Council Passes $16M Overton Square Funding

By Sarah Baker

It may have been a murky day in Memphis, but neighborhood stakeholders didn’t let the afternoon rain dampen their support of the Overton Square redevelopment project during the Memphis City Council’s final meeting of the year.

Council members approved $16 million in city funds for a parking garage and detention pond on what is now a large parking lot bordering Cooper Street Tuesday, Dec. 20 at City Hall.

The parking structure will be three levels and contain 450 spaces that are security monitored. Underneath the garage will be a detention basin that will alleviate “a majority piece” of the Lick Creek flooding problem, said Deputy City Engineer John Cameron.

The council’s vote coincided with a planned $19.2 revitalization by Loeb Properties Inc. for the south side of Madison Avenue at Cooper Street.

“We pledge that we will be good stewards of public funds,” said company president Bob Loeb during the meeting’s appearance cards for public speaking time.

The vote dominated the council agenda, being the last possible date for a decision since Loeb’s due-diligence contract with the Colorado family who owns the Overton Square property expires Dec. 31.

The vote was 8-2, with council member Kemp Conrad recused. Council members Janis Fullilove and Wanda Halbert were at the meeting but were not present when the vote was taken.

Prior to the council’s vote, dozens of neighborhood supporters and grassroots leaders showed their support of the Lick Creek detention basin, many of which were residents of the Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood, one of the hardest hit areas during periods of heavy rain.

June West of nonprofit preservation group Memphis Heritage stressed the more than 2,000 signatures in favor of the project.

Ekundayo Bandele of Hattiloo Theater said the Overton Square project will benefit Memphis as a whole, noting “people who attend Hattiloo come from every edge of the city.” The black repertory theater is looking to relocate to the square as part of Loeb’s “Heart of the Arts” theater district master plan.

Ron Kirkpatrick, one of the original developers of the French Quarter Suites Hotel, vowed to redevelop the vacant building into a four- or five-star hotel and day spa – a $10 million to $12 million project that would alone create 125 jobs – if the council approved funding.

The council in May approved spending $6.5 million at the site, which was then a two-level garage with a detention basin underneath. Subsequent to the May resolution, a parking study was conducted by national parking consulting firm Tetra Tech Inc., which lead the city engineering department to increase the size of the water detention facility from 70,000 cubic feet of water detention to 1 million cubic feet.

Council member Jim Strickland said while the detention facility will not alleviate the Lick Creek flooding problem completely, it’s the best possible solution on the table.

“If the city does not correct the flooding, who will?” he said.

Other council members were concerned about projects being put on hold within their districts, such as the Elvis Presley Boulevard redevelopment. Six of the 13 members represent that district.