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VOL. 128 | NO. 121 | Friday, June 21, 2013

Square Planners Focus on Pedestrians

By Amos Maki

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Overton Square planners are focusing on “the spaces between” and making the area more comfortable for pedestrians while increasing density and expecting more traffic in the arts, theater and retail district.

Overton Square planners are focusing on possibilities for foot traffic.

(LRK Inc.)

During a Thursday, June 20, presentation at the University Club, part of the American Institute of Architects Memphis Third Thursday lecture series, Rob Norcross of LRK Inc. outlined where new buildings could be placed in Overton Square and said the revamped district would be a friendly place for pedestrians.

“As much as the buildings are important what we really focus on is how we embrace people in this urban environment, how we best design it for people,” Norcross said.

The master plan for Overton Square shows where new buildings could be placed on what are now surface parking lots on the north side of Madison Avenue next to the Bayou Bar and Grill and Le Chardonnay. Another new building could be placed on Cooper Street between Bar Louie and Hattiloo Theatre.

But much of Norcross’ planning time lately has been spent on how to make Overton Square and the area around it – which includes Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, TheatreWorks and Malco’s Studio on the Square and eventually Hattiloo Theatre – more inviting for people on foot.

Most of the new additions to the square and the area around it have been designed with pedestrians in mind.

Even the 450-space, three-story parking garage under construction at the northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Florence Street has been designed with soft edges to make it more amenable for pedestrians.

The first floor of the parking garage has been designed so that it could host a farmer’s market or small festival or concert.

“With the garage we wanted to make it friendlier for people and there were opportunities other than just parking cars,” Norcross said. “We’re trying to make the place comfortable for people and a facility that can serve multiple functions.”

A courtyard will be built on the north side of Trimble, replacing a small parking lot that previously served the Memphis Pizza Café and the Bayou Grill.

“That new courtyard space will have Memphis Pizza Café and we have space to accommodate two new restaurants in that area with their own decks that would then open onto the courtyard,” Norcross said.

Plans also call for a band shell, play space for children and a spill-out area for busy restaurant nights.

The plan directs vehicle traffic to four main streets, Monroe, Florence, Cooper and Madison. Vehicles would enter the parking garage from Monroe.

“We’re doing our best to direct cars away from the pedestrian flow,” Norcross said. “Trimble could be a festival street where we could get permits to close it if necessary.”

Memphis-based Loeb Properties Inc. is in the midst of a $19 million transformation of Overton Square, the entertainment district that dates back to the 1970s after the city first allowed selling alcohol by the drink.

The city of Memphis helped kick start the redevelopment when it agreed to invest $16 million in the parking garage, which includes a detention basin underneath it that will help ease flooding in Midtown.

On Tuesday, crews were busy renovating the Paulette’s restaurant site, which has a new patio and has been separated from the Griffin House, which is also undergoing renovations. The splitting of the old Paulette’s sites has created a new north-south pedestrian path linking the north side of Overton Square to Malco’s Studio on the Square.

Since redevelopment began, Overton Square has been infused with new life, with Local Gastropub, Chiwawa, Bar Louie and Five Guys on Union Avenue opening and Breakaway Running signing a lease.

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