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Hattiloo Theatre Ready to Rise at Overton Square

Hattiloo Theatre Ready to Rise at Overton Square
By Sarah Baker 

Hattiloo Theatre is preparing to break ground on its build-to-suit facility at Overton Square in Midtown within the next 45 days, as it finalizes some last-minute financing and lines up subcontractors.

The $2.8 million project will be a freestanding, 10,600-square-foot structure with two theaters in the single-story building at the northwest corner of Monroe Avenue and Cooper Street. One theater will be a larger space for landmark performances, and the other will be a black box stage for smaller productions and training. Hattiloo founder Ekundayo Bandele said Hattiloo will be the sixth freestanding black theater in the country, but it’s an even bigger deal for Memphis. “I wonder if people know this is the first building being constructed to house the cultural achievements of local African-Americans in Memphis history,” Bandele said. “That’s putting Memphis on the map.” Hattiloo is a black repertory theater company founded in 2006 that operates out of converted retail space at 656 Marshall Ave. By April 2014 when it opens, Hattiloo will join Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse and Malco Studio on the Square, which are estimated to draw crowds of 100,000 collectively each year to the area. Grinder, Taber & Grinder Inc. recently filed a $2.3 million building permit with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement for the theater at 37 S. Cooper St. Grinder, Taber & Grinder, which just built out the old Yosemite Sam’s space for Local Gastropub on the Square, is working with minority contractor Precise Contracting. Brett Grinder, vice president of Grinder, Taber & Grinder, said the job has challenges due to the site restrictions. It’s bounded by Monroe on the south; Cooper on the east; the 450-space, three-level parking garage under construction to the west; and the parking lot serving Loeb Properties Inc.’s tenants to the north. “It’s an extremely tight space,” Grinder said. “There’s no real room to do your normal lay-down area or staging. We’re going to have to be very thoughtful and specific about how we order materials, stage them to arrive and be installed pretty much directly off the delivery truck right onto the building so that we don’t end up with a lot of materials stored around where there’s no room and blocking other people’s properties.” The theater will contain a lobby, an outdoor courtyard, a green room, offices, a multiuse room, rehearsal space and a mezzanine area for support activities like catwalks and lighting. Archimania is the project’s architect. The firm is working with theater consultant Jack Hagler of Dallas-based Schuler Shook and David Bradford of SSR/Ellers on the building systems side, and with Dan Barzel of AutoZone Corp. as the independent project manager. Archimania principal Barry Yoakum said the building’s materials will be compatible with Midtown and embody Hattiloo’s spirit. “If you take Playhouse or some of the other plays, they’re trying to do something that is very specific and maybe a little more refined,” Yoakum said. “I think there’s a cultural grittiness to what Ekundayo tries to do. It rebuilds culture, and I think that’s what the building is trying to do.” Hattiloo is in the midst of a $4 million capital campaign to raise the funds for its new space, about $2.8 million of which covers construction. The remaining amounts are $700,000 for operations and marketing, and $500,000 for an endowment. Bandele said financial support has come from the city, ArtsMemphis, The Assisi Foundation of Memphis Inc., Plough Foundation, Jeniam Foundation, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and J.W. and Kathy Buckman Gibson. “Even though the building will be the culminating thing of this whole campaign, I think the beauty of this is going to be the diversity of donors that are making this building come true,” Bandele said. “You might see now all of this activity going on Overton Square, but when we bring our 5,000 to 10,000 attendance numbers to that area, it’s going to be incredible.” Bandele said ground will be broken soon, and “then the next thing you’ll see is bulldozers over there tearing up that asphalt.”