They have all the tools: an established name, prime real estate, deep pockets and staying power.
The Boyles of Boyle Investment Company, a staunchly conservative family business, have used them all to shape East Memphis.
Company founder J. Bayard Boyle, an 81-year-old, genteel Southerner, is the great-great-grandson of John Overton, the pioneer settler known as the Father of Memphis. Overton helped lay out a city on the Mississippi River bluff. His descendants have stretched Memphis eastward with expensive suburban subdivisions, offices and shopping centers.
Boyle Investment Co. is relatively small compared with homegrown development companies such as Belz Enterprises and Fogelman Properties. But because Boyle has helped build a new down town in East Memphis, its impact on Memphis is far more substantial than its bottom line.
Boyle controls 1 ½ miles of prime Poplar Avenue real estate between Interstate 240 and Massey Road, a swath it calls Ridgeway Center. Boyle began building this 204-acre city on the edge of the city in 1972 – including the 27-story Omni Hotel (formerly the Hyatt Regency), restaurants, condos, office buildings and The Regalia shopping center now under construction.
A plush, 14-story office tower that Boyle plans to build near Poplar and Shady Grove, at the eastern perimeter of Ridgeway, may pull more office tenants from downtown.
These projects are among the most visible in Memphis, but little is public about the Boyles and their company.
Financial statements are closely guarded. Wealth is held in family trusts. There is none of the kind of fanfare that some other developers generate, such as Avron Fogelman’s ownership of professional sports teams or the Belzes’ restoration of The Peabody. Family members and key executives shun publicity, although occasional controversies and lawsuits pry open the shell a bit.
Bayard (pronounced BUY-erd) Boyle Sr. began acquiring real estate after bailing out of stocks just before the market crash in 1929. For the next 54 years, he earned the company a reputation for conservative business deals, impeccably neat properties, steady growth and rock-ribbed Republican politics. These days he spends most of his time in Florida or Michigan, or in Georgia at the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club, where he is a member.
“He can still go at it if we need him,” says his son, Bayard Boyle, Jr.
J. Bayard Boyle, Jr., 52, is a lanky, soft-spoken man with a deep Southern drawl who doesn’t fit the executive mold. His desk top is bare except for a single notebook. He doesn’t wear a tie if he can help it and complains that it was “painfully expensive” to decorate the company’s office walls.
His pastimes are hunting and fishing at private clubs in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta. He has taken an interest in issues such as international family planning.
Sometimes the Boyles can’t avoid emerging into public view.
On the expanding edge of East Memphis, they’re at the center of a debate over where and whether to extend Kirby Parkway. The Boyles own property along the proposed path.
Sixty miles away, in Bolivar, Tenn., Boyle has legal problems brought about by the July 1983 collapse of a discount store built and managed by the company. Boyle and its insurance carrier have settled several personal injury cases after a Hardeman County jury, in the first case to be tried, stung the company with a $3 million verdict – the largest award on record in Tennessee for a single plaintiff.
Still to be heard this summer are the claims and counterclaims involving Boyle and the shopping center’s owner, former Bolivar Mayor Harlan Thomas.
Boyle’s financial statements normally are protected by the shield of private ownership, but the Bolivar lawsuits give a glimpse. Under a judge’s order, Boyle released a financial statement indicating the company and its subsidiaries had a net worth of $14.7 million in 1983.
Boyle has one primary subsidiary, Mid-America Construction Co., which builds many of the Boyle projects. The company also has commercial lending and an insurance division.
Company executives will not release current financial figures. Other sources, however, provide some further insight into
Boyle’s financial resources:
Public records show that Boyle Investment Co. owns all or part of 211 parcels of property in Shelby County appraised by the county at $30 million. Those appraisals, however, are more than a decade old and reflect only a fraction of their current market value.
Boyle family members own another $8.5 million worth of real estate in the county, public records show. And Boyle Trust & Investment Co., in which the family owns a stake, controls 60 parcels valued by Shelby County at $18 million. Many of the trust company’s properties were developed by Boyle Investment.
Boyle Investment Co. reported $23.1 million in surplus or undivided profits on its 1989 personal property filing to Shelby County.
Boyle has developed 27 subdivisions, beginning in the 1940s. Lots in its newest development, Blue Heron, sold for an average of $145,000 each without being advertised. River Oaks, a subdivision Boyle began in 1969, is the most expensive residential area of Memphis.
The company also has developed 16 shopping centers, 2,100 apartments, and a long list of offices, stores, warehouses and other industrial buildings that it leases. When Boyle last released its rental figures, in 1982, annual collections exceeded $14 million.
Boyle has shared the risk on major projects with partners such as home builder Lloyd Lovitt. Under a partnership known as The Farmington Group, the two developed Farmington Country Club and 800 residential lots around it. They also are partners in Buckingham Farms, a 640-acre project of homes and shopping south of Southwind Country Club in the area where a development moratorium has been discussed.
The company has long-established links with local and national lenders. Bayard Boyle, Sr. is a former director of First Tennessee Bank. Boyle executive vice president Al Austin is a Union Planters National Bank Board member. For financing on major new projects, Boyle has used Provident Life Insurance Co. and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.
