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VOL. 126 | NO. 221 | Friday, November 11, 2011

Adair Discusses Grand Vision for Piperton

By Sarah Baker

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Proving naysayers wrong has become a hobby of William Adair’s.

When the Collierville native and his wife started Direct General Insurance Co. in 1991, it had six employees. Twelve years later, the firm had 520 offices across 13 states, was competing with State Farm and Allstate, and “all of the things that couldn’t be done were getting done,” he said.

When Adair made the decision to sell Direct in 2007 for $685 million, he was the victim of widespread criticism.

“Everybody said it wouldn’t work, there were too many moving parts to it,” Adair said Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the joint Society of Industrial and Office Realtors and Certified Commercial Investment Member meeting at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. “I decided that I’d just do it anyway and I did. I realized then that a lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about.”

So for those skeptical about his $100 million Piperton Hills development – equipped with residential, retail, walkways, charter schools and more – he has one thing to say.

“This project will get done, it will get built, and I think that we’re going to be proud of what’s coming out of it,” Adair said. “I’ve always been an aggressive-type person. I don’t look back a lot. I’ve usually got a plan and a back-up plan, usually two back-up plans. And so often, I have to back up to that back-up plan. But, to this day, we have yet to back up with what we set out to do and we’ve accomplished most everything.”

Adair’s vision is to create a district that supports up to 20,000 jobs, where people can live, work, go to school and spend their hard-earned dollars within the community.

The ideal city that’s accomplished these feats and then some is a place called, the “Heart of Tyler,” a revitalization effort that began in 1987 in Downtown Tyler, Texas.

Eighty-two percent of the people who live in the 520,000-square-foot city also work within it. What’s more, 95 percent of the dollars that come in are spent in Tyler.

Today, the area owes zero debt, has more than $20 million in the bank, and boasts a school district that’s ranked third in the country, Adair said.

“I’m not your old-fashioned-type-guy that thinks that rooftops belong in this city and business belongs in another city,” he said. “I’m not a city planner that likes to see just pretty bushes and roses. What I see here, eventually, we’ll have a Tyler, Texas.”

Adair admits his team has had its fair share of “run of the mill” hiccups, but to date, the project is six weeks ahead of schedule.

That’s because of his ability to adapt, as evidenced by his decision to work with – not oppose – Norfolk Southern Corp. when it announced plans three years ago to put a $112 million intermodal yard just on the west side of Rossville, bringing about 4,000 additional trucks onto Tenn. 57.

“We felt like it would have affected us and a lot of the other landowners out there and would probably handicap any further development commercial-wise and otherwise right there on 57 Highway,” Adair said. “So we started looking at alternative methods in order to solve the problem. We set out and took the opportunity to say if we can get the traffic back to four-lane (U.S.) Highway 72, then we should be in great shape.”

Working with his engineer, and the Mississippi and Tennessee departments of transportation, Adair devised a plan in February to isolate the intermodal yard. Crews have built earth berms on each side of the yard and are currently planting pine trees on top of those berms. Since the tallest pole measures 55 feet, the lighting is designed to present “virtually no glare,” Adair said.

“I think today that we have done as good a job of protecting Rossville and Piperton as we could have,” he said. “Our town square will have a 40- to 50-foot wide river that goes one mile, starting just south of the square and it goes all the way around into the lake. We’ll be able to park you on that square and you won’t be able to find the intermodal yard.”

The area is already generating immense interest, from German corporations to local businesses, Adair said. So far, Adair said he and his team have met with 54 companies that are looking to move into the area, buy land or both.

Norfolk Southern is projecting about 400 workers to occupy the rail site itself, 350 who will be new hires. The average pay for those workers will be $88,000 a year plus benefits.

“In a time when we need jobs, this is a job magnet,” Adair said. “Most of the deals that I’ve seen in my lifetime are flim-flam deals that 95 percent of them never materialize, never do what people think they will do, so you end up with a low-end result. Today, I think that we are on track to get this project under way starting next year.”

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