s charms. The Brewery has an alluring history, including its survival during Prohibition by making root beer and other non-alcoholic beverages. But it closed in 1954 and was purchased by the Karchmer family for its scrap metal business. The building closed until 1984.

Other than graffiti artists who have marked every surface they could reach, the Brewery sat idle for decades until Mayor A C Wharton’s Innovation Team, led by Doug McGowan, Tommy Pacello and Abby Miller, inspired Memphis entrepreneurs Taylor Berger, Doug Carpenter, Andy Cates, and PR wizard Kerry Hayes to unleash their imaginations on the historic structure.  Staging a beer garden in the Brewery’s courtyard and two bottom floor rooms, the enlightened Memphians created a sensation.

With live music, food trucks, pop-up shops, and a tidal wave of beer, Tennessee Brewery Untapped ran Thursday-Saturday nights from April 24-June 1, 2014.  While the fun factor was extraordinarily high, the events had a singular goal: to find a buyer and save the building as it was slated for demolition. The Tennessee Brewery found its savior in Billy Orgel.

“Luckily, my father here loves buying historic properties,” Ben Orgel said.

The Brewery site will become home to four different structures that will house 150 new Downtown apartments as well as 15,000 sq. ft. of commercial and office space. Phase one is the parking garage. The next structure will stand alongside the garage and serve as a mixed use building on Tennessee Street called “The Bottle Shop.”  Facing the Brewery across Tennessee Street, “The Bottle Shop” will feature 18 residential units and one small commercial space with 875 square feet.

“If anyone’s interested in renting it, please see me,” the younger Orgel said.

Phase three of the project features a six story, 88 unit apartment building with all new construction called the “Wash House,” the name being another throwback to the Brewery’s heyday when it had an in-house bottle washing operation.

Complete with river views immediately north of the Brewery, The Wash House will have its own courtyard.

Finally, the historic brewery will be redone with 7,000 sq. ft. of office space that’ll house Tower Ventures, the Orgel family’s highly successful cell tower development and site Acquisition Company. A total of 42 residential apartment units will be added throughout the Brewery building.

“Some will have scenic balconies and the top floor will feature a rooftop deck,“ Orgel said. They have yet to determine how much it will cost to lease an apartment. There will be no condominiums for purchase on the site.

“Everyone asks me that,” Orgel said.

Ben Orgel graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014 just as the initial Untapped event was getting launched. After the Orgel family purchased the Brewery, Ben assembled a team of young entrepreneurs: Paul Stevens, Logan Scheidt, J.C. Youngblood and Central Barbeque. They seized the opportunity to do business on the grounds, revive the brewery and witness the community’s excitement around it. 

“This was the most amazing experience of my life. I learned so much. I saw how happy it made people,“ Orgel said. “An estimated 40,000 to 45,000 thousand people attended our Brewery events. Dubbed “Untapped, The Revival,” the second series of Brewery events ran from April 8 to May 31 2015. “We were the 6th largest account of the year for beer with distributor A.S. Barbaro and we were open for only 30 days,” Orgel said.

It wasn’t just Millennials at the second Untapped event either.“ There were nursing homes that were bringing buses. We gave them their first beer free,” Orgel said.

In addition to the Tennessee Brewery, the Orgels purchased the 10,500 sq. ft. Station 3 Fire House at Dr. Martin Luther King Ave. at Third St. near FedEx Forum in 2014. The former home of music producer Chips Moman’s Three Alarm Records recording studio had morphed into a nightclub that was ultimately abandoned. The Orgels fixed the leaky roof, secured the building and presented another series of beer garden events as the Memphis Grizzlies season was starting in October-November 2015. While not as successful as Brewery celebrations, the events helped raise funds for Memphis firefighter John Foote, now battling leukemia. The Orgels are now exploring ideas for the fire station as well as the former Justine’s Restaurant on East Street near Crump Blvd.

“A lot of people ask me: why did we buy this building?,” Ben Orgel said. Pointing at his father, the younger Orgel said, “You’ll have to ask him.” Turns out Billy Orgel bought Justine’s for sentimental reasons. It’s where Billy asked his wife Robin to marry him. Purchased in a tax sale, the Orgels are considering future uses for the Justine’s site, possibly including a bed and breakfast. 

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