Main Street Journal: Online Exclusive: Much Ado About Nothing: Loeb Gives Us a Parking Garage and a Grocery Store
When was the last time Overton Square was hip? To hear people tell it, Nixon was President and cars had fins. It has been painful to watch the slow death of Overton Square over the past decade, like a dying star, the lights in the windows fading into nothing.
Ten years ago, Overton Square had a shop called Bonnie’s Books. (Bonnie was the pug dog that roamed the store.) The owner skated through the store (literally roller skated) stacking books on the shelf. This was Midtown cool. Fast forward ten years and the news of the Quick Mart turning into a yogurt shop is the best we got.
Will someone please save the Square?
Enter Memphis Heritage and Loeb Properties. Preservation and development married together. Over the past several months, whispers of huge plans had been circulating around Midtown. New restaurants, new shops, and an anchor store to set things firmly in place. It was said that these two had something cool up their sleeves, Overton was on its way back! And so, with much fanfare, on March 1, to a standing room only crowd at Howard Hall, Loeb and Memphis Heritage finally revealed their plans.
And what did we get? A parking garage. That’s right, a parking garage.
Apparently the sticking point to Overton Square has been the need for a two-tier parking garage, funded by the City, to the tune of five millions dollars. Little did we know, two levels of parking was the fuel to reignite the Square.
A parking garage. Are you kidding! This was the big, sexy announcement that would put Overton Square back on the map. Forgive me for feeling slightly oversold and totally unimpressed, but did this warrant a press release and invitations?
To hear it from Loeb, the parking garage (the funding for which Loeb has not yet secured from the City) will attract a grocery store (No grocery store has actually committed. This would give Midtown its fourth grocery store.), which will in turn attract smaller shops and restaurants (You guessed it, none of which have committed.).
What in any of that non-announcement are we supposed to get excited about? I am all for parking and groceries, but isn’t there something more beyond that? Shops and parking and grocery stores are nice, but could we not make an announcement once we had at least one firm commitment?
Over the past several years (including this weekend) Memphis Heritage has pouted and protested over any adjustment to historic buildings. I stand in solidarity with them on keeping Midtown unique. However, at some point we need to get past the cute signs and there ought to be results. This is our city, and preservation must synch with progress - otherwise all we are left with are streets and squares full of old, empty buildings.
Maybe Loeb will make it work. Maybe some (including this writer) are just impatient. However, this has become a defining moment for Memphis Heritage to show its worth. I for one would love to see preservation and business work together. I am rooting for that team (Loeb and Memphis Heritage and Overton Square). I am rooting for Bob Loeb & June West. However, we need more than a parking garage and a grocery store.
We need someone to bring the cool back.