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VOL. 127 | NO. 8 | Thursday, January 12, 2012

Loeb Tells Rotary About Overton Square Plans

By Sarah Baker

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Among the first of Bob Loeb’s comments when he addressed the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday, Jan. 10, was that when his firm finishes the redevelopment of Overton Square, the hope is to pass the Rotarian Four-Way Test.

For Rotary, the Four-Way Test is the cornerstone of all action that asks the following questions: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? And will it be beneficial to all concerned?

“Our goal will be to pass the test when we finish this development,” said the president of Loeb Properties Inc. “It’s been a labor of love and we think that 2012 is going to be a lot more exciting than 2011.”

Following a yearlong, much publicized changing timeline among Loeb, the city and neighborhood groups, Memphis City Council during its last meeting of 2011 approved spending $16 million in city funds to improve the once-thriving Midtown entertainment district.

Loeb told the Rotary crowd that for his firm – a longtime, family-owned Memphis real estate firm that specializes in retail – the Overton Square project is “not all that big of a deal” on the private side of the equation. Loeb will shell out $19.2 million to renovate the existing buildings around Madison Avenue and build four new ones.

“One hundred thousand square feet is really not that big of a project for a rehab and to deliver that space back into the usual form,” Loeb said. “The difficult aspect is various parts of government.”

Loeb estimates the entire Overton Square project will cost about $35 million. The city was asked to chip in $16 million for infrastructure, including a three-level, 450-space parking garage with a water detention facility underneath to alleviate rain flooding throughout the Lick Creek basin.

In a conversationalist yet professional style, Loeb spelled out last year’s bumpy road to the Rotary members – many of which are the city’s top executives, attorneys, physicians, educators, CEOs and government officials.

He explained the many public meetings; scrolled through slides of blueprints, sketches and renderings; and even shared conversations he had with other Memphis movers and shakers along the way.

One morning, when Loeb was stumped after plans fell through last fall with a high-scale grocer set to anchor the Square, he called up friend and business partner Henry Turley – for many the pioneer of mixed-use development in Downtown Memphis – to ask his opinion for a new theme.

“He said it’s the theater district, what else do you need?” Loeb said.

Loeb then hung up and called up Jackie Nichols, founder of Playhouse on the Square, and asked what to do to have a better theater district.

“He said you have more theaters,” Loeb said with a laugh, before explaining that black repertory theater company Hattiloo Theatre will have a capital campaign to relocate from Marshall Avenue to the south side of Overton Square.

Loeb shared his ideas for mixed-use concepts around the Square, such as transforming existing space on the south side of Madison that’s currently 9 percent occupied into small, local boutiques and restaurants with residential above.

“Our plans are relatively modest,” Loeb said. “We love taking old buildings and fixing them back up. National tenants have their prototype. We like the local flare.”

He explained his intentions to capitalize on the recent addition of bike lanes on Madison around the Square, which will be the first planned development to conform with requirements of the new Midtown overlay, established to create more walkable and bike-friendly neighborhoods.

Other ideas on the table include an ongoing study with the Memphis Area Transit Authority regarding a possible Midtown shuttle that would travel as far west as where the trolley dead-ends at Cleveland Avenue and as far east as Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, on South Hollywood Street south of Central Avenue.

“We really plan on connecting and collaborating,” Loeb said. “Whether its transportation, whether it’s events, to create a unique opportunity.”

That’s why the company has brought on new promotional director Anna Holtzclaw to distinguish the area with activities separate from Beale Street and the Cooper-Young neighborhood. Loeb even plans to team up with the Memphis Music Foundation and its team of 2,000 artists for locations where they can “plug and play.”

“We want to have a number of locations where musicians don’t have to cart all of their equipment around,” he said. “They need locations, we need talent, we want to connect with them.”

Collaboration is what will set Overton Square apart, Loeb said. His parting words were a concept Rotary members could very much identify with.

“We don’t want to pretend that we’re the only note of activity going on,” Loeb said, “but how do we all work together?”

PROPERTY SALES 0 291 21,272
MORTGAGES 0 160 16,194
BUILDING PERMITS 258 692 41,920
BANKRUPTCIES 1 117 6,579