August 03, 2015

Upscale Subdivisions Rise in East Memphis

By Jane A. Donahoe
– Memphis Business Journal –

The dirt is moving and the drywall is flowing in the picturesque River Oaks neighborhood.

The area, located between Walnut Grove and Poplar in East Memphis is a hotbed for residential construction. But the kind of homes being built in River Oaks are rare, especially in Memphis. Slate roofs, interior stone work, copper detailing and gated subdivisions characterize the ritzy neighborhood.

“There’s no way you can even price these kind of houses per square foot,” says Cindy Garner, broker with River City Land Co., the sales arm for Kircher-Belz Builders LLC. “It can’t be done.”

Many of Memphis biggest names live in River Oaks. Pitt Hyde, AutoZone founder, recently completed construction on a 10,000-square foot home on Shady Grove valued at more than $3 million. Hyde purchased the land from the Humphreys estate and owns more than 17 acres in the area, according to the Shelby County Assessor of Property. Fred Smith, FedEx president and CEO, lives on more than 11 acres on Sweetbriar Road. His 10,000-square foot home is valued at over $3.4 million. Phillip McNeill, Equity Inns chairman, lives in The Cloisters subdivision. His 9,330-square foot home is valued at more than $1.5 million, not including the additional acre he owns surrounding it. Ed Labry, former Concord EFS president, recently purchased more than 3 acres on Fairwood Lane, with an appraised value of more than $800,000. And his home isn’t even built yet.

Other River Oaks residents include J. Kenneth Glass, First Horizon president and CEO Phil Trenary, Pinnacle Airlines Corp, president and CEO, and Peter Formanek, former AutoZone president.

While there is estate style construction in River Oaks, there is also infill development under way.

Bryan/Turley Properties is the co-developer for Normandy Park, an upscale subdivision located on Shady Grove at Briarcrest. Home construction is ongoing at Normandy Park, and the investment continues to ascend.

Normandy Park consists of 60 homes sites on 35 acres. Sites range from about 13,000-40,000 square feet. Bryan/Turley and the Jack Erb Co. began development on the site in 2002, selling lots from $250,000 and up. Michael Turley says they sold many of the sites to individuals, who have in turn sold to homebuilders for even higher prices.

Turley says a lot of the attraction is the idea of a gated, secure community. The impressive brick wall surrounding Normandy Park, which has only two access points, was built by Montgomery Martin Contractors LLC.

President Montgomery Martin says the neighborhood has continued to thrive with new construction and big investments.

“Whatever gets built gets sold,” Martin says.

The draw of Normandy Park is a smaller lot with less maintenance. But others, like Hyde and Smith, have invested in huge estates in the neighborhood.

Boyle Investment Co. is credited with launching the neighborhood. Its latest residential project, Chartwell is also taking shape along Shady Grove. Rusty Bloodworth, Boyle executive vice president, says Chartwell has 20 home sites built on 60 acres, and there are no available lots for sale. He expects some construction to begin in 2006, but because estate planning takes longer than typical home building, it could be years before the development is complete.

The Boyle family purchased the Chartwell property in the 1930s and added to that tract over the next several decades. Boyle coined the term “River Oaks’ in the mid 1960s, when it began construction on the first section. The company also developed the Gardens of River Oaks in 1981 and The Cloisters of River Oaks in 1996.

And while Boyle the company was busy with its projects, members of the Boyle family were busy with others. Bayard Snowden developed Wild Oaks and most recently Jack Erb and Bryan/Turley with Normandy Park.

Even the curbs are better in River Oaks Bloodworth says when Boyle originally started development, the company implemented washed pea gravel curbs, as opposed to regular finished concrete, with a special curve.

“It’s just a little tiny detail, but it’s all part of trying to work with the land,” he says.

What attracts the exorbitant prices is easy to see. The neighborhood is located between the Poplar corridor and a medical Mecca, between the Ridgeway Center office development and many other Class A office buildings along Poplar and the Baptist Memorial Hospital East campus and a giant medical corridor.

The eastern movement of the private schools helped the neighborhood. Memphis University School moved to Ridgeway Road in the 1950s and was followed by the Hutchison School, Christian Brothers High School and Braircrest High School. River Oaks is also in the middle of metro Memphis, surrounded by shopping and restaurants.

The new homes being built in the area are full of every amenity, and Garner refers to them as “jewel boxes.” Kircher-Belz has several homes under construction in the River Oaks neighborhood, including three in Normandy Park.

“People are willing to scale down in yard size but have all the yummy that’s inside a house,” she says.

But the fear that the area will get overbuilt doesn’t seem to bother people who are pouring major dollars into residences. Bloodworth says most of the land is under strict covenants that would prevent shoddy development. The prices alone are enough to keep anything but the best out.

Turley says they took great care in the development of Normandy Park to preserve the site’s natural landscape. They saved every tree and hill possible and constructed the road at the lowest point of the property.

An architect once told Martin that the nice thing about his practice was that his clients were ‘economic cycle proof.’ In other words, they were not affected by economic down turns.

“Out here, to a degree, that’s true,” Martin says.