As Overton Square prepares to blow out 45 candles as part of a milestone anniversary celebration May 23, development activity at the Midtown landmark is still going strong.
Bob Loeb, president of square developer Loeb Properties, says “another performing arts existing provider in town” wants to relocate to the square, something addressed as part of a local Urban Land Institute technical advisory panel convened earlier this month to look at that prospect, among other issues.
“We wanted the panel to look at, ‘Is it the highest and best use, do they fit here, because we’re running out of land,’” Loeb said. “The ULI said yes, so we’re moving forward with discussions with that performing arts provider.”
A summary presentation from that ULI panel meeting already has been delivered, and Loeb said they’re writing up a longer report that will be available in a few weeks. That report, he said, will help guide the five-year vision for the square. And it’s one indication among many that the effects of the multiyear, comprehensive resurrection of the square into a centerpiece of civic life in Memphis are not fleeting – that, indeed, the redevelopment continues to bear fruit.
Loeb said all the public meetings, blueprints, sketches, renderings and conversations behind the scenes and at gatherings of interested Memphians started from the same place. His firm got involved with redeveloping the square in the first place, he said, because of a sentimental attachment to the Midtown district.
During a recent broadcast of the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines,” hosted by The Daily News/Memphis News publisher Eric Barnes, Loeb chief financial officer Earl Williams recalled the firm’s initial steps toward redeveloping the square.
“Redevelopment is tough,” Williams said. “It’s a whole lot easier to go buy a shopping center in East Memphis and renovate it and do things to it than it is to take something that’s been vacant for quite some period of time – old structures that have a lot of hidden costs. It’s just not easy to do.”
The firm, Loeb adds, has looked at doing something transformative there for years – that, in fact, it’s pursued development there since the square went through a foreclosure in the early 1990s.
Today, the area is a busy collection of mixed uses – restaurants, retail and the arts. And the success, Loeb said, has been due in part to things like letting the firm be influenced by what Midtowners want – and by changing up their own patterns slightly.
“Usually, brother Lou (Loeb) and I are not meeting tenant prospects when we’re negotiating leases,” Loeb said. “But for Overton Square, we wanted to meet every tenant prospect on the front end to try and feel whether they shared our passion for what we wanted to do over there, because we’ve got to have everybody sharing a common vision.”
Midtowners, Loeb added, are “very opinionated people.” They wanted to be heard, he said, but were reasonable with the elements Loeb Properties couldn’t deliver.
“If we did anything right at Overton Square, it was collaborating with a bunch of stakeholders who had an interest in Overton Square, whether it was the existing tenants, the theaters, Memphis Heritage, all these stakeholders, and we asked them what we should do,” Loeb said. “And we listened to them. And we delivered those parts we thought we could meld together in a sustainable fashion.”