What’s Up with Overton Square

Posted by Holly Whitfield | June 7th 2012 3829 0

In the past 40 years, Overton Square (at the corner of Cooper and Madison) has gone from the city's biggest party to a sedate street lined with a handful of restaurants and even more empty storefronts. All of that it's about to change, though. Here's what's up with the redevelopment of Overton Square.

What it was: Before Beale Street became Memphis' major party district, midtown's Overton Square was the center of local revelry. The city authorized the sale of liquor by the drink in 1969 and by 1970, the square was the place to go for good times.

Overton Square 1970, Memphis, Tenn.

(Photo used under creative commons license by Memphis Heritage)

Overton Square had restaurants (like Julius Cheezer, the Public Eye and the original T.G.I. Friday's), clubs (Bombay Bicycle Club, Lafayette's Music Room), shops and an ice skating rink.

Overton Square, Memphis, Tenn.

(Photo used under creative commons license by Memphis Heritage

What it is now: As the Memphians' entertainment options expanded downtown, Overton Square became less and less of a city center. Now, 43 years after its opening, the Square is still home to a handful of restaurants, bars and theatres, but it's not nearly the super fun entertainment district that it used to be.

The good news is, there's a plan to restore Midtown's square to something that will hopefully be even better than it used to be.

What it's going to be:

Overton Square 2012, Memphis, Tenn.

Real estate developer Loeb Properties and the City have partnered to fully revitalize Overton Square. The plan is to keep the existing restaurants and theatres, attract more dining and retail establishments and move them all into restored versions of the existing buildings (thus maintaining the character of the square).

Once everything is finished, Overton Square will be home to four live theatres (including a new, soon-to-be-built Hattilloo building), a movie theatre, and space for about six additional restaurants and 7-10 potential additional retail shops.

Future parking garage site, Overton Square, Memphis, Tenn.

Theres's also a plan to build a three-level, 450 space parking garage in the western half of the existing parking lot. The garage will be run by the city, and the plan is to keep the costs as low as possible. No one's quite sure what that means yet, but expect it to be super cheap and possibly free during certain times.

The garage will also have a basin underneath it that will solve the Lick Creek flooding issues without forcing the water into Overton Park.

At the moment, there aren't any concrete plans for the now-empty French Quarter Inn, though a boutique hotel feasability study is in progress. Also, there will be two plug-and-play outdoor stages for live music.

Overton Square 2012, Memphis, Tenn.

The new and improved version of Overton Square should start to come together by this time next year (Summer 2013) when the parking garage is completed.

What you can do in the meantime: Continue to support the existing businesses in Overton Square, especially during the big, ongoing construction projects. It'll be a little less convenient, but it's important, especially if the new plans for the square are going to succeed.

Also, take a look at this map of Loeb's plans for the square and see where everything is going to be: 

Overton Square plans, Memphis, Tenn.

For more information about the Overton Square redevleopment plans, go here.

Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

Show Comments


  1. Leo Alessi says:

    No rail connection to Cooper-Young?

  2. Cort says:

    For a first person account of what went down in Overton Square back in the day follow the link to the history in this post: http://fixmemphis.blogspot.com/2012/02/memphis-bicycle-bombay-bicycle-club.html

  3. Lauren says:

    Perfect spot for a Trader Joes. I'm just saying.

  4. andrew.jpg says:

    I think a rail system to Cooper-Young would be smart. Also some sort of "pop-up" window art galleries would be cool like they are doing downtown currently. I think the plans are great and I look forward to what it will be after construction!

  5. Tim from Cali says:

    Please, please, please Trader Joes, I miss to so’s.

  6. Gh says:

    A Cooper-Young rail connection isn't going to happen. One of the primary goals of the development is to create a self-sustaining entertainment area. They want their shops/restaurants to rival and compete with Cooper-Young, not be drained by a rail connection leading to more established places. While it's nice to see an effort made to revitalize empty buildings, I don't think that there is enough demand to make it worth while since the midtown area already offers so many great retail and dining choices. In the end, the theaters will survive because they have niche markets, but the other buildings will likely be left vacant eventually. A quality supermarket would have more lasting effect. Rather than creating a district that ideally seems cool, it would be a better plan to lease to tenants that meet a real need in the community. I don't necessarily know what that would be–doesn't have to be a supermarket, you've already got kroger ob union and cost saver on madison–but I don't think it's another restaurant space with a high turnover rate. I'm all for revitalizing, but I'd rather not have to do it again in 10-15 years. 

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