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VOL. 126 | NO. 68 | Thursday, April 7, 2011

From Old to New

Real estate veteran focused on selling forgotten warehouses

By Sarah Baker

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This year marks Gene Woods’ 40th year of marketing industrial properties in the Memphis area for Colliers International.

Jeff Biggs of Biggs Wrecking Co., tears apart the old Great Dane Trailer manufacturing facility on Presidents Island with a steel cutter.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

He recalls a time when he made his living by selling properties – at least once, sometimes twice – in the area of Downtown near Second and South Main streets that have since been converted into housing.

Woods also has memories of Airport Industrial Park, when he either was involved in placing original tenants in the buildings or in putting together deals where the buildings were constructed.

“It’s a deflation to the ego when one of the younger guys in the office says, ‘Look at that old building,’” Woods said. “It’s kind of hard for me to see that it’s that old.”

The industrial real estate veteran has plenty of stories like this. That’s why over the next few months Woods will roll out a blog, ThisOldWareHouseBlog.com, where he can help potential buyers envision a facility that was built for a specific industrial purpose but could be retrofitted for another use.

Sometimes, it comes down to tearing the warehouse down because the underlying land is more valuable than the facility.

Case in point is the former Great Dane Trailer Manufacturing facility on Presidents Island, 1095 Harbor Ave. Developed in 1956, the 12-acre space sits on a heavy manufacturing area that is essentially developed out.

Woods began marketing the property for the Carters, a local Memphis family, in 2006, with the hope that alternative uses could be found for the multi-building facility. Other steel fabricators could have been an ideal fit, for instance.

Even in booming times, Woods recognized that selling a highly specialized industrial property like the Great Dane facility would be a process. Still, the property had some nibbles early on.

But when the recession hit in 2008, the only ones nibbling were the “copper miners” – thieves who prey on unoccupied facilities, stripping copper from every possible source to resell.

“It became clearer that the buildings had less and less utilitarian value,” Woods said. “The damages done by the copper thieves, that turned out to be substantial monetary damage. Whether I went in there for a full month and turned a light on or not, there were still substantial electrical costs associated with that property.”

What the building did have intact, however, was a significant amount of salvageable steel, something that was attractive to Leonard Biggs of Biggs General Contracting Inc. Biggs agreed to demolish the buildings in return for the scrap steel with no cost to the owners of the property – a win-win for everyone involved.

“It gives me the material for my labor, where it might be a 50 percent savings when you have your material and you don’t have to go buy it new,” Biggs said.

By mid-summer, a dilapidated building will be gone, a considerable amount of scrap metal will have been recycled, and the owners will have a valuable site with a large concrete slab already in place available for sale.

Located near the gateway to Presidents Island, the facility is zoned heavy industrial, and will be immediately ready for construction.

“There are relatively few open, cleaned land sites down there and this is going to create one of the large open land sites right at the area where you first enter Presidents Island,” Woods said.

Moreover, the proximity of the new Electrolux and Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. facilities could possibly make this spot ideal for suppliers and vendors, especially since nearby Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park will have about 1,000 acres left after Electrolux builds its facility.

“Some of the sites in Pidgeon may require some infrastructure, while the infrastructure is already there on President’s Island,” Woods said. “If one of the suppliers for either should be looking for a site of about this size, they’ve got a site ready to go.”

PROPERTY SALES 51 328 20,960
MORTGAGES 58 387 24,132
BUILDING PERMITS 170 842 43,435
BANKRUPTCIES 50 288 13,468