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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Point Of View: A Commercial Broker And Developer's Story

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Apr 6, 2018
Photo by Michael Cline Spencer
Real estate broker and developer Terry Espy moved to the Wilmington area full time in 2007 to work on a development project called The View.

The plan was to develop an up-to-11-story, mixed-use project downtown that included retail, about 70 condos, rooftop green spaces and a pool on the ninth floor. She and her partners invested about $6.5 million in the property, she said, but the investment in the project didn’t stop there.

Another $800,000 went into construction drawings, and they spent about $750,000 to tear down the old Wachovia building at the Princess Street site.

Things did not go according to plan, with The View or the area’s commercial real estate as a whole.

At the time, “it was at the peak of the market,” she said, but soon that market took a downturn.

“This was not a fly-by night endeavor,” Espy said of the project. “It was one of these things that nobody had any idea the economy would do what it did.”

It was more than a two-year process to get permits in hand, she said. By that time, it was 2009, and “the world had fallen apart,” she said.

The development industry was turned upside down. Lending for private mortgages and construction dried up, Espy said. She worked for years to research and find an avenue that would see the project through before she and her partners had to hand the property back to the bank in 2011.

Today, the property remains a vacant lot downtown between Water and Front streets.

“It is a current, still viable (project). People still love the design,” Espy said. “That’s what I see on that lot every time I walk by. I’m hopeful that at some point, that will pan out. And there are not six months that go by that somebody else gives a call about it … I know there are groups out there that could do it if they could just work it through with the guys that own the property.”

Although The View didn’t work out, Espy carries that same passion for other Wilmington projects. Since the market has picked back up, business for Espy, now president of her own firm, MoMentum Companies, is booming, she said.

“For me right now, I cannot explain the intensity … At least five new clients a week are walking in the door, people that want to be in Wilmington,” she said, adding that old spaces are limited, “so we have to start creating more.”

Espy, who had previously worked on projects in Raleigh, said she didn’t always have her mind set on Wilmington and up until a couple of years ago, had “one foot out the door.”

“It was stressful,” she said about the recession. “All the developers will tell you that during that time it was not a pleasant time in life.”

Espy took a month long trip out west and seriously considered a position at the University of California, Berkeley, she said. On her way back to North Carolina, however, a couple calls from friends thrusted her mind back into the Wilmington scene and into the commercial real estate world.

“I always say the coolest things in my life just kind of reared their head. I didn’t aim for them,” Espy said. “I never ever thought about doing commercial brokerage as a career. But what I realized is that I’m used to developing businesses.”

Espy has brought several projects to the area since. She’s helped bring high-profile developments and some big names to Wilmington.

She played a role in drawing Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, a restaurant by chef Vivian Howard, that’s opened in phase two of the South Front redevelopment project. In that same development, more tenants will be sought for the 18,000-square-foot industrial Capps Building.

“We have been really careful and cautious with the mix there, between the Capps building and the container building, to create a cool environment,” she said.

Espy said she operates from a different perspective.

“We have a weird mantra here. I tell people, I’m a sucky broker,” Espy said. “I’m an urban developer first. It’s about community. It’s not about how much I’m going to make.

“I’m not a big proponent of nationals. I believe that people become loyal to people, not to corporations,” she said. “And especially Wilmington – I’d say this place really has the Cheers mentality. When an individual has been there more than once, you better know their name.”

To see the rest of WilmingtonBiz Magazine, visit WilmingtonBizMagazine.com.
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