For $12, visitors can tour the distillery with a spirit maker. They can try a whiskey drink, made from the owners’ 150-year-old family recipe, on the rooftop bar with stunning views of the Mississippi River. The distillery even reshaped the Memphis skyline when it perched a 13-foot rooster (the brand’s mascot) atop the building.

The city’s most ambitious revitalization project is the Crosstown Concourse which opened last August in the midtown neighborhood.

McLean Wilson, a local hotel and commercial real estate developer, raised over $200 million to convert the 1.1 million-square-foot Art Deco tower, a former Sears regional distribution center, into a mixed-use building. It includes apartments, an art gallery, a gym, a church and synagogue, eateries and a produce store. In February, the airy craft brewer, Crosstown Brewing Co., opened in the space.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from the desolate spot the property had become after the Sears center shuttered in 1993. “Windows were broken, there were no doors, there were homeless people living in there,” recalled Mr. Landrum, the city’s deputy police chief.

The transformation of so many forbidding spaces was an inspiration to José Velázquez, the former executive director of Latino Memphis, an advocacy group. In June 2013, he bought a Victorian mansion and turned it into a luxury bed-and-breakfast named the James Lee House.

The lodging is in Victorian Village, a scrappy neighborhood which police patrol around the clock.

Yet rooms in the restored property go as high as $450 a night. “We have a lot of Brits, a lot of Australians, a lot of Americans coming to do the Elvis thing,” Mr. Velázquez said, referring to Graceland, the mansion owned by Elvis Presley.

“If this has been successful in a transitional neighborhood, anything really can happen,” he said.



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