The Chatter Class: Developers scurrying to snatch up gulch properties

Monday, December 24, 2007 at 1:11am

A decade ago, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who dared to consider redeveloping property in or near the railroad gulch at the western edge of downtown.

Now, developers can’t seem to get enough and have been scurrying around trying to buy up what they can of what’s left at prices that rival prime real estate in Green Hills. The most active developers are looking at apartments and retail.

In particular, developer Tony Giarratana’s property at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and 11th Avenue North, otherwise known as the icehouse property, has drawn a good bit of interest. There also has been a lot of interest in the two parking lots The Tennessean owns south of the Church Street viaduct.

The talk is that Opus Corp., a large developer out of Minneapolis, has jumped on Giarratana’s property with a partner from Atlanta and is said to have tried to lock up the two parking lots as well. Separately and outside downtown, Opus apparently is the winning bidder on buying the Grassmere Business Park office building that houses Asurion’s headquarters.

But Crosland Tennessee is supposedly in the mix as well. Crosland, which is building Terrazzo and Griffin Plaza, owns a bunch of gulch property already and has sought to buy more.

As folks may remember, Bill Barkley and Steve Armistead, Crosland’s top guns here, were the “pioneers” when they helped create the master plan for The Gulch, which basically defined the path of development for the southern part of the railroad gulch. They also redeveloped the old Braid Electric building at 12th Avenue South and Demonbreun Street.

As those two circle each other, developer Jim Caden, who redeveloped the shops along the Demonbreun strip up to the Music Row Roundabout, is angling for more property in the area as well. He has been picking up more property in the gulch area over the past year, including three buildings along McGavock Street in between two Tennessean-owned properties.

The land plays will shake out soon enough. Giarratana’s property could be under contract by the end of the year.

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