Lamp Post adds downtown real estate development to its portfolio
Say you run a venture incubator: you grow companies for a living. You’ve been doing it long enough to have a diverse portfolio of growing startups. So your next move is obviously...real estate?
It may sound counterintuitive, but Lamp Post Properties’ recent purchase of the Mayfield Annex from Hamilton County—announced in December, set to close in January—brings its real estate holdings to four buildings in the downtown Innovation District. And that doesn’t even include Loveman’s second floor, the headquarters of its parent, the Lamp Post Group venture incubator. Loveman’s is reserved for Lamp Post portfolio companies, but every other building is open to anyone.
Renovation is in progress at the old Ross Hotel on Patten Parkway. The former home of Yesterday’s on the ground floor has been christened The Tomorrow Building and will become mostly residential.
The Cornerstone Bank building at Georgia Avenue and MLK will remain a traditional office building. Two Lamp Post companies have already moved in—Steam Logistics and Reliance Partners—but it is open to any commercial tenant.
Things start to get interesting with Cooper’s Office Supply (actually two buildings) on Cherry Street, purchased last summer. Ground floors will be retail or restaurant, and upper floors will be developed as office space with later-stage startups in mind—companies that need growth space, not incubation space.
Redevelopment may include reclaiming the alleyway that runs from Chattanooga Billiards Club to Seventh Street. Ownership has become clouded over the years. Lamp Post is working with the city and other building owners so each building can own the alley behind it and turn it into a public space, maybe an outdoor cafe.
The Mayfield Annex, formerly used for Hamilton County offices, is slated to become the headquarters of the Chattanooga office of VaynerMedia. Lamp Post recruited Gary Vaynerchuk’s social-media-focused digital marketing company to open its first Southern office last summer in Chattanooga, and now Lamp Post Properties is buying and developing the Mayfield building in partnership with Vaynerchuk.
“The idea is to create another incubation center in that building” for both Lamp Post and VaynerMedia startups, according to Tiffanie Robinson, president of Lamp Post Properties. “Gary Vaynerchuk will likely bring down some of his own startups from New York City to incubate in that building, too.”
So, why did Lamp Post get into real estate? The number-one priority is to accommodate the growth of Lamp Post portfolio companies. But another reason, according to Robinson, is about density and placemaking.
“If you look at a map of everything we’ve purchased, it’s kind of like this little campus in a way,” says Robinson, referring to the fact that all four buildings are either on or within a block of Cherry Street. “We think if The Innovation District wants to be an innovation district, it needs some strong density. So one of the reasons we’ve bought the buildings we have is because of the density that they have to each other. And then whenever those buildings are filled with this next generation workforce, it creates a really interesting density for the entire district.”
Lamp Post also wants to develop downtown, and not just for its own companies. “We want to be part of that next wave of change happening downtown, transforming buildings that once had this really amazing life,” says Robinson. “Maybe traditional developers aren’t really necessarily looking to touch those buildings because they know they will cost a lot of money that will take a long time to return. We’re willing to take those risks.”
Unlike city planners, though, Lamp Post happily has no strict agenda. “At Lamp Post, we don’t really ever have a master plan to any of our madness,” says Robinson. “We really believe that whenever you don’t have a big master plan and you take things small chunk by small chunk, then you’re actually opening yourself up to more possibilities. You’re opening yourself up to not getting stuck in one box that you built around the master plan. You’re allowing yourself to think more creatively.”
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic website in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com