Bob Loeb said his company will invest $19 million in the square and hopes the city will spend another $12 million for infrastructure, a parking garage, a water-detention facility, and a new site for the Hattiloo theater, a black repertory theater now located in a 75-seat building on Marshall near Sun Studio. The "theater district" would have four playhouses and a Malco four-screen movie theater plus new stores and restaurants.
"We are committed to doing our part regardless," Loeb told the crowd that nearly filled the theater. Details of the plan will be on the company's website on Thursday.
Loeb, architect Frank Ricks, Hattiloo theater founder Ekundayo Bandele, and Playhouse founder Jackie Nichols spoke for about 30 minutes.
"We're been waiting for the next shoe to drop and it finally has," said Nichols, who founded Playhouse in 1975.
Questions were generally friendly in contrast to the criticism that earlier plans for Overton Square ran into from preservationists and others. Loeb's plan does not include a grocery store, but the parking garage, now three stories and 450 spots, could be a financial sticking point because the price has gone up to nearly double what the City Council approved earlier this year. Councilmen Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn urged Midtowners to show their support to the mayor and council. The crowd seemed in a welcoming mood, responding warmly to both the Midtown design overlay and the announcement of a new Five Guys hamburger joint on Union near the square. There was one question about cannibalizing downtown and Cooper-Young and other parts of Memphis. Loeb said that is possible (Paulette's moved to HarborTown and Hattiloo will leave a vacancy on Marshall), but he hopes to create a "rising tide" that does more than redistribute business.
"We recognize that it is a lot of money in tough economic times," Loeb said. He added that the garage and theater district will require private security because "crime will kill this thing faster than any single item."
The plan is to create pedestrian-friendly density by adding a revitalized Overton Square to other Midtown projects including the fairgrounds, Cooper-Young, Overton Park, Broad Street, and Madison Avenue. On Union Avenue, there are plans to move the police station, which would open up another site for development. And the original developer of the French Quarter Inn next to Overton Square said he plans to spend $12 million on renovations and reopen it as a "four-star" hotel if Loeb follows through. The hotel, a one-star at best when it closed, looks like it needs at least that much.
Other eyesores to be replaced include Yosemite Sam's and the old Chicago Pizza on Madison. Ricks said the design preserves many of the existing features including the curved building at the southwest corner of Cooper and Madison but it eliminates the "speed lane" to slow down traffic. The reopening is scheduled for 2013.
Loeb said the city can expect about $2.8 million in new tax revenue annually from sales and property taxes.
He said the mulitplier effect will be positive if the development works and negative if Overton Square continues to decline.