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VOL. 124 | NO. 18 | Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Main Street’s Big Hole To Be Filled at Last

By Bill Dries

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THE ULTIMATE INFILL: After many delays and financing problems, dirt is moving at Main Street and Gayoso Avenue on the Barboro Alley Flats project Downtown. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford knew some developers and others doubted anything would get built anytime soon in the big hole at Gayoso Avenue and Main Street.

“Somebody said it would be a cold day in you-know-where before this project would get under way,” Sanford said this week.

He spoke as several dozen people gathered on a freezing, windy and overcast day at the corner for the ceremonial groundbreaking on the Barboro Alley Flats project.

“I think we’ve made it. This is not just another groundbreaking ceremony because this one has taken us years to get here.”

The groundbreaking came a month and three days after 100 South Main Partners secured a $9.5 million loan from SunTrust Bank to finance construction of the mixed-use structure. The five-story building will include 215 public parking spaces, 96 apartments and 7,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. Completion is scheduled for 2010.

Progress at last

The CCC has been backing efforts for seven years to bring back to life the two-block southern stretch of the Main Street Mall between Union Avenue and Gayoso known as a “demonstration block.”

FILLING THE HOLE: The five-story Barboro building, to include parking, apartments and retail stores, is slated to fill what’s commonly known as the Big Hole on Main Street. -- PHOTO BY BILL DRIES

The commission coordinated the partnership that teams developer Henry Turley with Greenhat Partners LLC.

“It’s really nice to have to talk to you all over the sounds of backhoes and construction equipment. That’s a good thing,” said Jason Wexler, principal of Greenhat, who said the project persevered over “five years’ worth of hurdles.”

The chief hurdle has been financing in the current national economic environment. Even before the national downturn, financing was difficult to come by for any project on the corner.

Barboro emerged after more ambitious plans fizzled to build a 28-story residential tower with parking on the same site. Nashoba Group LLC called off the project, called The Vue, in December 2006, citing numerous financial roadblocks including high construction costs.

Turley and Greenhat have four investor partners as well: attorney Monice Hagler Tate; Greg Duckett, senior vice president at Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.; Herb Hilliard, an executive vice president of First Horizon National Corp. and Calvin Anderson, vice president for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

Filling a void

Sanford said coordinating the different parties to get work started in the crater where a building once stood came from the CCC. The quasi-government organization funded property acquisition on the block and provided loans and subsidies to help develop it.

The CCC’s Revenue Finance Corp. provided funding specifically for the garage part of the project and granted a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement, or local tax break, to the private-sector development that will be on the floors above the garage.

The Downtown Parking Authority gave preliminary approval to the financing that allowed construction to begin. It also picked the Turley-Greenhat proposal over other plans to redevelop the site.

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