VOL. 126 | NO. 247 | Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Overton Square Votes Dominate Meeting
By Bill Dries
The Memphis City Council votes Tuesday, Dec. 20, on the redevelopment of Overton Square. At its last meeting of the year, the council will vote on a planned development for the south side of Madison Avenue at Cooper Street to be redeveloped by Loeb Properties Inc. The development includes a parking garage.
In a separate resolution, the council will vote on city funding for the detention pond to be built under the garage.
The pond will be bigger than originally thought – and so will the city’s cost. The pond solves a chronic and longstanding drainage problem for nearby Lick Creek.
The $16 million, three-level, 450-space parking garage would reorient parking for the entertainment district, which Loeb plans to develop in part on what is now a large parking lot bordering Cooper.
Tuesday’s council votes reflect a critical moment in efforts to revitalize what became the city’s dominant entertainment district in the 1970s.
Loeb’s contract with the Colorado company that owns the property runs out Dec. 31.
“On Dec. 31, the carriage becomes a pumpkin and we’re out of luck,” said Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn, who, along with council member Jim Strickland, has been working to round up an extra $5 million in city funding for the expanded water-detention facility under the proposed garage. “The domino effect of that is really not good. Overton Square will be developed. But what’s the cost going to be to the investment that was made in Playhouse on the Square … the side businesses around it and dependent on that parking?”
Loeb president Bob Loeb now envisions Overton Square as a theater arts district linking up with Playhouse on the Square and Circuit Playhouse as well as an upcoming relocation of Hattiloo Theatre.
The new, $19.2 million investment by Loeb comes after earlier plans by the company to locate a supermarket on the site fell through.
The parking garage and water-detention area beneath it would be public infrastructure, with the city likely paying someone to manage it if the planned development and the funding both win approval by the council Tuesday evening.
“We want it to be self-paying to the point where it can be kept clean. It can pay for its management of itself,” Flinn said of decisions to come on who runs the garage and how much patrons will pay to park there. “You can’t put Downtown parking prices on a Midtown lot. That’s just not going to work for the development as a whole. We’re not looking to turn that into a profit center. We’re not going to turn it into a loss center either. Free would cost the taxpayers.”
The council will also discuss and vote on an application by the city for a state Fast Track Infrastructure Program grant for the Presidents Island Rail Expansion Project, specifically for Cargill Corn Milling on the island.
The city would apply for $3 million from the infrastructure program and has already committed an additional $3 million in local funding that is beyond the 18 percent local match required by the state.
The city agreed to the terms when Cargill executives threatened to move their facility and its 370 jobs from the city if they didn’t get the incentives.
The total cost of the rail expansion is $13.1 million, and Cargill is putting up $4.9 million.
The item will be discussed at an 8:30 a.m. committee session Tuesday, with a vote scheduled at the full council session Tuesday afternoon.
Also on the agenda is a contract for Golf Course Management Co. of Nashville to operate and maintain three municipal golf courses for the city – The Links at Davy Crockett, The Links at Pine Hill and The Links at Riverside.
At a 10 a.m. committee session, council members will have their first discussion about a proposal to require the mayor and city council to adopt a six-year consolidated budget combining the now-separate operating and capital improvements budgets.
The multi-year budget approach would be an amendment to the city of Memphis charter and would go to Memphis voters on the Nov. 8 ballot if the council approves the ordinance on three readings next year.
Meanwhile, a proposal by council member Edmund Ford Jr. to raise the hotel-motel bed tax to fund some city-owned attractions returns for discussion at a 10:30 a.m. committee session. The first discussion of the tax was delayed last month. It is expected to draw vocal opposition from the local tourism industry.