Ray Gill’s $90 million TraVure project was approved in Germantown this week, but he’s in no rush to go back to the city with another project because of the contentious process.
“I’m not saying we won’t do something in Germantown, but we will think long and hard about the alternatives,” Gill said Thursday from his offices in Macon Station in Cordova, a retail center he built in 2008 at the busy intersection of Macon and Germantown Road.
That project was a cakewalk compared to the planning for TraVure, a $90 million mixed-use project on 10 acres of Kirby Farms property east of Kirby on Poplar.
The area is in Germantown’s 58-acre Western Gateway, one of five business “nodes” city officials are interested in designing to get the dense, walkable developments that produce the most revenue for the city’s bottom line while still maintaining its neat, button-down character.
Gill is the first developer in the Western Gateway, a position he said would have been difficult for anyone. But he also said Germantown was learning its SmartGrowth code at the same time it was trying to administer it, causing quagmires and backfires.
For example, Gill is developing immediately next to a gated community of $500,000 homes. The city’s smart code for transition between residential and commercial allows parking garages — one of the biggest points of contention for Nottoway residents, including some who argued they weren’t legal under the code.
Others, including Robert Fogelman, are against placing a stoplight on Poplar at the site of the future TraVure Avenue, the main road into the development.
In the end Monday, aldermen said they had to listen to the recommendations of city staff, including Cameron Ross, head of economic and community development, and Debra Wiles, city attorney.
“This is our first effort in the Western Gateway, and we want it to be right,” Alderman Rocky Janda said. “We may not even be right now, but Mr. Gill really stepped up to the plate in many areas that he did not have to.”
Gill has been developing in Shelby County for nearly three decades, starting in the early 1980s when he was building retail centers, including Germantown Plaza and Kirby Gate. He diversified to add residential construction. One of the most notable was Cordova the Town.
He had just completed a short course in New Urbanism at Harvard University and was sold on building the purest form he could in Memphis.
“I thought the residential business was ripe for something new,” Gill said. “Boy, was I wrong.”
He bought tracts of land in the old part of Cordova and built homes that would appeal to empty-nesters, said Gene Bryan, who at the time was manager of comprehensive planning for Memphis-Shelby County Office of Planning and Development.
“After Cordova was annexed, we tried to do a couple of things for the community to make them feel it was good to be part of the city,” Bryan said.
“What Ray was doing was cutting-edge, and people wanted to see Cordova thought of that way. He got a lot of support.”
Ten years later, Gill auctioned off many of the unsold lots, at the suggestion of his son, Brown Gill.
Other developers had come in and bought surrounding tracts and put up less expensive houses.
“In the end, I couldn’t compete with them on price on the same size lot,” Gill said. “I thought I could overcome that with mixed uses, people could walk to restaurants or the shops.”
TraVure is different, Brown Gill said, because demand for Class A office space and other amenities, including the dual-branded hotel, is strong in Germantown.
“We’re providing a product for a market that is there. We are not trying to come out here and create a market that is not here.”
A potential client is interested in 20,000 square feet of office space, more than a seventh of the space in the five-story building.
“The phone is ringing every day,” Brown Gill said. “When they hear about what we are doing with the stairwell, they’re ready to sign up.”
The stairs will be an extension of the full-service fitness club in the basement.
“We’re playing around with numbering each stair so people can see how much exercise they getting by taking the stairs,” Brown Gill said.
When Bryan saw news coverage of TraVure, “I thought, it looks like Ray is trying to do something good again.
“I can understand the neighbors,” Bryan said. “What we’re probably talking about here is a conflict between residential property having nonresidential property next to them.
“How many times did people go out and buy a house next to a great big field and think it is going to be a field forever and forever?”
About Jane Roberts
Jane Roberts is a member of the suburban news team at The Commercial Appeal. She focuses on education and interesting people.