Cheered on by a largely Midtown crowd of spectators, the Council approved funding for a parking garage and floodwater detention basin that will enable Loeb Properties to go ahead with its plans to spend $19 million redeveloping Overton Square.
The two-hour meeting Tuesday was interrupted several times by applause for Loeb Properties’ plans for a theater district including a relocated Hattiloo Theater, a black repertory company.
Approval came over the objections of council members Wanda Halbert, Joe Brown, and Harold Collins, who tried to delay the vote until next year. But supporters said the delay would effectively have killed the projects. Collins did, however, win verbal assurances that Elvis Presley Boulevard would get moved to the top of the list for capital improvements next year.
The Overton Square project includes $16 million in city and federal funds for flood control and a parking garage that will be owned by the city. The flooding problem in Midtown comes from Lick Creek, which is just west of Overton Square.
Robert Loeb said his company will spend $19 million as follows: $8.5 million for property acquisition, $5 million for rehabilitation of existing buildings, $5 million for new construction, and $500,000 to cover operating losses during construction. Hattiloo Theater will try to raise an additional $4 million and the owners of the abandoned French Quarter Inn plan to replace it with a new $10 million hotel. And Loeb said that if a grocery store were to be in the mix “then our investment would go up.”
The resolution was sponsored by councilmen Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland, who had the support of the Wharton administration and a majority of their colleagues. But it was not a slam dunk. Councilman Ed Ford Jr. said he was taking “a leap of faith” that the council would make good on promises to tend to other flooded parts of the city. Councilman Janice Fullilove did not vote on the motion to approve the project, but did get enough votes to defeat her nemesis, Chairman Myron Lowery, on a procedural vote that led up to it. And Collins was not appeased.
“I’m going to be a little bit cynical today,” he said, before showing pictures of Elvis Presley Boulevard in what he took to be a deteriorated state. “This street has needed repairs and redevelopment for decades.”
The Lick Creek flooding affects homes in a swath of Midtown from the fairgrounds to Chelsea Avenue, but the number of homes is not known. Strickland conceded that the 4,400 homes estimate that has been published several times is not in the engineering study and he doesn’t know where it came from.
An online petition supporting the project had 2025 signatures by Tuesday afternoon, and a separate show of support for Hattiloo Theater could muster more than 100 theater fans.
Hattiloo, located on the edge of downtown, hopes to become part of a Midtown theater district at Overton Square, joining Playhouse on the Square and smaller venues.
NOTE: This post has been rewritten. An earlier version incorrectly said that Councilwoman Fullilove voted for the project. (JB)