Mayor Karl Dean is happy to point out that despite the loud opposition, his convention center proposal still passed with nearly three-quarters of the vote on the Metro Council.
At the news conference last week following the announcement of the Omni Hotel deal, he made sure reporters understood that the Music City Center passed with 29 votes, a startling shot-across-the-bow at his opponents from the normally staid Dean.
Behind the cameras, in the back of the room at that presser, was the man who may have been the toughest convention center opponent: Tower Investments Vice President Alex Marks.
Marks, who started as a vocal supporter of the center, eventually turned into its most litigious opponent. Miffed at what he considered a less-than-fair offer from the Metro Development and Housing Authority for land he owned that was considered key for the project, Marks challenged the condemnation, offered up his own plans to develop the site and served as an overall thorn in the side of the Dean administration.
Marks, a savvy real estate investor who mostly keeps his own counsel, eventually lost his battle with Metro over what was once the large parking lot behind the Bridgestone Arena, but the sparks didn’t stop with the judge’s decision.
In addition to the key convention center property, Marks also owns another parking lot, just south of the Country Music Hall of Fame, long identified as the best site for the Music City Center’s headquarters hotel. But while Metro hemmed and hawed about the utility of a hotel, Marks struck again. In December, he announced plans to develop the site, pairing with Barry Real Estate, the company behind the Pinnacle at Symphony Place.
“We have been working with Barry
for over two years on a SoBro mixed-use development,” Marks said at the time “We have no agreement with the city for any development on this site. We purchased this property to develop it, and we can’t wait in limbo while
opportunities pass us by.”
Maybe that was the shot in the arm — or the kick in the pants — Metro needed.
All was quiet on the front for several months. Marks’ deal with Barry was largely forgotten as Metro bought land and started construction.
In early July, rumors swirled that a deal for a headquarters hotel was imminent, but it was like a game of high-stakes real estate Clue: Would it be Alex, with Omni, behind the Hall of Fame? Could it be Tony Giarrantana, up the block, with Marriott?
Metro dodged — emphasizing no deal was done. Marks, ever-savvy, confirmed he had an agreement with Omni. Sources said the deal could total as much as $20 million. That’s quite a profit — all the pieces of the hotel puzzle cost Tower around $15 million four years ago.
But Marks may end up with an even higher profit — part of Omni’s incentive package includes tax increment financing for up to $25 million.
It would be the real estate shock of the year if Tower and Omni inked a deal for much less than that.
All of this goes to show that nothing is personal with Marks, the quiet man with all the money and all the land.