Top of the Heap

Feb 15, 2007

by: Andy Meek MORE AND MERRIER: Riverside 648 is one of a cluster of new developments along Riverside Drive Downtown. Several others are on the way there, including a new townhouse project in the South End neighborhood.

When it opened with a bang in 1935, the parade of dignitaries, airplanes overhead and boats drifting along the Mississippi River no doubt made for quite a spectacle. 

Today, something similar is occurring along Riverside Drive, which remains an upscale, well-maintained "front door" of the city some 70 years after its unveiling. Several real estate projects are bringing new townhomes, condominiums and streetscape improvements to the area.

A group of roughly six developers who control about 1,000 feet of frontage along Riverside Drive, for example, has been meeting to come up with a master streetscape plan to coordinate the look and feel of the picturesque roadway. The area also is getting an infusion of commercial space and luxurious residential units.

The vision of developer Terry Lynch is one reason why. 

Two years and $600 million

Lynch, a self-taught real estate professional, can watch construction on his signature real estate project, South End, unfold below him from his 13th floor office in Peabody Place Tower. And recently, an entity he's involved with - River Court LLC - bought a 2.5-acre chunk of property from the developers of River Tower, where Southland is now planning an upscale townhouse project.

Once it's finished, River Tower at South Bluffs, 655 S. Riverside Drive, will be a 14-story luxury condo high-rise with such amenities as private balconies and sunrooms overlooking the Mississippi River and a private landscaped park with river views.

The parcel of land on River Tower's property that Lynch's group recently bought, meanwhile, eventually will become a townhouse development that includes a series of extensively landscaped courtyards.

"We're going to take a sort of wait-and-see attitude with the market right now. But we think it could be a very complimentary product to the high-rises there. Some of the units will have great river views, and construction should be about a year or two off."
- Terry Lynch
Local developer

"Our current concept plan is to do three-story townhouse units with double garages," said Lynch, whose company launched the upscale neighborhood South End with a land purchase in 2002.

That's when Southland acquired 5.7 acres of property, the first piece of what eventually will be a 40-acre, mixed-use community that ultimately reflects about a $600 million investment. The townhouses planned for land Lynch's company recently bought - part of the larger South End project - are one of the latest developments he's pursuing in the general area.

"We haven't finished our plan for them yet, because we think it's going to be a couple of years out before we develop it," Lynch said. "We're going to take a sort of wait-and-see attitude with the market right now. But we think it could be a very complementary product to the high-rises there.

"Some of the units will have great river views, and construction should be about a year or two off."

No comment - yet

Meanwhile, sales are continuing at a healthy clip at River Tower. The construction on that condo conversion project will be wrapping up soon. The development is a joint venture between Houston-based McCord Development Inc. and G.E. Capital.

Mike Maerz, director of investments at MDI, said construction should be finished sometime next month.

"And right now, we are hovering at 60 percent sold, which is about 92 units," he said. "So there are about 50 remaining for sale. We tore down an eight-story building when we started the project - we had a budget hotel that was kind of attached to the main tower, and we eliminated that tower to enhance the views of the units to the north."

Several months ago, Lynch's company also bought the old Cummins Mid-South LLC building, a brick warehouse built in 1945, after the engine maker moved its local headquarters to East Memphis. The company's old building is across the street from the River Tower project.

At the moment, the one-story warehouse building has a full parking garage underneath it. But it eventually will be the site of another condo conversion, one Lynch said he's not yet ready to discuss details of at this time.

'A lot of construction'

In the past, Cummins officials said they felt the transformation around their facility on Riverside didn't fit with their business - sparkling new condos surrounding an engine and parts supplier - which was one reason for the move.

"Over the next several months, there will be a lot of construction over there," Lynch said. "We've got another development that we're going to be starting shortly in South End that'll have townhouses in it, so we don't want to flood the market with too many of them right now.

"But townhouses are sort of an under-serviced market right now, since there are so many condos there."

In addition, final details of a planned major gateway into that section of Riverside Drive soon will be announced, something that will be heavily streetscaped. And most of the properties there along Riverside, in the vicinity of such developments as River Tower, are getting ready to go through either new construction or extensive renovation.

That includes the Texaco station at 694 Riverside, which Lynch said is preparing for a makeover.

McCord Development, the company behind the River Tower project, was founded in 1973 and has either developed or acquired more than $700 million in real estate projects across the United States. Among the services it offers, MDI handles development, investment, asset management, leasing and land management.