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VOL. 128 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 8, 2013

Square Roots

Loeb brings mix of tenants, events to sustain retail district

By Amos Maki

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Breakaway Running owner Barry Roberson was blown away by the crowds who visited his new Overton Square store, which opened Oct. 30.

The new parking garage at Overton Square is just one piece of the rebirth of the neighborhood. The city-owned, 451-space garage opened in October.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Roberson knew his dedicated customer base would shop at the store that is focused on all things running and walking, from apparel to classes and clinics, but he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of walk-up business he experienced over the first weekend.

“With our stores, we’re kind of a destination and our people come to us so I knew they’d come to Overton Square,” said Roberson. “But there were a lot of people we didn’t know existed who walked through our doors. I think it probably almost doubled my business. I knew people would come in and look, but I was surprised that they bought.”

That’s the type of synergy Loeb Properties hoped to create when it decided to pour around $20 million into Overton Square’s rebirth.

Day or night, the retail, entertainment and restaurant center is buzzing with activity, from patrons mingling at the multiple outdoor patios or skipping from one storefront to another.

Loeb Properties is taking steps to make sure the Midtown district is brimming with activity throughout the day, looking for a tenant that will serve breakfast and assigning a staff member to develop events and attractions that will make Overton Square a draw seven days a week.

“We want to see it crowded from the first bell to the last bell, and we’re determined to get more retail,” said Louis Loeb, executive vice president of asset management at Loeb Properties. “We’ve talked to a number of prospects (about a breakfast location) but we haven’t got there yet. Our vision for Overton Square is it being not just a place to go shop, work out and eat, but a place to go to be entertained.”

Loeb Properties officials knew from the beginning that many Memphians – those who fell in love with Overton Square during its heyday and a younger generation thirsting for new retail, dining and entertainment options – would support the revived district. The challenge, as they see it, is to make sure that desire endures.

“We want to grow that support so people, including families and children, can always find something to do at the Square,” Loeb said.

One of the reasons the original Overton Square failed was because it never became diversified. It had a lively restaurant scene but little else to maintain a steady stream of visitors.

To avoid that fate, Loeb has focused on a mix of uses, signing several athletic or sports-based businesses and boutique clothing and food shops in addition to the restaurants.

Danny Buring of The Shopping Center Group LLC said Loeb’s strategy of pursuing a wide variety of tenants will be central to the district’s sustained success.

Workers pour cement at the new Hattiloo Theatre construction site with the new parking garage looming in the background.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“If you’re just one thing you’ll never be able to sustain it,” said Buring. “Look what happened to Overton Square. It was pigeonholed – just entertainment and restaurants. You want to have a mix of uses.”

A lot of activity has occurred at Overton Square over the last month.

Loeb Properties unveiled a new branding campaign for the district and artist Yvonne Bobo installed a three-story steel sculpture at Madison Avenue and Cooper Street, the latest addition to a wide variety of public art created at the Square.

In October, the city-owned 451-space parking garage at the northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Florence Street opened. So far, Loeb officials say around 2,300 cars have used the facility since the opening. On average, around 250 vehicles a day used the garage on the weekends and 125 during the week.

“We expect that to increase significantly as a string of new tenants move in over the next few months – Babalu Tacos and Tapas, Robata Ramen & Yakitori Bar, Sweet Noshings, Bikram Yoga Memphis and Gould's on the Square,” said Elizabeth Berglund, community relations director for Loeb Properties. “All have signed leases but are not open for business yet.”

Special events, which could attract visitors who otherwise may not be inclined to visit Overton Square’s businesses, will play a large role in the future vitality of the district. The parking garage and new Tower Courtyard behind Memphis Pizza Cafe were created with hosting events in mind.

This year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival held an outdoor showing at the courtyard and the first floor of the garage was designed so it could host events, such as a farmer’s market or small festival. Musical acts performed at the courtyard over the weekend.

“It just made it a fun, festive atmosphere,” said Roberson, who was the first non-restaurant tenant to sign a lease at Overton Square. “It’s a real interesting mix and I think we’ll all end up helping each other.”

The Overton Square redevelopment effort has been a labor of love for the Loebs. The first building Loeb Properties acquired there was the century-old Yosemite Sam’s property on the northwest corner of Madison and Cooper, now home to Local Gastropub.

“When we got in there the building was almost 100 years old and noting much had been done to it,” Loeb said. “Some people wanted to tear it down and rebuild it but I said, ‘No, you can’t replace that history.’”

“Through the course of that we realized the same thing would have to happen with the rest of the Square. We just didn’t realize the scope and scale of the problems but our spirits never sagged on this one. Understanding what the Square means to Memphis, we never doubted people would come to support it.”

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173