Thursday, January 14, 2010

Overton Square's Future

Anchor tenants Malco and Paulette's give their views.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 4:00 AM

On Saturday, I went to the Memphis Zoo and stared down the wolves in the Teton Trek exhibit that opened last year. Nice.

On Saturday night, I went to see George Clooney at Malco's Studio on the Square. Nice.

On Sunday, I went to the open house for the new 390-seat Playhouse on the Square, with a backstage rigging area that goes up seven stories and can fly Peter Pan over the audience. Nice.

Later that afternoon, I went to the Central Library, which opened in 2001, then over to Rhodes College, where tuition, room, and board costs $42,000 a year. Very nice.

And on Monday, I read that the owners of Overton Square can't come up with a deal for developing an empty parking lot in the heart of Midtown and have taken their proposed grocery store, demolition, and new buildings off the table.

So much going on in Midtown, so much investment, so much prosperity and potential, so many opinions, and so little going on at Overton Square. What is wrong with this picture? I asked the anchor tenants with money in the game: Jimmy Tashie of Malco's Studio on the Square and George Falls, owner of Paulette's.

Malco built its four-screen boutique theater in Overton Square 10 years ago after taking a pass — wisely, as it turned out — on Peabody Place downtown.

"We've been in the square since 2000," Tashie said. "There was a lot of talk at that time of bringing in all kinds of new stuff. Of course nothing has happened, other than moving Le Chardonnay and Bayou Bar and Grill over to impact our parking.

"When they moved everybody north of Madison, we knew something was going to happen. It's a shame to have that big parking lot with nothing going on. Finding the best use is subject to a lot of interpretation. What Malco wants is something pedestrian-friendly across Madison. We want something open where people feel it is all connected. A view corridor is an important component so people can look between the buildings and see activity on the north side of Madison.

"I have great respect for all the people saying that Midtown must retain its integrity. Whether they can use all the old buildings, I don't know. A lot of them are going to be difficult to deal with. That's a business decision for an investment group to make.

"Cooper-Young has got a little of the spark that Overton Square used to have but no longer has. You don't want a shopping center storefront look there.

"Our theater is doing fine. We've been very happy with it. If they're making the right kind of movies, then our business is healthy. We like having our film festivals and special showings there. The new Playhouse is a great thing. With that, you have live theater, good restaurants, and a movie theater. It just seems like maybe something good is about to happen."

Paulette's restaurant has been at Overton Square for 35 years.

"I want something over there," Falls said. "It is terrible not having something across the street. Ever since TGI Friday's went out, it just hasn't been the same. I would rather have something that may not be my first choice than nothing at all. The dream come true would be mixed retail and housing, but that's not going to happen.

"The landlord with Fisher Capital in Denver is a great guy, but he's not a developer. He seems to like the idea of the grocery store, and I'm certainly not opposed to it. They spent a lot of money fixing up the old buildings, but it didn't seem to help. I was disappointed when I heard about them withdrawing their proposal. I would love to see the development go through that these guys have planned.

"The movie theater hasn't been what I think some of the former landlords thought it would be. We were told we would have a 10 percent increase. I said I would take 1 percent. The thing is, a movie usually starts at dinnertime. We are doing okay, not what it was in the boom days, but we're doing all right."

Tom Lowe is president of Univest, co-owner of Overton Square.

"I think the economic window of opportunity is limited," he said. "We want to know where the community stands. We don't want to force anything. We're very impressed with Councilman Shea Flinn, and we'll see what he can pull together. We need cooperation, support, and realism from the community."

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