Turning Historic Factories into Apartment Projects

Benjamin Orgel of Tennessee's Tower Ventures shared insights on adaptive reuse during the CREate 360 virtual conference held by SIOR.

Snuff District rendering

In Memphis, Tenn., developer Tower Ventures is breathing new life into old industrial properties. The Orgel family-led company, which completed the second phase of its transformation of a historic brewery into an apartment property last November, is currently moving ahead with a new, 60-acre mixed-use project on the site of a former smokeless tobacco factory.

Dubbed the Snuff District, the master-planned development along the Wolf River Harbor is slated to include roughly 225 market-rate rental apartments in the first phase, which began construction this past January. The adaptive reuse of a collection of historic and former industrial buildings will also feature event and office space, ground-floor retail and single-family home sites, according to Benjamin Orgel, owner & partner at Tower Ventures.

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The company is working on master-planning and securing financing for the project on the north side of downtown Memphis, Orgel said during last week’s CREate 360 virtual conference held by the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR). “One of the big problems with financing in Memphis is property taxes and incentives,” he noted. “We spend a lot of time working on incentives in order to make projects work.”

The Snuff District builds on the Orgel family’s track record of redeveloping historic properties, including the successful transformation of a large, vacant brewery in downtown Memphis into a 272-unit luxury apartment community. In partnership with Fogelman Properties, William Orgel-led Tower Ventures and 495 TN Partners leased up the first phase of the Tennessee Brewery project in less than two months in 2018 and quickly decided to embark on the 120-unit second phase.

“It’s really become a Memphis treasure,” said Benjamin Orgel, describing the company’s careful approach to historic preservation after saving the 1890s-vintage property from demolition. “We basically kept everything the same. We kept graffiti if it wasn’t offensive.”

“We realized people love the cool industrial look,” he added. Offering views of the Mississippi River as well as barrel-vaulted ceilings in the historic Brewery buildings, the community is still at 100 percent occupancy more than two years later.

Mixed-use complex rises

Interior of Snuff District factory, which will be converted into apartments and offices

The Snuff District redevelopment will be built in three phases and is poised to include up to 600 rental apartments upon completion, according to a 2019 master plan. Tower Ventures has already signed cheerleading and dance apparel firm Varsity Spirit for a nearly 80,000-square-foot office lease in the project.

Orgel said that the sprawling project is poised to include 50 to 70 single-family home sites as part of the company’s transformation of the site, formerly the second-largest snuff manufacturing plant in the U.S., into a live-work-play neighborhood.

The developer added that it’s crucial to be friendly and fully transparent with the community before a project is announced. Orgel recalled that through a neighborhood meeting, Tower Ventures was able to address objections to a planned apartment development.

“Their concern was access to some of their properties, so we deeded an alley to help them with their access, and all of a sudden the neighborhood was for our project,” he said.

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