Conversation with a leader

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 at 1:00am

Your early career as a builder/developer centered on conventional suburban development. You are now focused on New Urbanism/TND infill projects. Why the switch?

Right out of college, I did resort development golf-course communities with Diamondhead Corp. During this time, I learned the value of studying demographics of homebuyers. In my recent demographic studies, I have learned that 75 percent of the homebuyers in the marketplace do not have kids 18 or younger. For years, a lot of consumer groups bought houses that did not fit their needs. They simply bought for price point and location. In studying buyer groups, I have found there are very diverse housing needs. I have studied Kentlands, Lakelands, Harbor Town, Seaside, Celebration, etc.

Why is traditional neighborhood development important?
David McGowan, president, Lenox Village LLC, Regent Homes LLC, Regent Realty LLC, and Regent Development LLC

Hometown: Mobile, Ala.

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, University of South Alabama

Age: 56

First conventional job: Design draftsman with a consulting engineer firm

Hypothetical dream job: Governor of Tennessee

After years of handling conventional suburban residential development, David McGowan is now focused on "traditional neighborhood development" (TND). He directs 16 employees working from his office in Lenox Village, the New Urbanism development in South Nashville. In 1991, McGowan structured a leveraged buyout of the Radnor companies (Radnor Homes, Radnor Development and Radnor Realty) from parent Radnor Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Sun Oil Co. As such, he oversaw one of the state's largest privately owned homebuilding/land developing companies. In 1998, Pulte Corp. bought Radnor, and McGowan left to focus on researching smart growth, TND and New Urbanism, with his efforts resulting in Lenox Village. McGowan is a former president of the Homebuilders Association of Middle Tennessee and remains a director of the association on various levels.

From a society standpoint, TND offers a broad range of housing types and price levels. In itself, that meets the diversity of the new American household. At Lenox Village, we offer housing priced from the $90,000s to the $300,000s. You can have a single home with [two or] three generations of a family because many LV homes have "bounce-back" above-garage apartments for recent college grads or aging parents.

Do you feel that municipalities requiring development be done in the conventional, single-use manner harm society by allowing the wasting of land and segregating of people by socio-economic class?

The cost of maintaining a community at one unit per acre - the Brentwood model - or at 1.7 units per acre - the Franklin model - puts a high burden on future generations that will maintain and operate those communities. That type development creates a separation of classes by economics. Few people who make less than $100,000 annually can afford to buy a home in Brentwood. As such, people who work service jobs in Brentwood cannot live in Brentwood. The cities of Brentwood and Franklin allow the building of office condos at 12 units per acre. So jobs are being created but not the housing to support those jobs. Workers are driving from other communities, and city officials complain about the main roads being clogged with traffic.

You have just returned from Oklahoma City to speak to city officials about traditional neighborhood development.

It's a compliment that the City of Oklahoma City is looking to Nashville to find solutions for housing and planning problems. It says a lot about Mayor Bill Purcell and Metro Planning Department Executive Director Rick Bernhardt and how they support New Urbanism/smart growth.

How would you describe your leadership characteristics?

I find talented employees and professional engineers/architects, and I trust them and give them the authority to do their jobs.

What is your main weakness as a businessman?

I can sometimes be too demanding with local politicians whose assistance I need with projects.

You are preparing to develop 3102 West End Circle, a $5.5 million four-story residential building with a traditional design and underground parking. This will be your first infill project in urban Nashville. Your thoughts?

We basically are looking forward to moving into the core of the city. We've had a lot of interest already and hope it's the first of many infill projects in that area.

What is the financial status of your various companies?

We're very strong financially. Within the past 12 months, we have doubled our revenues and number of employees.

Who in the traditional neighborhood development/smart growth community nationwide do you see as your main influence?

Orlando-based John Van Sossen with Looney Ricks Kiss Architects is an expert. He knows how to design a livable community and perfect a TND plan.

How can Nashville retrofit some of its land-wasteful suburban developments?

The city is working to do that by using zoning overlays.

What locally based developers are doing the best job of creating urban infill buildings?

Bristol Development and CODA are the main two. They are stepping up big.

You are on the board of the Adventure Science Center. The Metro Parks Department controls the property on which the center, Greer Stadium and Fort Negley are located. What should be the future of that land?

It's one of the most prime pieces of real estate in Nashville, and it needs to be developed as a major park and tourist destination for the city. The park would be anchored by the Adventure Science Center, the Civil War interpretive park [at Fort Negley] and other family-oriented offerings. The center's board and city officials have had discussions. Hopefully, the complexion of the area will have major changes when the Nashville Sounds leave.

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