The relevance of Overton Square is that it’s one of many initiatives the city has in place to make Memphis a better place and a city of choice for the millennial generation.
Seventy-seven percent of those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s want to live in the urban core and to drive less.
That was the message Bob Loeb, president of Loeb Properties Inc., shared with the Memphis Society of Industrial and Office Realtors Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Chickasaw Country Club.
“In the long run, we need to repopulate inside the Parkways and it’s probably going to be from inward migration more than it is from organic growth,” Loeb said. “We’re building these amenities, we’ve got cultural assets, improving education – we’ve got to create an environment where these youngsters who are mobile will come.”
Loeb Properties, a local firm specializing in acquisition rehab that deals with a lot of small bay retail citywide, is in the midst of a $19 million transformation of Overton Square, the entertainment district that dates back to late 1970.
In addition to ongoing rehabs of existing tenants within the Square, Local Gastropub and Bar Louie have signed leases already, the Atrium building is being eyed by a fitness tenant and restaurant tenants are seeking more than 40,000 square feet of space there.
“We told the neighborhood groups at the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of real estate stiffs,” Loeb said. “We do know how to acquire property, negotiate documents with the city, a seller and a lender. We can rehab it with the help of our architects and contractors and lease it, manage it. But what’s going to make this a special place is the programming that goes on here on a regular basis.”
Loeb cited such programming as a Wednesday afternoon farmers market with booths on the ground level of the new 450-stall parking garage at the northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Florence Street, which the Memphis Farmers Market from Downtown is pursuing.
“The name of the game is creating events that people want to come to,” Loeb said.
Loeb said there are two substantial differences from Overton Square’s first generation versus today. The first is that there are traffic generators already in place – Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, Hattiloo Theatre’s new space that’s under construction and Malco Studio on the Square.
Secondly, Overton Square in its heyday was operated by a “bunch of 20-year-old entrepreneurs that were developing property, managing property and running restaurants while living out their 20s.”
“It was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but it was kind of a little bit chaotic,” Loeb said. “We’re going to be a traditional landlord/tenant relationship where we provide real estate services and we do a tenant mix and the tenants have to operate their businesses and that’s a lot more sustainable model.”
But it’s not just inside his company’s redevelopment of the Square that Loeb is interested in. He wants to promote the whole Midtown district because having a variety of investors and operators active there is what’s “going to make the fabric of that neighborhood most stable.”
“We told the city that you get this started, it will be a multiplier effect,” Loeb said.
Sure enough, Taylor Caruthers has since brought the old Chicago Pizza Factory back online, bought the building next to Restaurant Iris for future retail use and is building a new Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Union.
Meanwhile, the old French Quarter Suites Hotel is “one developer short for either a hotel or a multifamily redevelopment,” Loeb said. “There’s several people in pursuit of it right now and would love to see something in motion in the next six months there.”
Bringing that hotel back from years of being dark would just add to the renaissance of the entire Midtown area, Loeb said, citing the 13-month-old Overton Park Conservancy, Rhodes College’s expansion, Memphis Medical Center’s workforce, Broad Avenue Historic District’s 18 new leases in three years and a wide diversity of housing stock with attractive price points.
Then there’s Request for Quotations going out in the next few months for a master developer at the Mid-South Fairgrounds, the Sears Crosstown project, Kroger’s expansion and the Memphis Police Department’s soon-to-be-vacated space on Union Avenue. Loeb even hinted that Fresh Market was shopping in Midtown.
Not to mention Cooper-Young, which Loeb said is “in very good shape” but admitted that there has been “a little bit of pushback.”
“Until demand growth, until there are new people moving in, then we are going to be splitting,” Loeb said. “They may lose a little bit of market share short-term, but long-term we’re all in the boat together.”
Loeb envisions Midtown’s Overton Park, Cooper-Young and other districts being like other cities with vibrant areas where the action isn’t limited to one spot.
“You hop around and usually the proximity’s close and there’s public transportation to get you from one end to the other,” he said. “We’ve got enough parts going on that we’ve got a master plan for redeveloping within the parkways. You’ll see meaningful change in the next few years. I’m betting on it.”