Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Developer Postpones Overton Square Demolition Request

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 9:27 PM

Buildings on the north side of Overton Square got a 60-day reprieve Wednesday night.

Fisher Capital planned to ask the Memphis City Council for approval to demolish the buildings but, after a discussion with members of Memphis Heritage, Save Overton Square, and other community groups, decided to postpone the request for 60 days.

For those who want to see the buildings saved, however, it might not be enough.

"We are to the point that we could not make redevelopment of those buildings work," said Fisher Capital's Tom Lowe.

Lowe gave three options for the future of the property:

1. Sooner Investment and Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) would redevelop the property and build a new grocery store, but the grocery store is non-negotiable. ("The bottom line is that we have one tenant and it's AWG," Lowe said.)
2. Shutter the buildings indefinitely until another redevelopment plan comes along
3. Demolish the buildings because of blight and safety concerns and wait for another redevelopment plan

The fourth option would be for someone else to buy the property.

"If the buildings get shuttered, they're going to be torn down," said Councilman Shea Flinn. "Let's be realistic."

Lowe said the proposed development was to keep the rest of the area from falling into decline.

"We own both sides of Madison there. We thought, if we can't stabilize this area, the whole thing's going to go down," Lowe said. "It's in our best interest to see this area and this property prosper."

Many at the meeting said they weren't categorically opposed to brand new buildings at the site, but they would like to see a plan for the area before going forward.

"We're not anti-development. We want new money to come into the area," said Gordon Alexander with Save Overton Square. "We don't want to put the cart before the horse and demolish those buildings before we decide what to put there."

"I think it would be a mistake to let you demolish those buildings without you at least making an effort to show us what's going to go in their place," said former city councilman John Vergos.

The initial contract between Sooner Investment and Fisher Capital is set to expire shortly, and it seemed Lowe thought they were farther along in the process than they are. No final plans have been submitted to the office of planning and development, and Lowe pushed the city to be ready to make a yea or nay decision in two months.

"We're a year into this and [Sooner is] at square one," Lowe said. "I need information now. I can't wait another nine months."

In the meantime, the Memphis Regional Design Center is spearheading an effort to get the community's "wish list" for the redevelopment in the next 60 days.

"Everyone's first preference is to save the buildings, because we know those work the the character of the neighborhood," Flinn said. "Beyond that, we're veering into unknown territory."

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