When Urban Story Ventures officials were trying to come up with its name earlier this year, the real estate company's chief operating officer says she was looking for something with meaning.
"There are stories in the buildings. There are stories with a new business. There are stories with all these properties," says COO Jill Allen.
Allen, 35, took the job in March at the company, which oversees a portfolio that has quickly and quietly become one of downtown Chattanooga's largest.
Chattanooga businessmen Jimmy White and Hiren Desai have assembled some of the central city's most iconic structures over the past four years or so. The names range from the Dome Building to the James Building to the Edney Building.
* Job: Chief operating officer of Urban Story Ventures
* Hometown: Knoxville
* Education: Communications degree from East Tennessee State University
* Age: 35
* Personal: Married to Jeff Allen, who works for CBL & Associates Properties Inc.; one child
The Chattanooga real estate company has put together a sizable portfolio in about four years including:
* Dome Building
* Edney Building
* James Building
* Osborne Office Park
* King Street Storage
* Former Aerisyn site
But they haven't confined themselves to just the central city as they've purchased the sprawling 16-building Osborne Office Park in Brainerd. Also, there's acreage in the Southside Gardens neighborhood off South Broad Street where they've proposed a mix of housing and commercial space.
White, a former golfer at Baylor School and the University of Tennessee, and Desai, CEO of Chattanooga-based hotel operator 3H Group, worked with a silent partner out of Knoxville who has since left the venture to buy up the real estate, Allen says.
"They'd worked since 2013 to acquire all the property," she says. "Rather than form a property management company, they bought it up. Now, they're doing it the other way around."
For Allen, she says she's bringing to bear years of job experiences in a variety of positions, several of them in the food and restaurant sector.
"It's a lot about being able to handle a lot of different situations," the Knoxville native says about her current post. "It's determining what's on fire and what's not on fire."
Allen, who with husband Jeff came to Chattanooga in 2007 from Atlanta, especially deems valuable stints at the Food Works and St. John's restaurants.
Working at the St. John's with owners Josh Carter and Daniel Lindley at the time afforded her "tons of opportunity" over a seven-year period, she says. She wore a lot of different hats, including office management, events, remodels, public relations and marketing, Allen says.
"I was really fortunate to have that opportunity to work for such professionals who held such a high standard for what they do, to always strive for excellence, and not in a corporate environment," she says. "For me, that was like bingo, I hit the jackpot."
Allen says she later joined Lindley who started other eateries, including a restaurant in Nashville. Then, she says, she went on maternity leave and when she came back she fell into what she calls "a lull."
"I don't love lulls," Allen says. "I love action and chaos. I love projects a lot."
She decided to meet with Kim White, who heads the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co., to brainstorm potential next steps for herself. That led to interviews with her current employer, Allen says.
Today at Urban Story Ventures, she oversees leasing, property management, maintenance, new construction and remodels while spearheading marketing efforts. The company has grown from three people when she started earlier this year to seven, she says.
"Jimmy has a lot of goals and dreams and ambitions for these properties in terms of preserving the historic aspects and also upfitting them and improving them," Allen says. The buildings have been retrofitted with LED lighting and the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls have been updated, she says.
"We've worked with EPB on monitoring power consumption, which has been a wonderful partnership," she says.
Both White and Desai have strong ties to Chattanooga and are interested in acquiring property where there's demand, Allen says.
"They've got a huge interest in the direction the Innovation District takes," she says. "They want to partner with the city as much as possible."
Allen says Urban Story Ventures plans to install road pavers at the 11th and Market Street intersection where the Edney Building is located.
"Downtown is like a heart beating very steadily these days and we're lucky to live in such a cool area, but midtown is coming," she says.