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VOL. 121 | NO. 79 | Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On the Way Down

Despite overall decline, builders say first-quarter permits strong and steady

By Rosalind Guy

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IN THE MAIN: This building at 94 S. Main St., which used to house a Family Dollar store, is slated to become a condominium property in what Center City Commission members are calling the New Main area. The permit for the building's renovations was filed in the first quarter of '06 after its current owner bought the property from the CCC. -- Photograph Courtesy Of Architecture Inc.

A number of notable building permits have been filed in the Memphis area during 2006's first quarter.

The State of Tennessee filed a $23 million permit for property at 951 Court Ave. in March and is planning to build the new Memphis Mental Health Institute on the site, said John Hundley of TRO, the project's architect.

Memphis City Schools in February filed an $18.6 million permit for 1111 Manassas St., the future site of the new Manassas High School.

Court Square Center LLC filed a $22 million permit for renovations to a building at 66 N. Main St. A 10-year payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) was granted to the developers for the Rhodes-Jennings Building, according to Center City Commission Revenue Finance Corp. minutes from a meeting held in September.

And as part of the Center City Commission's plan to revitalize development in the Main Street area under the Main Street Master Plan, plans are afoot to turn the former Family Dollar store at 94 S. Main St. into 18 condominiums with ground-floor commercial space. BJN LLC, which is affiliated with Nelson Plumbing, currently owns the building.

Willie Nelson, owner of Nelson Plumbing, was awarded the contract for the property at 94 S. Main in spring 2004. The Center City Development Corp. board voted to transfer ownership of the building to Nelson in June 2005.

The building permit for the property was filed during the first quarter 2006.

Originally, there was talk that the building would be turned into a hotel. But the project's architect, Joey Hagan, owner of Architecture Inc., said that plan was quickly scrapped because it wasn't a viable use for the property.

"So we went back to the drawing board and came up with a design that creates about a 2,500-square-foot rental space for commercial use on the ground floor and then 18 residential condominiums throughout the rest of the building," Hagan said.


Main idea: revitalizing Main

Nicole Hernandez, director of executive programs for the CCC, said the property was acquired under a deal that allowed the CCC to purchase it for one price and Nelson to purchase it for a lower amount.

The idea was to generate development in the area. Hernandez said that's exactly what has happened. The project is taking a formerly vacant and dilapidated property and turning it into a modern residential community. But it also has achieved its original goal of sparking development in the area.

"There's close to $60 million worth of construction on that one block either that's being planned or that's underway," she said. "As you go up and down Main Street, you're seeing those holes fill in with new development."

First quarter building permit data shows 1,652 permits were filed in Memphis proper, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com. That number includes permits filed in parts of Cordova that have been incorporated into the city, and it's nearly three-quarters of all the total permits filed in the first quarter.

That total dwarfs permits filed in other parts of the Memphis area. Filings in unincorporated areas of Shelby County numbered 187. Arlington and Germantown were close behind with 162 and 157 permits, respectively.

The Department of Construction Code Enforcement does not issue permits for some incorporated areas, such as Bartlett, Collierville and Millington.

First quarter permits have shown a decline over the last three years. In the first quarter of 2004, 3,108 total permits were filed, dropping to 2,734 in the same period of 2005 and 2,239 in the first quarter of 2006.


Down, but up

Despite the overall decline in the number of permits filed, local builders say their activity has continued to be strong and steady.

Jenny Wallace, marketing manager with Beazer Homes' Memphis division, said things are moving at a fairly predictable pace.

"We're right on target with what we've budgeted for as far as building permits," she said.

Beazer currently has eight active communities. The newest, Brooks Manor, is in Arlington.

Beazer also is among the rank of builders taking advantage of the desire of many residents to be in the heart of the Downtown renaissance. The company purchased 3.4 acres at Georgia and Tennessee streets, where it's building State Place at South End, a mixed townhouse and condominium community.

Jerry Gillis, president of FaxonGillis Homes Inc., pointed out that when studying the overall housing market, it's important to remember Memphis is a metro housing market.

"It would be like looking at Nashville and saying that Davidson County is Nashville," he said. "Well, there's five counties around Nashville that build more houses than Nashville does. And that's kind of what's happening here.

"More permits will be pulled in Tipton, Fayette, DeSoto and Crittendon - or at least as many permits as are filed in Shelby County."

Another builder who's getting in on the heels of the Downtown housing boom is H. Montgomery Martin of Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC.

Montgomery Martin topped the list of big spenders during the first quarter of 2006, with permits totaling more than $24 million. Michael S. Matthews General Contractors came in second at nearly $16 million, and Bowden Building Corp. rounded out the top three at nearly $10 million.

Martin is working on a 218,000-square-foot condominium project on Front Street between Vance and Pontotoc avenues.

The eight-story, 60-unit development will be called Mirabella and will have on-site parking, as well as retail space on the ground floor.

As proof that Downtown Memphis is among the places to be, the kickoff party for the Vesta Home Show will be held Saturday in the South End neighborhood. And Beazer Homes and FaxonGillis will be among the builders represented at the invitation-only event.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 46 229 20,995
MORTGAGES 74 248 24,609
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 27 8,637
BUILDING PERMITS 478 837 43,174
BANKRUPTCIES 61 177 14,079
BUSINESS LICENSES 12 58 6,459
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 29 114 13,625
MARRIAGE LICENSES 20 67 5,136

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