Giving Overton Square A New Lease On Life
photograph by Larry Kuzniewski
"The fun part is about to begin,” said Bob Loeb in August, two weeks after Loeb Properties closed on its acquisition of Overton Square.
Loeb, 57, and his brother, Lou, 59, have had their eyes on the Square since the mid-1990s when an out-of-state developer bought it but failed to execute its development plan.
The Loeb brothers went into business together after finishing college. They opened a bar near the University of Memphis called London Transport, but Bob says Overton Square was “the real show.” He remembers going to TGI Friday’s in its heyday as the hub of Midtown’s bar and restaurant scene. Nostalgia has played a part in the redevelopment plan, which has the backing of Memphis Heritage, the city of Memphis, and neighborhood groups.
“It has a special place in the hearts of Memphians of a large age group,” Loeb says. “Unfortunately, it has suffered over the last several years as the former owners pushed out local merchants in hopes of bringing in nationals and having a more dense, infill development. They had experience doing that in Colorado and California and thought they could do it here. We have invited a wide swath of the community to give us input. Marketing 101 is to give people what they want.”
Loeb calls his company “an acquisition and rehab shop for the most part,” with several single-tenant properties and shopping strips such as Trinity Commons, Park Place at Park and Ridgeway, and the Belvedere Collection at Union and Belvedere. Loeb Properties owned some small properties around Overton Square before it recently acquired the nine acres that will be the site of 100,000 square feet of improvements including restaurants and a performing arts theater. The city will own the future parking garage that will be built over a floodwater retention basin.
Loeb says he wakes up at night thinking of Overton Square and picks up ideas for it when he is traveling.
“I’m on a road trip now with my son in Colorado, and we stayed in a part of downtown Denver that is a New Urbanist walkable community. I am living this thing and totally caught up in it. I tell you, though, it has been stressful inside our shop because we have a bunch of people who have to lease and manage our portfolio and they’ve got other jobs to do.”
Since 1887, four generations of the Loeb family have run a family firm involved in over a dozen businesses including real estate investment and development, convenience stores, barbecue and chicken restaurants, outdoor advertising, and laundry/dry cleaning businesses. As children, Bob and Lou Loeb and six siblings were pictured in advertisements that were a Memphis staple. Their father, William Loeb, ran the family business while William’s brother Henry was twice elected mayor of Memphis and famously fought with the city sanitation workers in the 1968 strike that led to the involvement and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
William and Henry Loeb were not close for most of their lives and had some celebrated feuds.
“Our uncle was a fiscal conservative in his personal and business life,” says Bob Loeb. “I feel for his legacy and for his family. He is seen as a bigot and racist, and the fact is he was from a progressive Jewish family and was educated at an Eastern college [Brown].”
Bob Loeb, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, has two sons and a daughter ranging in age from 18 to 21. He plays golf and usually bikes or walks five days a week at Shelby Farms Park. Brother Lou was one of the best squash players in the state before his hip deteriorated several years ago and he stopped playing.
“Lou is more creative and artistic and literally left-handed,” says Bob. “I am more analytical and focused on acquisitions and finance. He does operations and leasing. We have a great deal of trust in each other.”
After running on fumes and memories for so many years, Overton Square will require all of the talents of both of them.