MEMPHIS, TN— About two million tourists visit Downtown Memphis every year. They visit Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum and other historic places, but that's not all they see. They see blight. Historic Downtown buildings are falling apart.
Early in the morning on June 17, 2011, a big slab of concrete fell from the historic Chisca Hotel. It's located on South Main Street and Linden Avenue. No one was hurt, but many tourists and locals say they’re scared to walk by collapsing, vacant buildings. They are demanding changes: demolish or revitalize them now.
The famous Chisca Hotel was built in 1913. It has been vacant and boarded up for more than a decade. It’s famous because a radio station known for the first air play of Elvis Presley's record, "That's All Right Mama" used to be inside. Buildings, like the hotel and the one on Madison Avenue between Main and Second Streets, make it dangerous for pedestrians. The roof collapsed on the Madison Avenue building in March 2011.
"The bottom line is, it's a safety hazard. Even if it is a historical landmark, something should be done because if it's going to do someone bodily harm then we probably should dismantle it," said long-time Memphian Hurshie Williams.
In 2006, there were talks about demolishing the old hotel and making it into a Hilton Garden Inn, but it never happened. It continues to be an eyesore for tourists.
"It hurts tourism and I think it's sad. We want to see the buildings restored,” said an Oklahoma City resident Karen Motte, who was visiting Memphis.
Many tourists don't want to see historic buildings torn down, especially the Chisca Hotel, which made music history.
"It's an old building, and it needs to be refurbished. You can find brand new buildings everywhere, but the old buildings are the ones with character and class. And this is the stuff we like to see," said Karen’s husband Kevin Motte.
No one knows the hotel's fate, but it'll continue to decay and fall apart if no one does anything. Church of God in Christ owns the old hotel. abc24.com called them several times but our calls were not returned. The previous owner sold the hotel to the church for $10 in 1971.
For a few years, it became the national headquarters for the church. It was so expensive to keep up, Memphis Heritage said property owners abandoned it. There are neglect fines of more than $500,000 against the owners.