MEMPHIS, TENN. — In-Rel Properties, a commercial real estate investment firm based in Lake Worth, Fla., is overseeing the $7 million renovation of Clark Tower in Memphis. Located at 5100 Poplar Ave., the 32-story, 668,009-square-foot office tower is the second-tallest building in Memphis. The renovation was designed by the Crump Firm and includes a new entry, updates to the lobbies, bathrooms and common areas and new elevators and mechanical systems. Existing amenities at Clark Tower include 24-hour security, a fitness center, on-site banking, structured parking and an on-site conference center. Colliers International leases Clark Tower on behalf of In-Rel. Dan Walker Associates began construction in the third quarter of 2016 and expects to wrap up at the end of the first quarter this year.
Howard Graham, senior vice president of Wunderman’s Digital Performance Media group, said the Memphis office is taking an approximately 6,000-square-foot space on the 32nd floor of the 34-story Clark Tower as part of a renewed lease agreement.
“We initially chose this space three years ago because we love the views,” Graham said.
Wunderman previously occupied space on both the 31st and 32nd floors but is combining those two offices together on the 32nd.
The renovation will create a stand-up conference room that gives employees the ability to write on the walls and utilize a flat-screen TV for video conferencing with clients across North America and globally, Graham said.
Wunderman is also taking the opportunity to test new team collaboration office concepts.
Wunderman affiliate Young & Rubicam Inc. recently made a major move to Memphis, but Graham said Wunderman’s growth is not directly tied to the $457 million contract with the U.S. Navy.
Wunderman Memphis leads a segment called Performance Media, focused on supporting clients across the country with digital media, site content and digital optimization.
With a nationwide client pool, Wunderman came to Memphis because of its large population of digital media and creative professionals, Graham said.
The Memphis office currently has a team of 40 employees and is preparing for growth.
“This is a testament to how great we feel the Memphis talent pool is and intend to hire,” Graham said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we grew to 100 in the next three to four years.”
Phil Dagastino Jr., a senior vice president at Cushman & Wakefield/CommercialAdvisors, represented Clark Tower in the lease agreement, and tenant advisor Kelly Truitt, senior vice president of CBRE Group Inc.’s Memphis office, represented Wunderman Memphis.
TIFTON – Tifton Mall, also known as Tifton Plaza, located at 458 Virginia Avenue North, has been sold for $11.3 million.
Florida-based In-Rel Properties purchased the property from RCG Venture-s based out of Atlanta. The buyer, Tifton Plaza Owner LLC, an affiliate of In-Rel Properties, represented themselves and the seller was represented by Jones Lang LaSalle’s Atlanta office.
The 220,165 square foot retail center is almost 95 percent occupied with an established tenant base including major retailers such as TJ Maxx, Belk, JC Penney, Beall’s and Jo Ann Fabric, and features a Carmike Cinema.
Jim Hurlock, In-Rel’s vice president of Operations noted, “We are pleased to complete this acquisition and look forward to serving the needs of this fine community. This property compliments our holdings in nearby Bainbridge and strengthens our management presence in South Georgia.”
Tifton Mall is an important area mall that serves Tifton and many surrounding communities including Ty Ty, Omega, Brookfield, Sumner, Ocilla, Phillipsburg and Sycamore. The property is adjacent to, and visible from, Interstate 75.
In-Rel Properties is a privately held, vertically integrated real estate investment and management firm – the name stands for “Intelligent Real Estate.” The company focuses on acquiring properties opportunistically and adding value through upgrades, repositioning, rehabilitation, re-tenanting and solid management. Through its affiliates the company controls a diverse portfolio including properties in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Birmingham, Lexington and Oklahoma City. For more information, visit the company’s website at www.in-rel.com.
The vast parking lots between and around the neighboring Clark and iBank towers catered a bit more to walkers on Wednesday, thanks to MEMfix East.
