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Calif. family likes look of region's real estate

By J. Holly Dolloff - Nashville Business Journal
February 3, 2006

A family-owned California investment firm is sinking big bucks into Middle Tennessee, with the purchase of three prime downtown commercial and retail sites and plans to develop a residential community in Leiper's Fork.
 
Tower Investments LLC recently paid $3 million to buy 411 Broadway, the former Heilig-Meyers Furniture store, from BudMark Investments; $2.1 million for 401 Broadway, which houses Merchants restaurant; and an undisclosed sum for 111 Broadway, the building occupied by Big River Grille.
 
And Tower, which owns various types of property around the country, has bought 1,500 acres in Leiper's Fork, with plans for four "equestrian community" developments featuring lots ranging from two to 50 acres.
 
Tower's David Marks says the downtown buying spree was spurred by the company's involvement in Leiper's Fork.
 
"We looked at property in Crossville and that didn't work out, so we bought the Leiper's Fork property," Marks says. "We're coming to Nashville, we're always looking for investments, and we saw a lot of upside" to downtown.
 
That Nissan North America recently chose the area for its headquarters didn't hurt either, he adds.
 
Mark Bloom, a partner in BudMark Properties with Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, says Tower made them an offer they couldn't refuse for 411 Broadway.
 
"The family wanted to own a significant building downtown and we wanted them to be involved in downtown," he says.
 
BudMark bought 411 Broadway in for $1.05 million in 2003. Bloom says the partners stripped the building, put on a new roof, and have "been filtering propositions the last few years." The building has been vacant since Heilig-Meyers closed in 2001.
 
Marks says there's been much replica rose gold Rolex Daytona cosmograph in the venue, but he plans to remodel the building before sorting through tenant offers.
 
Larry Papel, trustee for the estate of former O'Charley's and Shoney's head Dave Wachtel, says the Merchants sale came at the behest of Wachtel's family.
 
"We already knew (Tower) because of the sale of 411 Broadway," Papel says. "The Wachtel estate is liquidating property and came along at the right time."
 
At Big River, R.C. Mathews Contractor is handling a build-out process that began before Tower bought the building, says President Walker Mathews. Mathews won't comment on plans for the building, saying they are "very preliminary," but Marks says Big River will stay in place. The top floors are likely to become an office-heavy, mixed-use development.
 
It's also unlikely there will be big changes at the Merchants building. Papel says plans for 401 Broadway are subject to the terms of Merchants' lease through Northern Restaurant Group.
 
Tower is far from the only out-of-state investment group interested in downtown Nashville. Another California firm, Triple Net Properties, owns Parkway Towers and recently added to its portfolio with the $78 million purchase of Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 replica.
 
Elsewhere, Barry Real Estate of Atlanta is talking with law firm Bass Berry & Sims about developing a building adjacent to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center between Second and Third avenues.
 
"There's an unbelievable wave cranking through the Southeast," says Mathews, who attributes much of the impetus for that wave to the appeal of condominiums.
 
Papel agrees residential development is a driver, adding that Nashville's middle-market economy provides big up-side for investors. How long the boom lasts, he says, is anyone's guess.
 
"You can argue the (downtown residential) pipeline is too big or too small, but we won't really know for a couple of years," Papel says. "What we know is that the pipeline is getting bigger."
 
Based in Woodland, Calif., near Sacramento, Tower has investment properties in eight states and Canada. The company was founded in the late 1980s by cattleman Steve Marks, who entered the real estate market to increase his grazing land.
 
The investments have become an outgrowth of Tower's beginnings, says David Marks, one of six Marks children now operating the company. The group's Tennessee holdings include an equestrian residential development in East Tennessee and a manufacturing facility in Paris.

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