To the brim

Southeast Venture revives a foundering development [From the September/October issue of Nashville Post magazine]

An iconic moment from the Nashville flood came when hordes of volunteers stood on the levee in MetroCenter, piling sandbags to keep the north Nashville office park dry.

Of all the volunteerism in the wake of the early May rains, it stands out as a call to action unequaled – hundreds upon hundreds of people fighting back the water.

And then MetroCenter held its breath.

The breath-holder-in-chief was Southeast Venture Principal Randy Parham, who handles leasing and property management in the low-lying development.

The levees in the development have been in place for 40 years – and with sandbagging help, they did their job – at least keeping water out of the buildings. The roads, however, were covered with water, cutting off access to MetroCenter for a few weeks.

Parham and his team were relegated to monitoring the sprawling development with binoculars from atop the nearby Maxwell House Hotel.

And it all happened just as MetroCenter was celebrating a long recovery process. Parham and his team had leased it to about 95 percent by early spring 2010—a dramatic recovery from 2003 when the vacancy rate was a whopping 40 percent.

By targeting known quantities like state and Metro government, and big names – the Titans, Watkins College and Saint Thomas Health Services – Southeast Venture was able to bring MetroCenter back into the black.

Those stable government contracts were the biggest coup: Parham says MetroCenter had plenty of space to lease when the Tennessee Lottery was seeking a home. The balance of that building was leased by the state Department of Disability Services, followed by the Department of Health. Serving as a temporary home for Metro government during the courthouse renovations sparked commitments from private ventures like HealthSpring and Saint Thomas, and eventually more state contracts poured in—opening build-to-suit space for TennCare and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

When the waters rose, Parham’s reassuring statements made sure things held, calming nervous lessees. More than 10,000 people work in MetroCenter and all stayed home for the better part of two weeks until things were safe.

And nearly every day, Parham was on TV or in the newspaper or on the phone with his tenants. The message? Be patient. Everything will be fine.

Parham’s approach was not all that different from the way he guided MetroCenter from nearly going under to a high-water mark in occupancy. Turns out it works for actual water, too.