Numerous signs posted on lightposts told pedestrians how many minutes it would take to walk to nearby restaurants and other destinations.
“It’s a 3 minute walk to Whole Foods & Houston’s,” states one sign that also pointed the way. “It’s a 1 minute walk to Casablanca, Bosses Wings and Lisa’s Lunchbox,” states another.
And a few crosswalks across the interior drives were freshly repainted in bright Christmas colors, red and green.
Such MEMfix events are designed to demonstrate how changes to neighborhood infrastructure can promote walking and cycling while calming traffic.
The first phase of this MEMfix occurred 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, complete with Livable Memphis’s Mobile Porch where passersby could offer their ideas on how to improve the business district. The second phase, weather permitting, was to occur 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday along the neighboring Brookhaven Circle West.
MEMfix East was the seventh MEMfix, but the first that sought to improve a district built after World War II and almost exclusively for the car-centric lifestyle of the suburbs.
Clark Tower, 34 stories, and the 22-floor iBank Tower (formerly White Station Tower) were built in the early 1970s and 1960s, respectively.
“I’d say a successful outcome would be that regardless of whether they were going to Brookhaven Circle (the commercial street on the east side of Clark Tower) or walking over to shop down on Poplar or even going to Whole Foods maybe to get some groceries, that they’d be able to walk out of here and have a legible network of pedestrian pathways, way-finding signage, things like that,” said John Paul Shaffer, program director for Livable Memphis. It’s the nonprofit organization that takes the lead on MEMfix events.
“… Longterm, maybe it’s a business association, (or) a business improvement district comes together and looks at some of the parking lots and says, ‘We can make better use of some of this space. Do we do liner buildings on parking lots?… Do we look at doing some (parking) decks for shared benefit and take some of the cars off of the surface and get them into (parking) decks? Or do we look at tying into the bus rapid transit options that might be coming down the pike?”
A master plan prepared by the landscape architecture firm Blair Parker Design shows a network of six types of pedestrians paths that could be established in and around the towers.
A key participant in carrying out such a plan would be In-Rel Properties, which now owns both office towers. The Florida-based In-Rel has started making $6 million worth of improvements inside and outside the buildings, and has said it plans to create an 18-acre office campus around the towers.
“I’m not only the owner,” In-Rel president Dennis Udwin said Wednesday, “I’m an architect by profession. I’m very interested in MEMfix.”
East Memphis’ most prominent office towers, Clark Tower and the iBank Tower, are anchors in a strategy to make the Poplar Avenue-facing corner more walkable and memorable.
Late last year, In-Rel Properties purchased the iBank Tower, bringing both towers under the same ownership for the first time. The Florida-based real estate group plans to unite the 16-acre office campus with increased connections to the surrounding East Memphis restaurants and retail.
Employees got a taste of those changes on March 30, during a mini-MEMFix event hosted by Livable Memphis. MEMFix events are pop-up engagement and streetscape strategies to highlight the possibility of underutilized neighborhoods. Or in the case of the towers’ area, underutilized parking lots.
As part of the lunch-hour event, Livable Memphis spray-painted temporary crosswalks to make the sprawling surface parking lot more manageable.
“When you walk on the site, all you see are cars,” said John Paul Schaeffer, program director with Livable Memphis.
Though within walking distance of each other, the two towers, the DoubleTree Hotel, the Malco Paradiso theater, Whole Foods, the Sanderlin Centre, Brookhaven Circle, the Clark Center and the surrounding condo community might as well be islands connected by a sea of parking.
“You’ve got Poplar frontage here,” Schaeffer said. “You’ve got so many destinations. We just need the land use and the transportation to work out.”
As part of the event, some of the area’s restaurants encouraged foot traffic by offering lunch and happy hour discounts to employees. The Mini MEMFix picked up again between 5 and 7 p.m. to ease the transition between the area’s concentrations of work and play, with many restaurants just steps away from the two towers.
