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VOL. 126 | NO. 42 | Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Overton Square Developer Eyes Grocery Store

By Sarah Baker

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A premium grocery store is in the works for Overton Square with plans to preserve the entertainment district’s character and bring it back to life, Loeb Properties Inc. revealed this week.

Before a standing room only crowd Tuesday at the office of Memphis Heritage Inc., 2282 Madison Ave., Loeb president Bob Loeb unveiled the site plan for a 53,000-square-foot grocery store, more than double the size of Schnucks’ Midtown location.

Loeb has owned property in the Overton Square area for more than 30 years, and was active when the property sold 15 years ago.

“We were second place bidders, we were interested in doing more and were left at the altar, so we’ve been pursuing the property for a long period of time and developing ideas,” Loeb said. “This is involving a public-private development, it’s been kind of complicated.”

Loeb is working to adhere to guidelines in the Midtown Overlay and the Unified Development Code. There are efforts in place to keep all existing buildings on the south side of Madison Avenue, with the exception of the old Palm Court building – where there was once an ice skating rink – and also to preserve the character of the crooked alleyway within the Square.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the inside of that building and it has a lot of merit to it, it’s just that we know we need to create a sight line all the way from the theater to connect for security, so we’ve got to open up at some point and we think it’s the ice skating building but it could be elsewhere,” Loeb said.

The architect for the project is LRK Inc. (formerly Looney Ricks Kiss), while the general contractor is Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC.

The site plan shows the grocery pulled up on Cooper with a two-level garage that will serve as a detention facility for the Lick Creek storm water project.

“The idea that we could hold back storm water in the basement, park some water in the lower level of the garage rather than cars, and then allow that to drain off at a slower rate will be a tremendous help to the Lick Creek problem,” said Frank Ricks, founding principal of LRK.

The project’s overall idea is to keep the area pedestrian and neighborhood friendly. A proposed traffic light at Madison and Florence Street will help slow down traffic.

In addition, the current street curve that allows drivers to make a right-hand turn without completely stopping from Madison to Cooper Street will be taken out and made into a more symmetrical, four-way intersection, connecting as much streetscape as possible.

Currently, there are “two critical contingencies” pending – approval from the city of Memphis and from the targeted grocery. A deadline of June 30 for the parking garage from the city has been put in place.

If all goes as planned, construction on the project will start in the first quarter of 2012 and will be completed within 12 months.

Although the tenant’s name will not be revealed until the deal closes, Loeb did say it was a nationally recognized name and confirmed it would not be a Walmart or similar type of “super center.”

“You can’t build a mid-grade grocery store on premium grade land, the economics just don’t work,” Loeb said.

Loeb also said while live entertainment will definitely be a component of the revitalized square, it won’t compete with Downtown Memphis.

Loeb closed by directing input to its Facebook page, saying the idea for a grocery store came about from a community blog.

For now, a blue banner hangs at the potential grocer spot, reading, “Returning in 2012,” which was hung Saturday when Memphis Heritage and others were rallying at Cooper and Union Avenue against CVS.

“It’s all about coming together and talking and realizing that compromise is a good thing,” said June West, executive director of Memphis Heritage. “We think this is a win-win for everybody; I wish we had better luck on the other corner. This helps and makes the sadness go away.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 289 2,908
MORTGAGES 55 226 2,009
BUILDING PERMITS 108 1,002 6,703
BANKRUPTCIES 42 248 1,225