Exclusive: TraVure developers plan East Memphis office project with Martins by Jacob Steimer

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One day near the beginning of the year, developer Brown Gill had just finished working out at Wellhouse Fitness when Rawleigh Martin walked up and told Gill he wanted help building office space on eight acres adjacent to the high-end workout facility.

A joint venture between the two men and their fathers, Ray Gill and Brad Martin, made all the sense in the world to Brown Gill, since it would allow him to leverage connections he's made with office users while trying to lease TraVure, Gill Properties Inc.'s $90 million Germantown project.

"We are constantly digging up office users who want to be in TraVure … but don’t want to pay a Class-A-on-Poplar rate," Brown Gill said. "Or, we can't fit them into TraVure, so we direct them to this site."

The site is located on Cherry Road, just south of The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and on the same 25-acre property as Wright Medical Technology's 140,000-square-foot corporate headquarters. The development, which is still in its early stages, would include between 60,000 and 100,000 square feet of office space split between two buildings on the southeast portion of the property.

The eight acres of space the new development would occupy is currently a grass field with a garden and tennis courts on it. The acreage sits south of the Wright Medical buildings and the campus' two other, smaller office buildings and is east of Wellhouse Fitness.

Rawleigh Martin said he and his father, who own the 25-acre tract under RBM Cherry Road Partners, were content with the property as it was but decided "the highest and best use" of the empty land wasn't "grass and a garden."

He said he's confident the project will be successful, in part due to a tight Class A market in East Memphis, which hit a record-low vacancy rate of 3.8 percent in 2017's first quarter, according to Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors' research.

"It's an amenities package you can't get anywhere else," Martin said. "Every broker I've spoken to says there's not enough Class A space in East Memphis."

Those amenities include the high-end Wellhouse Fitness; an expansive, green campus; and potentially a turf putting green that is being considered for the project. Ray Gill said these amenities will be crucial to attract tenants.

"Companies know they need amenities to attract millennials," Ray Gill said.

Martin said the project will be the last development on the property while he and his father own it, as they are determined for it to keep its estate-like feel. With that goal in mind, the project doesn't include any vertical parking.

"We're trying not to change the essence of the campus. ... We're trying to get CEOs [of potential tenants] to go stand on the site and see what a cool campus environment it already is," Brown Gill said.

Martin said he and his father, the retired chairman and CEO of Saks Inc. and current vice chair of the new University of Memphis Board of Trustees, wouldn't be attempting the development if they thought it would be at all bad for the property's commercial and residential neighbors.

The Martins and Gills are going to start the approval process for the project soon, with the hope of taking it before the Shelby County Land Use Control Board in the fall.

Martin said he is hoping to land a tenant for one or both of the buildings within the next few months.

The Reaves Firm designed the initial site plans for the new development. No contractor has been selected yet.

Jacob Steimer covers CRE, manufacturing, finance and nonprofits for MBJ. 

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