The Downtown Memphis Commission and many others are committed to remedying the blighted condition and preserving this key landmark for our city, and we need you to voice your support by signing the petition on this webpage!


Current Status of The Chisca
The vacant Chisca Hotel on the prominent corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Main Street has long been viewed as a key development site in Downtown Memphis. Located a block from The Orpheum and Beale Street and serving as a gateway to the South Main Historic Arts District, The Chisca's two-decade vacancy has created blight in what could, and should, be an apex of vitality and vibrancy in the Core of Downtown.

As it is now, The Chisca is a major embarrassment for our city and a major barrier to our success. It is boarded up, surrounded by chain link fencing, and literally crumbling apart. With the recent renaming of Linden to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, we have a heightened responsibility to remedy this blight. Millions and millions of visitors to our city pass this building each year and question what has become of Memphis that we would tolerate such blight, especially at this corner, and especially of such a historic building.

Historical Significance
The Chisca was the largest hotel at the time it was built in 1912 and was seen as less of luxury hotel than an accommodation for the middle class. A historic event occurred in The Chisca that quite literally changed the world forever. From 1949-1956, WHBQ radio's Dewey Phillips broadcast his popular show "Red, Hot and Blue". On July 7, 1954, Dewey played Elvis Presley for the first time on radio with Elvis's first recording of "That's All Right, Mama." Indeed the world has never been the same!

Events in the Chisca inspired the Tony Award winning Broadway musical “Memphis,” which began its touring production a block away at The Orpheum in 2011. The Chisca also served for a time as the World Headquarters for the Church of God in Christ. The Chisca was also the headquarters of the Jaycees, a very prominent leadership organization, which met there regularly bringing many famous guests to the Chisca.

Only Memphis can claim such unique history, and we should preserve and celebrate it!


Make or Break Time
The Chisca turns 100 years old this year, and now is the time to bring it back to life. If we don’t, it will have to be torn down or continue to be a blight on our city and get even worse as more years pass. Developing The Chisca is one of the most challenging projects to undertake in Downtown Memphis, and many have tried and failed over the years.

The good news is that a public-private partnership has formed and an experienced development team has been recruited to take on the difficult challenge of transforming this long dormant landmark building into a vibrant use. This doesn’t work as a purely private project, as has been demonstrated by past failures. But if the City agrees to help by funding a portion of the necessary blight abatement, including repairs to the structural foundation and building envelope as well as asbestos and lead paint abatement, then the private sector will be called upon to invest over $17 million to produce a mixed use project that features apartments, retail, and a celebration of our history.

Imagine the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Main as a vibrant, beautiful space instead of a large blighted building. Development of The Chisca will serve as a catalyst to activate a redevelopment plan for the area, building on The Orpheum's $10 million expansion project that is underway.

In these tough economic times, it is critical for the City to find projects that will leverage private dollars for greater economic impact. The Chisca project is an approximately $20M project, creating jobs and ongoing tax revenue.

Saving The Chisca will:

  • Replace blight with vibrancy at the prominent corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Main Street.
  • Enhance the character of our city by reusing an important historical building. .
  • Preserve the home of Elvis’s first on-air recording, which literally changed the world. .
  • Connect the vibrant South Main neighborhood to the Core of Downtown. Currently The Chisca makes an entire block an eyesore and barrier between the two thriving neighborhoods. .
  • Establish an important gateway to the growing South Main neighborhood. .
  • Provide more housing opportunities that will help attract more citizens to Memphis. .
  • Activate a redevelopment plan for the surrounding area and build on development momentum. .
  • Create jobs and generate continuing tax revenues. .
  • Inject a $20 million capital investment into the heart of our city. .


Here's what people have to say:

"The old Chisca Hotel building is a cornerstone of the South Main Street Historic District and is, as such, a vitally important feature of the District's built environment. I hope the Memphis City Council and all others involved will do everything possible to ensure this building's survival into the future. Rehabbing this historic structure will pay off over and over again for many decades to come."
-Robert McGowan, South Main Historic Arts District Pioneer

My name is Larry Williams and I live 4,000 miles away in the UK where I am known as a Sun record collector (one of only a few people in the world to possess a copy of their entire catalogue), Sun and Elvis historian (I have just completed a CD video for the Open University on collecting Elvis memorabilia) and a frequent visitor to your exciting town. I am driven up Riverside Drive and the sight of the two bridges always takes my breath away as immediately does the next sight, that of the Chisca where it all began with the first full broadcast of an Elvis record. Please please leave the building standing – although I would be the first to agree that it needs a makeover. There is plenty of space to add to it in various ways, but as a building it is too MAJESTIC and historic to destroy surely. Each time I visit I see more buildings razed to the ground or left derelict for years. Oh that we had that sort of space in London to develop! I have many friends in Memphis and without exception they are delighted when I reveal my knowledge of the history of the Chisca, the Peabody, Overton Park Shell and other local sites too numerous to mention. How could I say to my UK friends “Well you know they let them knock down the Chisca….” Hopefully you will see my alarm and dismay through what I have said. There’s a sign in Jackson,TN which says “Now y’all come back y’hear” which of course could apply to Memphis – but if you start knocking down your historic buildings, why should people come back? What next? Graceland? The Lorraine motel? The Chisca is just as important….
Yours – Larry Williams (Memphis Lover)