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Overton Square Redevelopment (Madison and Cooper)

James Owen

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I don't know if this topic was ever brought up here, but developers are in the process of redeveloping a 5-acre block of Overton Square bounded by Madison, Cooper, Monroe and Florence.

The revised plans call for demolition of the existing buildings and replacing them with new ones along Madison and Cooper, with Associated Wholesale Grocers placing a new 53,000 square foot grocery store on the northwestern corner of the property (will also include some underground parking).


Patrons in the area (including Memphis Heritage) wanted the existing buildings to be preserved; however, developers have refused, citing several factors.

More on this is discussed in the Memphis Commercial Appeal:


Overton Square's revamp tweaked by developers

By Tom Bailey Jr.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Responding to earlier complaints their plans for Midtown's Overton Square were too suburban, developers this week unveiled a more urbanized concept.

The developer will formally submit the plans to the Office of Planning and Development on Dec. 3.

"Now I've given everyone what they've asked for," Leland Clark, a partner in Sooner Investment, told The Commercial Appeal Thursday in an interview at Midtown's Starbucks. "I've created a streetscape, I've created an urban environment."

Response was positive from three types of stakeholders who have seen Clark's latest changes this week.

"What they've done is an improvement and I think it's a work in progress," said Jackie Nichols, executive producer of the adjacent Playhouse on the Square.

Jason Hood, president of the adjacent East End Neighborhood Association, said the developers "certainly want to preserve the character of the neighborhood, and want to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, even more so than what exists there today."

Sam Cantor, a broker of businesses whose office on Madison is a stone's throw from the site and a resident of the nearby Evergreen Historic District, said, "I'm telling you, it knocked my socks off."

At issue is the 5-acre block of Overton Square, bounded by Madison, Cooper, Monroe and Florence. The district of retail, restaurants and theaters is considered by some to be the heart and soul of Midtown.

The site now consists mostly of old, vacant retail buildings lining Madison, with a vast parking lot behind.

Clark proposes to raze the existing buildings and build five new ones:

A 53,108-square-foot grocery with a 107-space parking garage underneath at Monroe and Florence

A 14,000-square-foot building for shops at Madison and Florence

Two retail buildings of 5,385 and 3,890 square feet near the corner of Madison and Cooper

3,500 square feet of shop space at Cooper and Monroe

Opposition to the redevelopment plan has centered on several aspects, including the large parking lot between the front of the grocery and Cooper. That's a typical suburban configuration, unfriendly to pedestrians, the eye and any sense of place or community, critics argue.

As a compromise, Sooner Investment now has two retail buildings, instead of just one, up to the sidewalk along Cooper, leaving a gap in the middle so passersby on Cooper can still see the front of the grocery.

The developer also uses pedestrian paths, landscaping and green islands to break up the L-shaped parking lot into three sections of 56, 36 and 100 spaces.

The plan also calls for 17 angled parking spaces on Madison and eight parallel spaces on Cooper. On-street parking is often desirable among urban planners because it slows traffic, which is better for pedestrians.

The 14,000-square-foot building on Madison would be set back 25 feet farther from the street than the existing building that houses Memphis Pizza Cafe.

The extra space not only makes the angled parking possible, but allows for wider sidewalks and more landscaping, Clark said.

And the corner of Madison and Cooper will feature a parklike area between two buildings.

Critics also said Overton Square's character would be sacrificed by the demolition of richly detailed buildings that date to the 1930s.

Sooner Investment is not backing down on this issue. For them, the old buildings must go.

Getting them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is a problem, their "hodgepodge" configurations make them hard to lease and their wood frames make them more of a fire and safety issue, Clark said.

And opponents have also worried about the quality of the grocery being planned.

The project's idea came from Associated Wholesale Grocery, which approached Sooner Investment saying it wanted to build on the site a "high-end, perishable-food-oriented supermarket," Clark said.

"They said it was probably one of the most under-served areas in all of Memphis for this type of operation."

Associated Wholesale Grocers operates a line of groceries, from discount to higher-end. But since it also supplies independent groceries, the store's name could possibly be Overton Square Grocery, he said.

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This plan does not sound good. The older buildings should be preserved to help protect the historic nature of this area. The wholesale grocery store sounds like it will be more of a warehouse store than something upscale like a Whole Foods Market. Sounds like the developers want to turn it into yet another ugly strip mall right in the historic heart of Midtown.

Overton Square used to be one of the prime areas of Memphis with great restaurants and bars and shops. It's hard to believe it has fallen so far and its future looks bleak with development plans like this. This is bad news for Memphis.

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I think this plan is nice, we have to face the facts that times change and the old overton square is not coming back. While we have plenty of old buildings already preserved in the city I think some new structures will give the area the refreshed look it needs to attract some refreshing customers. Im glad to see new structures in Mid Town, it looks more up to date.

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  • 3 months later...

This is late getting posted, but plans to redevelop Overton Square have been put on hold now that Sooner has backed out of putting a grocery store in that area:


The article also makes mention of proposed zoning changes being made in order to define how future developments are to be done in that area.

Fuss scares off Overton Square grocery

By Tom Bailey Jr.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The proposed Overton Square grocery store has died anonymously.

The developer of the controversial project confirmed Tuesday he has officially dropped the project, always described as a high-end but yet-to-be-named grocery store.

"The grocery store people were getting pretty nervous about the whole project," said Leland Clark, principal of Sooner Investments.

"With all the publicity going on, this thing had almost become a public referendum on the site development plan."

The plan would have transformed the five acres on the southwest corner of Madison and Cooper. The project would have razed existing buildings that line Madison and replaced them with five new ones, including a 53,000-square-foot grocery store.

Preservationists and some urban planning advocates either fought the plan or fought to change it.

Preservationists, saying any new buildings should have at least as much character as the older ones.

Urban design advocates, saying the buildings should not be fronted by parking lots as if they were in suburbia.

Last month, Sooner Investments indefinitely delayed the project. They killed it this month.

The property owners helped plunge the dagger into the development, refusing to extend the time Sooner needed to win government approval and more community support.

In an effort to win more support, Sooner had hired local architectural firm Looney Ricks Kiss to improve how the new buildings would look.

Opponents were waiting to see how the changes looked last month when Sooner put the brakes on.

Meanwhile, work continues on a zoning overlay district for Midtown that may lessen such conflicts in the future.

The Midtown Plan would tell developers on the front end some basic design rules the community wants the projects to follow.

The Memphis Regional Design Center, Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, Midtown Memphis Development Corporation and the Cooper-Young Development Corporation are nearly finished with the first draft of the district plan, said Chooch Pickard, executive director of the design center.

Feedback will be sought from public officials and residents, he said.

Who knows, Sooner's Clark said, his project "may come back around. Things may change a year from now."

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  • 4 years later...

Before news of the Kroger expansion and the Fresh Market construction began, I was bummed about the additional grocery store, as well.


I am, however, thoroughly excited about all else that's going on at the Square (my own term of endearment). In my humblest of estimations, the Square will be/has already become the Memphis neighborhood for newcomers. I couldn't have seen it when I arrived here in August 2011.


Now, all we need is a full-service coffee shop to move into the former Dublin House pub and for some reasonable developer to come along and renovate The French Quarter...

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