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VOL. 128 | NO. 53 | Monday, March 18, 2013


Wills Stewarding Growth of East Memphis Land

MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Daily News

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For Walter Wills III, taking care of his neighborhood and the surrounding area is one of his life tasks.

Wills & Wills LP has owned much of the land in the Kirby-Quince corridor for more than 40 years. The area is seeing an influx of medical office and retail users in the past few years, and more are expected with a new Regional Medical Center at Memphis outpatient center in the area.

“I was always taught and believe I was born to be a good steward of the land while here on earth,” Wills said. “I have been taking care of this neighborhood all my life, and we want uses that can sustain themselves and benefit the neighborhood because a strong neighborhood is one of the most important things you can have.”

Wills & Wills LP is a firm headed by Walter Wills III that handles office, retail and residential real estate in the Kirby Gate area. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Wills grew up in the Kirby-Quince area of East Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s, and his memories include fox hunting through the area before it was developed and once riding with his father and waiting for a horse and buggy to cross the road.

He bought 178 acres in East Memphis in 1970 from his parents, and he also purchased some other land in the area from relatives. Much of the property was in the flood zone so many improvements have had to be done over the years, including increasing the drainage ditches and other hydraulic engineering.

Last October Wills agreed to sell 49 acres to The MED for $3.4 million. Plans are for a new MED at Kirby Gate outpatient and ambulatory center to be built on the site. Wills had previously turned down offers for twice as much on the property, but he held off until the right deal came along.

“We knew it was a special piece of property, and we didn’t want to just put up apartments on it,” he said. “We wanted it to be something that contributed to the neighborhood and makes it a better place to live.”

Sam Jenkins, consultant and financial adviser who handles debt placement, equity placement and repositioning of properties for Wills, said the facility will be a great addition to the corridor.

“It’s really going to have an impact on this area,” Jenkins said. “In terms of access and population density, it’s a great location.”

Retail centers like Wills’ Kirby Gate Shopping Center are doing well thanks to 97,000 people living within a three-mile radius. New tenants this year will include Hollywood Feed, and Dunkin’ Donuts recently signed a deal that means a freestanding location will be built just north of the shopping center.

The Kirby-Quince area is also already loaded with medical office users like LivingWell by Health Springs, the Reggie White Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center, West Diagnostics, and many others, and the new MED facility is sure to lure even more once it is built.

Late last year Wills closed on a deal that will bring a new Oak Tree 90-bed skilled nursing care facility to the area, and several years ago he sold land to Methodist for a new hospice facility on Quince that opened in June 2011.

“Part of the attraction of having the MED come in is that Wills & Wills’ other holdings in the area, both office and retail, stand to benefit,” said Jenkins, who worked with First Tennessee Bank for more than 28 years.

To handle his company’s leasing activity, Wills works with Newmark Grubb Memphis (formerly Grubb & Ellis), StoneCrest Investments and the Gary Myers Co. Wills is working to fill the last few spots at Kirby Gate East Center on Quince, where new merchant Blues City Thrift opens this week.

He expects nearby residential areas to also benefit from the new development.

“The medical professionals associated with the MED and the many other nearby medical offices are going to want to live close to their work, so that will really help the neighborhoods and the home values here,” he said.

Wills still controls more than 40 acres for future development, and he plans to hold much of it for now.

“It is so fulfilling to see this neighborhood grow and flourish with so many families, homes, schools, places of worship, recreation, jobs and services,” Wills said. “Everyone gets along and works together with neighborhood associations and neighborhood watches to take care of each other. I hope we continue to grow and perpetuate a better friendly place to live, grow and work for future generations.”

Wills & Wills also owns a cluster of office buildings and nine-plus acres for future development on Walnut Grove Road across from Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, and Jenkins feels a single-purpose user could find real value there.

Wills also controls more than 1,500 acres in Tunica, including a farm that grows crops like soybeans and rice, and he plans to hold some of that land for possible retail development once the market turns around.

MORTGAGES 54 374 1,120
BUILDING PERMITS 177 767 2,425