November 4, 2014
Meet The Man Pat Emery Asked To Help Influence Downtown's Most Pivotal Site
Nashville Business Journal
Dene Oliver has business and personal reasons why he seized the chance to influence what will happen to the most pivotal property in downtown Nashville: the site of the city's original convention center.
Oliver, CEO of the California company OliverMcMillan, is the new co-developer of that 6.7-acre site, along with longtime Nashville developer Pat Emery. For Emery, redeveloping the convention center site is the riskiest, most aggressive and most complicated move he's ever made to make a statement in Nashville's city center.
It is killer real estate, with neighbors including Bridgestone Arena, Ryman Auditorium, the Avenue of the Arts and the Lower Broadway tourist district, crammed with country music fans. In Nashville and across much of the nation, interest for living and working downtown hasn't been this high in decades.
"Come on, when do you get to build across the street from the Ryman? This is the intersection of Main (Street) and Main (Street). It's once-in-a-lifetime. It's like, 'Oh my God, this is the place,' " Oliver told me. "Nashville is a place where we've sat and watched and waited for the right opportunity. There is a confluence of a whole lot of factors making it dynamic."
Oliver's wife is a Vanderbilt University alumna, and he said his 16-year-old daughter lightheartedly accused him of joining this project "so I could be close by, in case she's fortunate enough to get in there."
A Nov. 4 announcement made official what we'd reported in September, that Emery was pitching Oliver to join him.
Over the past two decades, Emery has been known for creating the Cool Springs commercial hub 17 miles south of Nashville. Emery turned that farmland into Middle Tennessee's elite corporate address, first with the Charlotte-based developer Crescent and today with Spectrum Properties, also based in Charlotte.
Emery's specialty is creating top-grade Class A office space, while OliverMcMillan is best known for orchestrating the interplay of luxury retail, residential and office space.
As it stands today, the $400 million project leans more on retail and residential demand than it originally did. Emery has scaled back his vision for a skyline-defining office tower of as much as 840,000 square feet.
Now, plans include a 22-story tower containing 250 to 300 high-end apartments — a component absent from the bid Emery's team submitted to Metro government in late 2013.
"The next thing that will make downtown Nashville great is more people making downtown their home," Oliver said.
Oliver said he usually doesn't agree to do joint ventures, but he made an exception for Nashville. The connection was made by financial institution J.P. Morgan, a longtime backer of Emery's and Oliver's developments.
"The degree of difficulty is a 10. This is like paddling out into huge surf," Oliver said. "This takes a city behind it, wanting it to happen."
Oliver calls Emery and Darryl Dewberry, the CEO of Charlotte-based Spectrum Properties, his new "soul mates."
"We've helped them see where it can be more than they ever dreamed," Oliver said. "We bring 35 years of mistake-making to the party, in all due humility, and we have learned well from that experience. We are honored they picked us."
Emery's original bid featured an office tower as large as 840,000 square feet, reaching up to 30 stories.
At present, Emery expects to have roughly 300,000 square feet of office space, perhaps more, equating to about a 15-story building.
In addition, Emery intends to offer almost 70,000 square feet of what he called "creative space," which he thought ideal for tech companies, music companies and architects, among other companies.
It's been seven years since Nashville had so little top-grade office space available to rent (3.7 percent of the inventory). There's next to nothing free in chunks greater than 100,000 square feet, often the size of a prospect that local economic development officials are pursuing for relocations and expansions.
Emery said he's confident he can lease at least 40 percent of the building before construction begins in summer 2015. "We've got a lot of time right now to look for the right tenants for that building," Emery said.
Presently, OliverMcMillan has $1.8 billion of development under way nationwide. The majority of that, $1 billion, is in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood, a development that Mayor Karl Dean and other city officials very recently visited to see OliverMcMillan's style.
The Buckhead projects includes two residential towers, the new world headquarters of the apparel company Spanx, and luxury retailers such as Dior, Hermes, Jimmy Choo and Moncler. OliverMcMillan is spending $500 million in Honolulu, plus active projects in Houston, Phoenix, Chicago and its hometown of San Diego.
"Now, it's Nashville's turn," Oliver said.
In a separate phone call, Emery added: "This will definitely have Nashville's DNA on it. This won't be a project that comes from some other place to here."
Emery said financing remains unresolved. "We have a number (of investors) who are very interested. So we're there, we're just working through that process," Emery said.