Zach Smith, Reporter
6/6/2016 3:12 PM
Matt E. Miller is up early, but he likes to ease into his workday. Rising between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., he starts the day with journaling, reading, exercising and walking the dogs – but never business.
“The first 15 minutes to hour that I am awake is chilled-out personal time,” Miller says. “I’ve got a strict rule with myself in the mornings that I don’t start in on email.”
Tuesdays and Thursdays are Miller’s office days, when Miller Commerce LLC employees can schedule him for meetings on various projects. At some point between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., he’ll touch on each of six projects the company has on the burners.
After a team huddle, where each staff member shares what they’re working on this week and what they’re planning for the Memorial Day weekend, Miller and Vice President of New Development Steve Stinnett chance darkening skies and hoof it west across downtown. The destination is Bates & Associates Inc. for a design update on Birch Pointe – the $17 million, 68,000-square-foot skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility Miller Commerce is developing in south Springfield.
Midway through greeting Bates & Associates architect Phil Young, Miller receives a call from Springfield Business Journal reporter Brian Brown for his developing story on Birch Pointe. Later that day, the journalistic process comes full circle when Chuck Banta, former head of Banta Foods Inc. and an investor with Miller, references the SBJ story.
Today’s weather means Wes Holland, director of development for Reliance Health Care Inc. – an administrative services provider managing the new facility – will not be flying in from Conway, Ark., leaving Miller, Stinnett and Young little to discuss other than timelines and renderings. The project is scheduled to begin turning dirt in June. On the way back to the office – past the first downtown property Miller owned at the southwest corner of South Avenue and Walnut Street – Miller mentions his humble beginnings in business at age 19 with an $11,000 house he flipped on Brower Street. The downtown purchase in the early 2000s resulted from what Miller saw as a national trend for urban redevelopment, historic tax credits and city support converging to create an economic opportunity.
“That’s how I got downtown, but the reason I stayed is it’s fun and cool and relevant,” he says. “You can’t ignore how many more people are living here in center city now than five years ago.”
But not all projects are downtown. Running along Sunset Street, gated senior living community Tera Vera is underway with a model home and clubhouse near completion. Soon, Miller says TLC Property Management LLC will set up an office and start leasing the 31 apartments.
Walking through the fully furnished, 1,576-square-foot model, Miller says he recently brought his parents by to see the progress and was pleased with their reaction.
“They’re the right demographic for us,” he says. “It made me feel good, not just from the personal side, but like, ‘We hit it here. We got the right sauce.’”
As with the student housing and urban redevelopment niches, Miller saw the opportunity in the senior living market. His developments, such as the 8-year-old The Fremont, are preludes to a national boom for baby boomers.
“You can see the age census data doing what it is – it’s coming,” Miller says. “We’re really starting to fire those engines up.”
TLC Executive Director Sam Coryell, who is investing as an individual in Tera Vera, stops by shortly before noon to review exterior siding color samples. With Reliance Health Care’s Holland absent, lunch plans are rearranged, and the two decide to chance the crowd and head to City Butcher since they’re on the south side.
An afternoon of meetings awaits Miller at the office. Affiniti Management Services Inc. President Lonnie Funk and Vice President of Operations Brad Danzak discuss the preleasing status for fall student housing. They have goods news: Leasing is at 85 percent, compared to 60 percent the same time last year.
Funk cites international students, in particular, driving leases through referrals, as well as Affiniti’s marketing efforts to make itself more visible on campus.
“Where we’re positioned going into the fall, even with all the competition, is good,” Funk says. “I feel confident about it.”
The conversation switches to So El District Lofts, taking shape east of the Wilhoit Plaza parking lot on Elm Street. Danzak points to loft-style living minus loft-style utility consumption as a key selling point for the scheduled Aug. 1 opening.
“We’re pushing the envelope a little bit with that. It’s not garden-style apartments or student housing. It’s a different philosophy than what we’ve ever done before,” Miller says, noting the location between campus and the heart of downtown allowed for a hybrid design.
“I think it will fill up with its own eclectic collection of tenants,” Funk adds. “Now, we just need the phone to ring.”