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VOL. 126 | NO. 201 | Friday, October 14, 2011

Loeb Unveils Ambitious Plan For Renewed Overton Square

By Sarah Baker

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Loeb Properties Inc. hopes to capitalize on Midtown’s recent successes with a $31 million revitalization plan for Overton Square.

At a meeting held Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Playhouse on the Square, the Memphis-based commercial real estate firm revealed its strategy to expand the Square’s footprint, creating a theater arts district with approximately 115,000 square feet in redevelopment and new buildings.

The top image shows a view from Cooper Street and Madison Avenue of the proposed redeveloped Overton Square. Bottom is a view of Trimble Courtyard.
(Photo: Courtesy of LRK Inc.)

“We see ourselves as a satellite of Overton Park, but we think that we can be a very significant part of the improvement of Midtown,” said Bob Loeb, company president.

The original design was to build a “suburban-style grocery store” in Overton Square. The company was making progress with the city of Memphis for assistance with a new parking structure, but the grocer was moving “very slowly,” Loeb said.

“We had strong interest expressed initially from a dominant grocer here and in the last month or so, we’ve read the news like you did why we couldn’t make progress with this grocer,” Loeb said. “They had some other stuff going on.”

He didn’t mention it by name but Loeb appears to have been referring to the recent acquisition of nine Schnucks stores by Kroger.

Concerned, Loeb went back to the city and asked for permission to look for anchors other than a grocery store. After seeking neighborhood, stakeholder and grassroots input – along with architectural consulting from LRK Inc. – Loeb came up with a “Heart of the Arts” plan to place Hattiloo Theatre in the south side of Overton Square.

The idea is relocate the black repertory theater company from 656 Marshall Ave. to complement Playhouse on the Square, which brings in 50,000 to 60,000 in yearly attendance.

“We as a theater are an economic engine,” said Playhouse founder Jackie Nichols. “Eighty-seven percent of the people that go to the theater go out and have a drink or dinner before or after the show.”

Hattiloo’s current space near Sun Studio has 75 seats, and the new space has the potential to increase capacity to 200 seats over time, said theater founder Ekundayo Bandele.

Furthermore, the move will aid in blurring the “racial divide” to “truly integrate” the entire area.

“Man, that’s like utopia,” Bandele said. “That’s the Memphis that we deserve – that’s the society that we want to see.”

Loeb Properties will invest $19.2 million in the project, and the city of Memphis is being asked to contribute $11.9 million for infrastructure, including a water detention facility, streetscapes, and a three-level, 450-space parking garage that will be security monitored both by police personnel and cameras.

But Loeb said the return on investment for his firm is not nearly as attractive as the city’s. Overton Square will provide Memphians with 331 new jobs, and the city can expect about $2.8 million in new tax revenue annually.

The vast majority of that total – $2.4 million – will be generated by new sales taxes, according to Loeb’s estimates. The remaining $400,000 will be derived from new property taxes.

Overton Square will be the first development in Shelby County that will conform to the city-county Unified Developed Code, which is designed to create more walkable, bikeable, pedestrian-friendly, multiuse neighborhoods.

The goal, Loeb said, is smaller rather than larger spaces that will lead to local instead of chain operators. Presenting LRK’s renderings of the new Overton Square, Loeb pointed out “some attractive buildings that need some TLC and some tenants to occupy them.”

One of those is the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and Cooper Street, in the space formerly housed by Yosemite Sam’s.

“What we’re doing right now is just kind of gutting it back to the studs and rebuilding it so that it will show better and we’ll get a better tenant, we’re hoping,” Loeb said.

Then there’s the former Paulette’s space at 2110 Madison Ave. Loeb has “come to terms with the owners to buy the property, but the owners still lease and manage the property.”

Other possible plans for the Square are renovating the former ice skating rink into a performance venue and transforming Trimble Courtyard into a “plug-and-play for quick and easy kid-friendly entertainment not just for parking and dumpsters,” said LRK principal Frank Ricks.

In addition, the Square will be food truck compliant, with “festival opportunities” for Trimble and Florence. Loeb has also asked the Memphis Area Transit Authority to create a loop that services “riders of choice.”

What’s more, the deal is expected to have a “multiplier effect” on adjoining properties. Five Guys Burgers and Fries is set to fill the vacant Title Loans building off Union.

And if all goes well, the French Quarter Suites Hotel could be redeveloped into a four- or five-star hotel and day spa, said original developer Ron Kirkpatrick.

Loeb projects that $10 million to $12 million development alone to create 125 jobs.

PROPERTY SALES 69 163 12,921
MORTGAGES 35 85 8,088
BUILDING PERMITS 109 531 30,465
BANKRUPTCIES 18 85 6,149