If Midtown has a heart, it's the Overton Square area — home to the thriving Studio on the Square movie theater; several restaurants, including Boscos, Paulette's, Memphis Pizza Cafe, Bari, Restaurant Iris, Sidestreet, La Chardonnay, Bayou Bar & Grill, and others; and the new Playhouse on the Square complex.
At its center is a vast asphalt parking lot that is buffered from Madison Avenue by several funky 1930s-era buildings that a developer wants to demolish as part of a plan to build a large grocery store on the aforementioned parking lot.
Memphis Heritage maintains that the buildings are architecturally and historically significant and should be refurbished and incorporated into the square's redevelopment — or at least undergo an evaluation to determine if they can be adaptively reused. The group, and other Midtowners opposing the demolition, fear the developer will build a "suburban-like" complex that is out of character for the area.
The City Council is holding a meeting this week to discuss the demolition request and is supposed to vote on whether or not to issue a permit on December 15th.
The situation is complicated in that there are several major players, including an Oklahoma developer (Sooner), a Colorado property owner (Fisher Capital of Denver), and a national grocery supplier, AWG, which will lease the new store and provide food service to the tenant.
With so many players involved, the situation is complicated, to say the least. Assurances have been made by the developer that they are willing to build structures that would be in keeping with the character of Midtown. AWG, in turn, says it intends to lease the property to an "upscale" grocer. But promises aren't worth much in a court of law.
Memphis Heritage and local residents want some solid assurances before the deal is allowed to proceed. And in my opinion, their concerns should be strongly considered, indeed should be foremost in the minds of the City Council. They live here, after all, and it's their neighborhood and property values that will impacted. A guarantee of a high-quality grocery store and a surrounding shopping area using the original re-adapted Overton Square buildings is what they want. What they'll get is still to be determined. It should be an interesting week.