Real Estate & Retail

Massive retail project on tee: Britton Golf Course buyers plan 85-acre development that could rival Clay Terrace

April 25, 2005

The development group that invested $16 million to buy Britton Golf Course in Fishers is pressing forward with its plan to convert the property into a retail center that would rival Clay Terrace in Carmel.

The purchase earlier this month, following Fishers Town Council approval, represents the first significant real estate project for the group of local investors formed under the Britton Park Development LLC name.

Bordering State Road 37 and East 131st Street, the 104-acre golf course is the largest piece of prime property left along a stretch of highway where much of the land has been consumed by new commercial construction.

The plan includes about 85 acres for up to 600,000 square feet of shops and other street-level retailers, plus offices or townhomes on the second-floor levels.

Office buildings will be constructed on 11 acres on the north side of the site along the east side of S.R. 37. An assisted-living center is planned on the southeast side of the land. The project is expected to cost $50 million.

The 18-hole golf course, built and sold by A.W. "Mac" Reynolds, will stay open through the summer. Ground is scheduled to be broken in the fall, said Bob Peterson, managing partner of the Britton Park Development team.

If completed, the project would be the largest commercial, office and restaurant development in Fishers and would be bigger than Clay Terrace, the 65-acre upscale, old-style shopping mall at U.S. 31 and 146th Street in Carmel.

"We think it's a great location," Peterson said. "The demographics are similar to [those surrounding] Clay Terrace. The area may be a little lighter in income generation, but Fishers is a fast-growing city."

Developers of the Fishers project are in final negotiations regarding the direction of the development, said Peterson, who expects to have formal agreements soon. Because this is the first major project for the inexperienced buyers, a joint venture with a more seasoned developer could be possible, he said.

Without the benefit of name recognition that locally based Simon Property Group, Duke Realty Corp., Kite Realty Group Trust and Lauth Property Group all enjoy, Britton Park Development has had to start from scratch. Simon and Lauth co-developed Clay Terrace.

"One of the challenges early on was not being a known commodity," Peterson said. "It caused a lot of speculation out there, I suppose. We got through that when we bought [the land], and now the phone's ringing off the hook."

Peterson is a self-described serial entrepreneur leading a group of seven mostly silent investors who also are a part of Wild River Development. The group has purchased three properties, two in Tennessee and one in Atlanta, to build indoor-outdoor water parks.

The group originally had pegged the Britton Golf Course property for a waterpark development before determining it was too large. Such sites normally cover about 40 acres. The investors may have another location lined up for a water park on the northeast side, Peterson said.

Brad Denton, vice president of retail sales and leasing at locally based NAI Olympia Partners, brokered the sale of the Britton land. He said Reynolds, who built the course 15 years ago so he and his friends had somewhere to play golf, realized the property could be put to more profitable use.

Some better-established developers were interested in the land, Denton said, but Peterson's group stepped up and bid the $16 million asking price.

Denton said he's confident they got their money's worth.

"It sits in the middle of explosive growth," he said. "This is one of the nicest pieces of property in the surrounding area. Big pieces like this are hard to come by. It was very sought after."

The S.R. 37 corridor from Fishers to Noblesville has boomed with development in recent years. Car dealers and retailers, including big-box stores such as Meijer, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Marsh and Kohl's, have swallowed much of the land.

The Britton property is outside the fivemile radius of Castleton Square Mall and Keystone at the Crossing-far enough away that the new development should not compete with them, Denton said.

At the earliest, the Fishers project is targeted to be finished sometime in 2007, Peterson said.

Scott Faultless, president of the Fishers Town Council, described the project as an exciting opportunity for the city and said the numerous existing apartments directly surrounding up to half the property should help provide a solid customer base. The nearby area is a residential hotbed.

Brian Epstein, president of Urban Space Commercial Properties, agreed the parcel is attractive. But he said the Saxony project in Hamilton County, which spans both sides of Interstate 69 at Exit 10, and undisclosed talks of another possible commercial development in the area, could hinder its success.

"From that standpoint, who's going to be the first one to tie up the appropriate tenants to make it work?" Epstein said. "[Saxony is] not right next to it, but it's close enough that the major tenants aren't going to do both locations. One site is going to cover that trade area."

Toledo-based Republic Development Corp. has formed a partnership with Fort Worth, Texas-based Trademark Property Co. to develop Saxony, a $500 million, 35-acre retail center at the corner of Olio Road and 136th Street, beginning next year. Overall, Saxony is a 725-acre development project.

Peterson remains undaunted by the competition, however.

"We're very aware of everything that is happening in the area," he said, "but we still feel very strongly about the property."
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