Last year, a record number of retail stores closed across America, emptying the equivalent of more than 90 Hamilton Place Malls, including dozens of storefronts across the Chattanooga region.
With shifts to internet shopping and retailer debt woes continuing, industry experts project up to 9,000 more retail stores could close in the United States in 2018.
"A huge amount of retail real estate in the U.S. is going to meet its demise," said James Corl, managing director and head of real estate at private equity firm Siguler Guff & Co.
Amid the turmoil in retail development and leasing, a group of industry veterans in Chattanooga has formed a new company to capitalize on the real estate realignment. The leaders of Chattanooga's newest shopping center development company bring decades of retail development, leasing and acquisition experience and see business opportunities for growth amid such challenging times.
Known as Rise Partners, the company formed late last year is jointly owned by four veteran managers with experience at CBL Properties Inc., Hutton Co. and Belk Inc.: Geoff Smith, Jay Wiseman, Matt Phillips and Greg Wilson. The four say they started their own development firm to focus on the changing retail landscape across the Southeast, building on their relationships with retailers still expanding in the South while capitalizing on opportunities to buy and redevelop non-mall shopping centers in attractive markets.
"We were each wanting to start a business of our own using the experience and skill we have build up," said Jay Wiseman, a 31-year industry veteran who has sourced and managed the acquisition of more than $7 billion in real estate across the United States, Brazil and China. "The projects we anticipate working on will all be within a day's drive of Chattanooga so we won't continue to have to spend so much time on airplanes and away from home."
Prior to moving to Chattanooga and working at CBL and Hutton, Wiseman was an institutional asset management professional for MetLife, Heller Financial and Alex Brown Kleinwort Benson.
Phillips, a former vice president of real estate at Hutton who has helped develop and supervise 3.5 million square feet of retail centers valued at $740 million, said the realignment of retailing occurring as e-commerce reshapes how Americans shop is creating challenges for many developers but opportunities for others.
Despite the near shutdown of new enclosed shopping mall developments, Phillips said many value-oriented retailers and other growing restaurant, grocery and commercial businesses "are still looking for good markets to grow in" and are eager to locate in redeveloped or even new strip shopping centers.
"We believe we have the expertise and contacts to help succeed in this changing environment," Phillips said.
The company closed on their first acquisition in June with a $30.2 million purchase of Jackson Plaza, a 350,000-square-foot shopping center in Cookeville, Tennessee, where a $4 million redevelopment will subdivide a now-vacant 80,000 square foot former Sears building to create two new tenant spaces to be occupied by national retailers.
Although major retailers like Sears are closing stores, many restaurant chains, boutique shops and value-oriented retailers are still adding stores that can fill empty big box locations, Phillips said.
Other partners in Rise Partners include Smith, a former president of the Hutton Co who has sourced, developed and supervised more than $1 billion and 7 million square feet of retail developments, and Greg Wilson, another former CBL manager who most recently was senior vice president of real estate and store planning for the Belk department store.
Smith, Wiseman and Phillips will work out of the Volunteer Building in downtown Chattanooga, where the new company recently moved into new offices. Wilson will work from another Rise Partners office in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The new group has already attracted investor interest in a variety of projects and the partners are able to bring their relationships, experience and knowledge to help attract financing and tenants and to complete their projects on time and within budget.
"We have a unique opportunity to both make a difference in the communities where we invest, while providing strong, sustainable returns for our investors," Smith said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.