Time to lure in the big boys

Wednesday, June 29, 2005 at 1:00am

It's time.

Time for an infusion of nationally known companies that command respect by building king-sized towers and eye-catching urban infill to roll the development dice in our fair city.

Time indeed.

Last week, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse announced it wants to undertake with the Nashville Sounds organization a $230 million mixed-use development on the old Thermal site. In addition to a ballpark, the infill project would include 600 residential units, with 125 to be "affordable."

Mayor Bill Purcell's Office, the Metro Development and Housing Agency, and Metro Finance Department Director David Manning are pondering the offer, a complex deal that, in part, would provide the Sounds and Struever 11 acres and $20 million in tax increment financing.

If city officials desperately covet Struever - as they should - they downplay so publicly. They note the Baltimore-based company desires a Nashville presence, pointing to its attempts to also develop on SoBro's Rolling Mill Hill.

No need to hastily jump in bed with Struever, the officials calmly note.

Nonsense.

Hey, fellas, get in the sack with Struever, give them a good night kiss, and serve them breakfast in bed the next morning.

Give Struever the land. Give them TIF. Give them the proverbial farm. And feel free to give them William Williams' house and life savings while you're at it.

Friends, this is no game. This is Struever Bros. This is $230 million in development. Struever plays in the big leagues, like with the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. Check Struever's Web site. Note their developments. See how their work invigorates cities.

We should dance with the Struevers of the development world - because, as history shows, they don't to the two-step easily.

In the mid-1980s, the high-powered DeBartolo Property Co. developed One Nashville Place (playfully called the R2-D2 Building).

At the time, DeBartolo likely was the most high-profile national development company to undertake a project in this city's downtown.

Actually, DeBartolo may have been at that point the only high-profile out-of-town developer to have worked here.

Since then, a few national big boys have made limited impact downtown.

But like a gangly teenage girl who blossoms, Nashville is maturing - and gaining suitors.

For example, Atlanta-based Novare Group is teaming with Giarratana Development LP on Viridian, the 31-story Church Street condo tower whose construction has created a media frenzy that has made the affable Tony Giarratana a local star.

John Long, Novare (pronounced No-VAIR) chief financial officer, said Nashville is ripe for more high-profile developments.

Pointing to other Southeastern cities that are slowly luring big-time national developers, Long says Nashville might be ready to join them.

"Our model is to partner with a local developer who understands the market, and that's why we're partnered with Tony Giarratana," Long says. "Real estate is a local business and it's hard to go into someone's backyard."

Dominant in Atlanta, Novare also has buildings in the back yards of Charlotte and Tampa and an Austin project in the planning stages. Nashville could have ill-afforded to see the company pass on it to set up shop next in, say, Memphis, Jacksonville, Raleigh/Durham or Birmingham.

City officials and Chamber of Commerce leaders claim that Nashville is the South's (and even nation's) top mid-sized metropolis in which to do business. They point to the city's recent rankings as both the U.S.'s top corporate relocation and corporate headquarters locale in Expansion Magazine and Business Facilities, respectively.

And they boast about Nashville's bustling development activity.

Good points.

But this city is in no position to assume that the heavy hitters from the U.S. development fraternity will flock to Nashville just because it's Nashville without incentives and the city's continued momentum.

Jim McKinney, whose Pittsburgh-based McKinney Properties recently paid $31 million for downtown's Cumberland apartment building, said he is excited to have a Nashville presence, pointing to the city's great growth potential.

But when asked for a ranking of mid-sized Southern cities based on their development accomplishments, McKinney says, "When I think of the elite, I think of Austin, Charlotte, Orlando and Raleigh. Nashville is behind those, but the gap is closing."

Let's hope that gap will soon be shuttered.

William Williams writes about Nashville's man-made environment. He can be contacted at wwilliams@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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