New look: Developer Pursues $150M Project to Win the Cool Springs Talent War

June 9, 2017

From the Nashville Business Journal: Sitting in a new five-story office building in suburban Cool Springs, real estate developer Brian Leary said the "car-driven, single-use suburban office park is a dinosaur whose days are numbered."

So Leary is striving to create the polar opposite on a nearby 23-acre site. The $150 million Bigby development stands among a growing crop of mixed-use projects aiming to transplant an urban setting into suburban Williamson County. The region's longtime corporate headquarters hub ranks as the fastest-growing county in the state — and posted the fastest job growth in the nation in 2016, more than quadruple the national average.

As planned, Bigby will feature an 11-story office building with 280,000 square feet of top-grade Class A space, as well as 330 apartments, 15 for-sale townhomes, a 200-room boutique hotel, about 30,000 square feet of restaurants and retail, and a 12-acre park. The project occupies one corner of the epicenter of a development boom playing out on our Williamson Watch development map. We're talking about the intersection of Carothers Parkway and McEwen Drive, which is the same crossroads as the $1 billion-plus Ovation development [where Mars Petcare is moving its U.S. headquarters] and the Franklin Park office campus Spectrum | Emery Inc. is creating.

"I believe the 21st century will be about a war for talent. If you can't respond to what that talent is demanding, you'll be left on the sidelines," said Leary, president of the commercial and mixed-use division of Charlotte-based Crescent Communities.

"That talent is demanding a commercial community for their lifestyle. I'll be the first to admit, our Nine and Ten Corporate Centre buildings are not driving millennials to race to work. They're just a business address. ... We did not want to do another office park. We've talked to the major employers down here, and they all say that this is what they're missing. They're asking for amenities, for a walkable environment, for places they can easily get to for lunch."

Leary's interview on Friday occurred as Crescent began publicizing the new version of the project to drum up interest from prospective office tenants. Leary first disclosed Crescent's plans in fall 2016. This spring, the city of Franklin approved zoning for the property.

Financing is not finalized at this stage. Leary said Crescent is confident in its equity sources, and for many projects at this stage, construction loans from banks wouldn't yet be in place. Leary said he plans to sell part of the property to a hotel developer for that proposed 200-room boutique hotel.

Crescent is aiming to start site work toward the end of next year, by which point the company expects its newly opened Two Greenway Centre office building nearby to be fully leased or close to it. Leary said that timeline creates room to generate "pre-leasing" traction for Bigby, though he said Crescent may decide to start construction without tenants in-hand. Crescent will seek about $35 per square foot to lease the office space, Leary said, a rate that represents the very top of where the Cool Springs market is today.

As of now, Bigby would open in 2021, Leary said. Crescent named the development for the Bigby-Cannon limestone formation located under much of this region.

Crescent is very familiar with this region. The company has been developing here for nearly 20 years; Pat Emery ran Crescent's local operation before the Great Recession struck and the company's debt load forced executives to file for bankruptcy protection in order to restructure. Crescent held onto this particular site and adjoining land, where the company has developed a couple of office buildings and two apartment complexes. About 1,000 people live in those two complexes combined, Leary said.

"This is a legacy site for us," Leary said. And it was one Crescent had targeted for traditional suburban office buildings, before switching gears.

"It would have been buildings 13 and 14 for us," Leary said. "And now, people coming out of the '90s-era buildings here, many of which we built, are prime prospects [for Bigby]."


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