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VOL. 126 | NO. 229 | Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Welcome Addition

Finard’s refurbishment of century-old building latest Downtown success

By Sarah Baker

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The four-story office building at Court Avenue and Second Street in Downtown Memphis was built in 1903 as the home of The Commercial Appeal and later became the longtime headquarters of the Welcome Wagon Corp.

Finard Properties LLC bought the Welcome Wagon building in 2007. BankTennessee occupies the building’s first floor. The building originally housed the national headquarters for Welcome Wagon. 
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Today, the 18,638-square-foot building named 145 Court Ave. – which uses the address 30 N. Second St. according to the Shelby County Assessor of Property – serves as another example of a company’s commitment to Downtown real estate.

Burlington, Mass.-based Finard Properties LLC – the same commercial real estate firm behind Memphis’ Poplar Plaza shopping center – purchased the building in July 2007, restored the grand architecture of the exterior and developed the building into office space.

The renovation mirrors other Downtown office rebirths in recent years, including the signing of Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s 170,000-square-foot lease in One Commerce Square, Le Bonheur Community Health and Well Being’s 21,476-square-foot lease at 50 Peabody Pace and ServiceMaster by Stratos’ 7,400-square-foot lease in the Lowenstein Building.

“People are being cautious, it’s appropriately cautious right now, but they’re not ignoring what’s going on Downtown,” said Rick Smith, Finard’s director of property management, citing recent traffic-boosters like the Beale Street Landing project and Bass Pro Shops’ 2013-takeover of The Pyramid.

“Those things are going to lead to much more exposure of the residential availability and it will begin to build off each other, which is the whole thing that Downtown needs and has been striving for 15 to 20 years back,” he said. “Instead of operating like a bunch of silos – here’s a project, here’s a project, here’s a project – you truly get some momentum with everything working together.”

Finard’s involvement with the century-old building started with a recommendation from BankTennessee, the bank Finard uses for its Memphis properties and also the 145 Court Ave. building’s anchor, ground-floor tenant ever since it had its grand reopening in 2008.

“Bill Finard, the family patriarch, really liked the building and the Finards had been wanting to invest in the Downtown movement for a while,” Smith said. “BankTennessee had agreed early on to commit to a 15-year lease of the entire ground floor, which was a very nice start. We had nothing else at that point.”

But upon commencing its due diligence process on the building, Finard came across some “very unique problems.” One was adding a stairway to the end of the building as an alternative safety exit to bring the building up to code.

So Finard brought in Horizon Retail Construction to gut the building back to point of entry, including plumbing, electrical, HVAC and water, until all that remained was brick and mortar. Then, Smith said, “we started to rebuild.”

Finard Properties LLC bought the Welcome Wagon building in 2007 and has completely redone the inside, including moving its Memphis office onto the fourth floor, pictured. The building is at about 60 percent occupancy after being vacant from the mid-90s to 2008.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“We wanted to have everything modern and new, but we didn’t want it to be such that it ruined the theme of the building, particularly the outside architecture,” he said. “So we tried to balance with, ‘OK, everything’s new, but we’re not doing some totally, incredible, modern-retro fit.’ But rather, just a modern improvement on the building.”

That rebuilding process included constructing six executive office suites on the fourth floor – three of which have been leased to date, including one by Finard’s local office – and designing the second floor for Daniel Law Firm, a family-owned firm focusing on wrongful death, auto accidents and workman’s compensation.

Design services were provided by John Galbraith, partner at Thoda & Associates PLLC – the firm behind the landmark Crescent Center in East Memphis and Medtronic Inc.’s new $65 million distribution center near Memphis International Airport.

The third floor remains unoccupied, offering 4,520 square feet for a potential tenant seeking a custom-designed space similar to what Daniel Law Firm recently completed on the second level.

So far, Finard has marketed that floor, as well as the fourth floor’s three remaining executive suites, to users such as attorneys looking for proximity to the Shelby County Courthouse and also advertising agencies, Smith said.

And since Finard’s local office is housed in the building, it’s a unique tenant/landlord relationship, said Elizabeth Daniel, one of the Daniel Law Firm’s three attorneys.

“Rick’s pitch to me was, ‘We’ll be riding the elevator with you every day, so we want you to be happy,’” Daniel said.

PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047