Livable Memphis, an entity of the Community Development Council, also brought along its Mobile Front Porch, a kitschy front porch on wheels that houses iPads for conducting surveys.
Throughout the day, employees of the two towers, which have a combined million square feet, provided feedback on the area’s challenges.
Greg Hyde, who owns ad agency G Design and operates out of Clark Tower, said that while the layout of the towers area lends itself to pedestrian traffic, there just isn’t enough infrastructure to support it. He would like to ride his bike to work, but there isn’t a secure place to leave it. Overall, he was glad to have an opportunity to voice his concerns and hopes it leads to visible change.
“I think events like this can help people think of the workplace as more of a community,” he added.
Feedback from the event will help fuel the next strategies in improving the area, said Kemp Conrad with Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors.
“What we’ve got here is a mini-CBD (Central Business District),” he said.
As the brokerage firm for the towers, Conrad’s team is engaging the rest of the area’s landowners to make improvements and connections between the major properties.
Some of those changes have already started to take hold, with the owner of the DoubleTree carving out an entryway in the hedge fence to make the hotel more accessible to those wanting to walk to the area’s restaurants.
More substantial changes, like installing a gateway at Mendenhall or branding the area with a new name, Conrad believes will come with a neighborhood association.
“There could almost be like a Downtown Memphis Commission for this area. That’s something that’ s been talked about as a possibility, almost with an assessment with something like a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district.”
Some other possibilities include constructing a rooftop garden on top of the parking garage or using some of the parking lot area for a building that would provide services to the area’s employees.
“I think it’s huge for occupancy,” Conrad added. “Even though they’re older buildings, they’re being renovated. Then when you start adding that piece of it, with the story to tell about the area working together, that drives more business for everybody around here.”
The first concern for a business tenant located on the 28th floor of an office tower is that elevators be kept in good working condition.
That’s according to Ron Lazarov, who, under previous landlords at Clark Tower, has had to wait up to 10 minutes for a working lift.
But with In-Rel Properties’ ownership of the East Memphis landmark, the elevators have remained in good working order, said Lazarov. He and Marty Kelman have operated Kelman-Lazarov wealth management advisors on either the 28th or 31st floor since 1979.
“They’ve done everything they said they would do,’’ Lazarov said of In-Rel.
“You take with a grain of salt what some owners might say and what actually gets done and how successful they are,’’ Kelman said.
Clark Tower’s current owner talks a good game about the building’s place in the Memphis office market, but he’s taking bold steps, too.
“I’m doubling down…,’’ Dennis Udwin, president of In-Rel Properties, said last week.
His Florida-based firm not only is investing $6 million in a renovation of 44-year-old building, In-Rel also bought the sister building next door, iBank Tower, for $19.25 million on Dec. 30.
Now Udwin has the opportunity to transform two skyscrapers, surrounded by a vast hodgepodge of asphalt parking, into a cohesive office campus.
In-Rel supported last week’s MEMfix East event, designed to demonstrate how commercial districts can be made easier and safer to walk in and more appealing to experience.
MEMfix leaders displayed a plan that would create walking paths that not only crisscross the acres of parking lots around the two towers, but connect to the restaurants and stores that flank the buildings.
Udwin describes the current conditions as a “concrete jungle.’’
“It’s a good thing for Memphis, not only for my selfish reasons, to clean up that entire area,’’ Udwin said. “… I’d like to make some more green areas.’’
Formerly known as White Station Tower, the 22-story iBank Tower is 80 to 85 percent occupied, Udwin said, adding that Clark Tower is about 65 percent occupied.
Clark Tower is getting an extensive makeover in addition to the recent $2 million renovation of the heating and cooling systems, Udwin said.
The project also involves a redo of the lobby. “That green downstairs is kind of a thing of the past,’’ Udwin said. “… All the green will be gone, completely paneled over.’’
The dozen elevator cabs have already undergone a mechanical renovation and are getting a decorative make-over.
