Zimmers make a Raleigh push — on their own timetable

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Landon Zimmer

There are a number of projects in various stages in and around Raleigh’s downtown. Some are proposed to be as tall as 40 stories, which is big by Raleigh standards. I talked last week with a developer of one of the proposed towers, Landon Zimmer.

Zimmer is a managing partner of the Wilmington-based Zimmer Development Co., a commercial developer with a wide portfolio — retail tenants, multi-family apartment complexes, and student housing.  In fact, it is one of the most active student housing developers in the country. At one point, Zimmer Development was Food Lion’s largest landlord.

In Wilmington, Zimmer Development is working with New Hanover County on Project Grace, a downtown plan to build a new library and museum complex with residential and office space.

The company, founded by the family that launched the Reeds Jewelers chain in 1946, has always wanted to do a project in downtown Raleigh, says Zimmer.

“We really are bullish on the city and downtown and the property as well,” he says. “We love the property.”

As proposed, the project would be a 40-story tower with retail, office and residential at the corner of Peace Street and Capital Boulevard.  The 3.3-acre site doesn’t look that big from the road.

You just can’t see much of it from Capital. Or really from anywhere, when you’re driving through a construction-congested neighborhood. I had to zoom in on Google Earth to see what the heck it was. When construction finally begins, people are going to wonder how a big, tall building grew out of that place.

The company is still working through some questions.  We don’t know the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the demand for office space. Wake County will continue to attract new companies and new residents, which will offset some of the work-from-home drag on the office market.

“We know we’re going to go forward with at least some residential and retail, these two, but how much office, how much spec office we’re going to build is a good question,” Zimmer says. The company is looking for a large office tenant.  There’s actually enough land at the location, he says, for two towers. “That’s not in the plan but it’s a possibility.” The company has the OK from CSX for a walkway over the railroad tracks that run by the back of the property; it could be a convenient place to live if you work in and around the state government complex that dominates that part of downtown.

The last 20 years have transformed downtown Raleigh. Construction has been a constant. Millennials and developers arrived at the same moment. Overlooked properties started getting a lot of interest. The boom pushed outward towards downtown’s edges — the Warehouse District, Glenwood South — and more recently, on the north side of downtown, along Capital Boulevard and Peace Street.

One the west side of Capital, across from the Zimmer site, John Kane developed the sprawling Smoky Hollow complex, a new downtown district of offices, luxury apartments, and a Publix supermarket.

When I arrived in Raleigh 25 years ago, downtown wasn’t where many people lived. The idea that someday there would be a big grocery store — I didn’t see that happening. Around the corner from the Zimmer site, on the east side of Capital, the Seaboard Station expansion is adding hundreds of apartments, as well as retail and restaurants.

As I drove last week from Smoky Hollow, by the Zimmer Development site to Seaboard Station — I thought that by the middle of this decade, first-time visitors to Raleigh are going to be greeted by a new, impressive northern gateway into the city’s center.

A family business

The Zimmer family has been active in Wilmington business and civic activities for 75 years. After World War II, veteran William Zimmer and his wife, Roberta, settled in Wilmington and bought a jewelry store downtown. They named it Reeds, which was the name of a jewelry business his family operated in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. The southern, separate, Reeds has grown into 13 states under the leadership of one of the Zimmers’ sons, Alan. The jewelry company by itself is a remarkable North Carolina story. Generations of Zimmers have learned business by cleaning display cases and waiting on customers from a young age, including Landon, who started at Reeds in middle school.

In 1989, Zimmer Development was established by two of Bill and Roberta’s other sons — Jeffrey and Herbert. The company and its partners have developed more than 260 projects in 140 cities. Bill and Roberta’s daughter, Arlene Z. Schreiber, is the company’s director of leasing. (Bill and Roberta’s children honored their parents with a gift to help fund the Zimmer Cancer Center at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center.)

The third generation in the development business includes Landon (Herbert’s son), as well as Emily Zimmer Moree and Lowell Zimmer (two of Jeffrey’s children).

Landon Zimmer, who handles market selection, project development and strategic planning, has undergraduate, law and MBA degrees from Duke. He is a member of the state transportation board and has also served on the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

Keeping a private family business going for generations is a huge challenge, let alone two of them.

“We see each other a lot socially,” Landon Zimmer says, “but we have to have organized times where we talk about business. [We] still have a good time and enjoy each other’s company, but it’s a little more focused on business and keeping things organized and keeping things together. I kind of owe [his cousin] Genna Zimmer, who works at Reeds, for being the steward of that.”

One of Zimmer Development’s biggest projects was Mayfaire, a 400-acre mixed-use district with retail and residential in Wilmington that opened its first stores in 2004. The Zimmers developed it with H.J. Brody and BrodyCo of Greenville, and the partners sold Mayfaire Town Center and the Mayfaire Community Center in 2015 to mall developer CBL for $192 million. It was a good time to sell a shopping center.

Timing is important in the development business, especially with 40-story office towers. Zimmer Development can, as Landon Zimmer put it, “proceed at our own pace and at our own design.”

“There’s no timetable for us.  When we have the perfect layout, and, I guess, opportunity, that’s when we’re going to proceed,” he says. “There’s no rush on our behalf. We don’t need to move. We plan on that building being there a long time. A year or two, in the long run, isn’t going to really dictate our moves.”

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