When Ballantyne Breakfast Club founder Ray Eschert sent out an email recently that mentioned plans for a new 11-story building at Ballantyne Corporate Park, reporters’ ears perked up.
The 535-acre Ballantyne park has been something of an economic bellwether. When commercial development froze during the economic downturn, H.C. “Smoky” Bissell and his lieutenants kept on building speculative office buildings. They saw their foresight handsomely rewarded last year when MetLife brought its U.S. retail headquarters to the park’s two ready-to-go 10-story Gragg and Woodward office towers.
So it seemed logical that, with the economic recovery gaining steam, the folks at Bissell Cos. likely would be pushing another office tower skyward.
But not so fast.
Bissell Cos. CEO Ned Curran explained last week that while the company does have an 11-story tower on the drawing board (dubbed 7C internally), it remains to be seen whether it will be the firm’s next big project.
The changing economic climate, as well as the firm’s experience getting MetLife situated, has caused it to tinker with its build-it-and-they-will-come strategy. After MetLife wound up revamping the high-end lobby in one of their new buildings, Bissell officials say they will put 7C through permitting and design, but they’d like to hold off on construction so that the eventual tenant can help with the final design touches.
Here’s what Curran and Barry Fabyan, a Bissell senior vice president, had to say during a recent interview about the building and how it figures into the broader picture of Ballantyne’s future. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity:
So for all those reasons, we’ve started the development cycle: designing the building, getting it permitted – the initial part that can take a year. You really shrink down what would be considered dead time to a few months, yet (the eventual tenant) will still have a say in some of the building features. The building can grow or shrink by 30,000-40,000 feet. Parking can be expanded or contracted. We think we’re hitting the market (need) there because they’re asking for a little bit more of a hand in how things look and feel – lobbies and such. We might (build it) if the right group came along tomorrow.
But as Barry (Fabyan) said, we’re watching customers’ demands or expectations turn a little bit. Some are trying to get a lot of folks in 1,000 square feet, others not quite so much. (To Fabyan) How nice was the lobby in the Gragg Building?
In this case what we’ve done is say: OK, we’ll spend about a million dollars. We’ll test bore; we’ll make sure we have an easily graded site. And we’ll knock 14 months off so we can deliver this building in 16 months, or we can tweak it a little bit. You want the lobby different? Maybe you don’t want a balcony on the 11th floor? That’s kind of the strategy that we have now.