The third-level is being renovated as a model floor. The work encompasses the common areas and bathrooms.
And outside, Clark Tower will soon be repainted light beige, complementing iBank Tower and bringing more cohesion to the campus. The lighting is also being improved.
In-Rel charges $18.50 to $20 per square foot for Clark Tower space, far below the $30-plus now commanded by the cluster of Class A office buildings a few miles east, near I-240. But Udwin says there’s a market for strong Class B space.
Lazarov and Kelman believe that by taking some matters into their own hands, they enjoy 4,500 square feet of Class A space with a terrific view on the 28th floor.
“We developed our own space with nice decorations and nice furnishings,’’ Kelman said. “We feel like we’re an oasis within a B-plus building.’’
Lots of consideration has been paid to making downtown and Midtown more walkable and bikeable, but now a busy, car-centric area of East Memphis is getting some attention.
Last week, Livable Memphis held MEMFix East, an urban revitalization event, in the Clark Tower/Brookhaven Circle area of East Memphis with a goal of gathering opinions from people who live, work, shop, and dine there on how to make that area more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
Livable Memphis conducted short surveys with people at that event, and for those who couldn’t make it, the survey is now available on the Livable Memphis website.
“If you go behind the east side of Clark Tower, you can see where these businesses along Brookhaven Circle have created these back entryways to get onto the property without going up to Poplar and coming around,” said John Paul Shaffer, program director of Livable Memphis. “There’s a desire to connect these pieces that are developed separately from one another. If you look at property maps of the area, you see all these weird driving lanes that don’t go through, and you have to make weird turns. It was developed in a piecemeal way.”
Carol Gaudet works in Clark Tower, and she said she’d love to see more clearly marked pedestrian walkways. She said she often walks to neighborhood restaurants for lunch.
“In this day and age, people tend to be impatient. Pedestrians don’t necessarily have the right-of-way,” Gaudet said.
The Livable Memphis surveys complement a recent Blair Parker Design master plan that shows six kinds of pedestrian paths that could be built in and around the massive parking lot between Poplar, Mendenhall, Sanderlin, and White Station.
Shaffer said making the Clark Tower area more pedestrian-friendly may mean simple fixes, like adding more walkways to better connect the individual properties, adding wayfinding signs that help office workers identify restaurants and shops they can walk or bike to, and reconfiguring a few parking spaces that are currently blocking walkways.
“In some cases, a parking spot here or there is blocking a pedestrian entrance, so we could just move that out and make the pedestrian access more visible,” Shaffer said. “That was the case between the iBank Tower and Whole Foods. There was a parking space at the top of the new stairs by the patio. That spot got removed, and now you can see a clear path to walk to Whole Foods.”
Once the results are in, Livable Memphis will turn them over to the property owners in that area, and any changes would fall to them. Clark Tower and iBank Tower owner and president of Florida-based In-Rel Properties Dennis Udwin is completely on board with making his property more walkable.
“As an owner, I have a stewardship and an obligation to the city of Memphis,” Udwin said. “If you look at some of the things that have happened, like the Whole Foods coming in and the Houston’s, the Malco, the [Double Tree] hotel, and this restaurant area in [Brookhaven Circle]. I think it’s time to pull the area together and make it more pedestrian-friendly and cycle-friendly.
“[We can do that with] pedestrian walkways, better lighting, better signage, more landscaping. If you look at that parking lot, it’s just a mass of asphalt. It should be softened, and it can be done with color, benches, landscaping, and fountains,” Udwin continued.
Udwin said the 35-story Clark Tower has a 65 percent occupancy rate, and the 22-story iBank Tower is 85 percent occupied. He thinks making the area more walkable and bikeable could improve occupancy.
Udwin is also currently pouring about $8 million into renovations at Clark Tower that include painting the exterior and renovating the elevators, lobby, and some of the restrooms.