Conversation with a leader: Darwin Pankey

Wednesday, March 9, 2005 at 1:00am

Darwin Pankey

Grubb & Ellis|Centennial, Nashville, President

Hometown: Salem, Va.

Age: 56

Education: University of Georgia, degree in real estate

First job: right-of-way clearing for Georgia Power Co.

Hypothetical dream job: hardware store owner

Pankey, teaming with business partner Richard Fulton, oversees 35 employees (including 18 brokers) working from the affiliate�s West End Avenue office. A 24-year veteran of the company, Pankey has been president of the Grubb & Ellis Nashville affiliate for 15 years.

What is the current state of Nashville�s commercial real estate market?

It�s generally strengthening. The supply and demand is basically in balance for most of the major product types [office, industrial and retail]. It�s not overbuilt, and it�s neither a landlord�s nor tenant�s market.

Some in your industry consider downtown office space a trouble spot. Your thoughts?

Our annual survey shows that the [central business improvement district] vacancy overall is about 15 percent. What populated downtown historically � the banks, insurances companies, law firms, etc. � are consolidating or moving jobs out of the CBID. And there is not another major tenant type to fill the space.

On that theme, there are projects proposed that would add lots of Class A space. Is downtown prepared for this?

The tenant taking up a majority of space in the proposed Eakin Partners building [SunTrust Bank] currently is already downtown, and we�re the leasing agent for 201 Fourth Ave. N. [the so-called SunTrust Bank Building]. The price point of the building we manage and its location will aid in the leasing effort. The building sits on a 100 percent corner.

So you don�t feel the possible loss of SunTrust offices will be too damaging to the building�s owner?

It will be damaging for the next three or four years it takes to re-lease the space. Again, because of the quality of the building and the location, it will re-lease.

Some owners of downtown office buildings and the managers of those spaces seem almost resentful that new Class A space could be built.

I�m just not real sure, with the emphasis on housing downtown, how strong the downtown office market is going to be. Metro government appears to be much more supportive in downtown residential than in strengthening the office stock.

Do you feel Tony Giarratana�s Signature Tower will be built?

I would want to see more of a strengthening of the business climate before I would feel comfortable with that project. I think Tony has been successful downtown. If anybody can pull it off, it would probably be Tony. If you have 15 percent vacancy today, and Eakin Partners is getting ready to build, and SunTrust will leave 201 Fourth Ave. for the Eakin building, I don�t know what type vacancy we will then have. And I don�t see growth with the existing downtown tenants, or suburban tenants moving downtown, to reduce that number.

Downtown is the headquarters home to only one (CB Richard Ellis) national or regional commercial real estate operation. Is that bad?

If a larger portion of our business was downtown, that would be bad.

We manage and lease buildings downtown, and we get downtown; time is important. We moved second quarter 2004 from West End and 23rd Avenue to West End and Murphy Road. I can�t tell you how much time it saves my brokers to be able to jump on Interstate 440 and get to their destination.

What might be the next trend in the local commercial real estate industry?

The tenants like mixed-use buildings, like 2525 [West End Ave.]. That building leased at a very good pace. Look at Roundabout Plaza, the Eakin Partners building.

What is the current state of the Nashville affiliate of Grubb & Ellis|Centennial?

Last year was probably the highest grossing year for our brokerage operation. [Pankey declined to give a figure.] We moved. We had some senior brokers who had outstanding years. We exceeded our goals going into 2004. Three of our brokers made the Grubb & Ellis �Circle of Excellence,� compared to only one in 2003.

What are your affiliate�s shortcomings?

We could use more offices in second-tier cities. If the Grubb & Ellis family had offices in, for example, New Orleans and Charlotte, that would be helpful. Sometimes we�re lacking in pitching our successes to the local media. But we do advertise in local and regional publications.

Describe an ethical dilemma you have faced and how you resolved it?

In the commercial real estate business, when you pay a commission on the value of a transaction, there are occasional ethical dilemmas. At the end of the day, you have to do what�s best for the client and not the broker. If you do, it will pay in the long run.

What has been your most difficult decision?

Our decision to move last year was tough. And Centennial Inc.�s [Pankey�s former company] merger 12 years ago with Fulton Armstrong Inc. was not done without much consideration.

If you could change one decision you�ve made at Grubb & Ellis, which one and why?

I probably would have been a little more aggressive with several broker recruiting opportunities.

What is the future growth potential of the city�s commercial real estate market?

With people like Janet Miller [senior vice president for economic development for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce] and other city officials chasing businesses, I think we should get our fair share of tenants.

Filed under: City Business