At first glance, the four sharks seemed pretty intimidating.
Lauren Crews, managing partner of City South Ventures, participated in the mock pitch event hosted by Urban Land Institute Memphis and Memphis Area Association of Realtors.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
They sat in a row and watched the men in front of them with interest, weighing their options, considering their plans of action.
Then one of them cracked a joke and took a long pull out of a bottle of Bud Light and the mood lightened considerably.
Although it may sound like the premise for a surreal addition to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week – “Sharks in a Row Drinking Beer” – this Shark Tank was courtesy of Urban Land Institute Memphis and Memphis Area Association of Realtors.
The Sept. 24 event at Theatre Memphis put Memphis area real estate entrepreneurs to the test as they presented mock pitches of very real project proposals to a panel of expert investor “sharks.”
“The idea is to open the doors on an investment committee process, because it often happens behind closed doors,” said Andrew Trippel of LRK Inc. architecture firm and programs chair for ULI Memphis. “We wanted to give people a glimpse of what goes on during the presentation and decision-making stages. I think it’s important for us in the real estate community especially to understand it, even if we never present a project, so we can help clients understand what they’ll be going through and some of the factors that can influence the outcome.”
An almost full house of 60 spectators – ULI members, MAAR members, real estate professionals, architects and students among them – watched Bob Turner and Martin Edwards of Turner and Edwards LLC, and later, Lauren Crews, managing partner of City South Ventures and DeSoto Pointe Partners, offer up their project concepts as shark bait.
The panel of expert investors included Paul Boyle, president of Boyle Investment Co.; John Pontius of Worthington Hyde Partners; Barry G. Smith, senior vice president of commercial lending with Southern Bancorp Bank; and Kent Wunderlich, CEO, Financial Federal.
Turner and Edwards proposed the conceptual Barret Oaks mixed-use planned development, a 46-acre site on the southwest side of the intersection of Paul Barret Parkway and Raleigh-Millington Road in Millington. The project would contain a mix of residential, medical and commercial uses. Its strong selling points were the burgeoning location with easy access to highways, the proximity to the Naval base and its more-than 6,000 active Navy civilian personnel, and the great need for assisted living and memory care in that area.
After the PowerPoint presentation, Pontius said he was impressed and would be interested in taking the project to the next level.
Crews presented his plan for the French Fort Community Revitalization Project, which would feature condominiums, multifamily and other residential types, along with commercial, hotel and office development. The new Interstate 55 interchange roundabout, Harahan Bridge Project and the extension of the Riverwalk would reconnect the historic French Fort/National Metal Museum community back to the Central Business District and bring much-needed improvements to an area that hasn’t seen any for 50 years. The project’s strong selling points were the many development opportunities it would bring, the striking river views, the jobs and tourism the area would attract and the preservation of historic structures.
As for feedback, Pontius said he thought Crews was off to a fine start. Smith said he loved Crews’ idea of renovating historic buildings into residential spaces.
Overall, the feedback was positive and encouraging. There were no Donald Trump-ish antics, no slamming fists on the table and yelling, “AWFUL! GET OUT,” no giant gong to cut off presenters “Gong Show”-style. The panel of sharks seemed genuine in their desire to help the proposers fine-tune their presentations and did ask the occasional tough question. Refreshments, including beer and wine, were served, and most people appeared to be having a great time.
Both Trippel and Katie Shotts, MAAR Commercial Council director, deemed the event a success.
“Our panel was excellent,” Shotts said. “We knew this process would prepare the presenters for possible questions they might be asked during actual presentations – maybe even bring to mind things they hadn’t previously thought of. For the audience members, they learned what goes into these presentations and what investors are looking for.”
They also wanted to be sure the opportunity was not only educational, but also fun.
“We also were focused on it being more slightly tongue-in-cheek with a sense of humor to it, so it wouldn’t be so intimidating,” she said.
Both Trippel and Shotts said they’d love to partner for another Shark Tank event. The challenge is finding people with well-conceptualized projects to present, they said.