This prosperous family business was built on farsighted purchases of real estate at bargain prices. It has steadily grown into a regional developer with properties as far away as Illinois and Florida, though the bulk of its holdings remain in and around Memphis.
“What separates them and the Belzes from everyone else is that they’re looking out there 10 or 15 years,” said veteran County Commissioner Charles Perkins.
Along with the advantage of its own bank of land, the company has the financial wherewithal to hold on to property until it is ready to develop or commands big sale prices.
Out-of-town developers paid Boyle $2.3 million for 70 acres where Hickory Ridge mall now stands. Sharp manufacturing Co. of America chose a Boyle tract for its television and microwave production plant in Hickory Hill. The 185-acre site where Kellogg Co. plans to build a $1.2 billion cereal plant also was Boyle property.
A vintage Boyle business deal is Riveredge, the expensive residential and commercial development taking shape on 1,000 acres near Walnut Grove Road and Bazemore in Cordova. Public records show that Boyle began assembling the property in 1968 when Cordova was a remote rural area.
Now, 20 years later, large lots in the heavily wooded subdivision sell for up to $200,000.
Boyle enrolled a portion of the Riveredge property under a farm program that shields the land from much of its property taxes. The 1976 law, known as the Greenbelt Law, was passed to protect farmers from rapid tax increases as land values are increased by encroaching development. But the program also has often been used by real-estate developers to minimize holding costs.
County officials tried to have another Boyle tract at Whitten and Interstate 40 removed from Greenbelt, claiming it was an abuse of the program. But lawyer David Scruggs successfully argued that the property was being held for farm use, as required, despite the signs advertising it for development.
The value of both tracts has been driven up by suburban growth. Overall, as Memphis has moved east, often it has moved onto land Boyle owns.
Because the company has been so closely held, there is a common misconception that the family is synonymous with the company. City Councilman Mary Rose McCormick recently told company senior vice president Russell Bloodworth that she had never met a Boyle. “I said, Mary Rose, you won’t believe it, there’s just one here (in the company),” Bloodworth said.
However, a Boyle has always run the company. And more often than not, Boyles have married other important people.
Bayard Boyle Sr.’s wife, Elizabeth, is the daughter of former 1st National Bank (now First Tennessee) chairman Sam Ragland.
One of their daughters, Imogene Snowden Boyle, is married to Henry Morgan, 45, the president of the company. Morgan, who once had a summer job cleaning out basement files for Boyle Insurance Agency, is the younger brother of Morgan Keegan founder Allen Morgan Jr., and the son of Memphis banker Allen Morgan Sr., a partner in the Whitten Road property.
The Boyles’ other daughter, Mary Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Roberts, lives in Washington and is not involved in the company. However, her marriage to former Memphis businessman Thomas Roberts provides a strong link to the Republican Party. Roberts is a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was treasurer for George Bush’s 1980 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
In 1984, one-third of the Boyle Investment Co. assets, including several apartment developments, were transferred to Mrs. Roberts.
Other Boyles have married members of the Snowden, Erb and (Norfleet) Turner families – major names in land and banking in Memphis. Boyle is building The Regalia at Poplar and Shady Grove on land it purchased from the Erbs. Because it was among the last vacant tracts on Poplar, the parcel was sought by several companies.
“Everybody underestimated the power of blood ties,” said another developer who wanted the land.
Old friends also have provided valuable connections. The site for Humphreys Center was obtained in a deal with the family of Humko Chemical founder Herbert Humphreys, a friend of Bayard Boyle, Sr. The tract includes the only retail zoning along a seven-mile stretch of Memphis’ most affluent residential corridor.
When the company must deal with hot potatoes such as angry neighbors, zoning or the path of a new road, the man who usually gets the call is Bloodworth.
Bloodworth, 43, has an urban planning and architecture background. In his college thesis he proposed a racially integrated housing development for Shelby Farms. He has tried to give the company offices and employees a sharper image.
Those efforts met their match in Bayard Boyle, Jr.
“This is a laid-back organization,” said Boyle, a tie draped loosely around his neck.
Boyle, a graduate of Washington and Lee University, has never been interested in the limelight of his kinship to Overton: “Apparently I’m related to him somehow, but I’m not sure how.”
His concerns, he says, are world issues such as defense, the environment and population control. He played a key role in fund-raising for Planned Parenthood in the 1960s and ‘70s, and is a board member of The Pathfinder Fund, a Boston-based group that raises money for birth control in developing countries.
He and his father live side-by-side on heavily wooded land along Shady Grove Road that has been in the family since 1937. Bayard Boyle, Sr.’s estate covers 36 acres and is valued by Shelby County at more than $1.1 million. Because the estate also is enrolled under the Greenbelt program, Boyle has cut his city and county taxes on the property by 76 percent. The younger Boyle’s home is on eight acres and is valued at $500,000.
As developers, the Boyles have been at odds with other lovers of the woods for nearly two decades over what to do with Shelby Farms.
A glance at a map of East Memphis shows why. I-40 and Poplar form a pie-shaped wedge. Development is booming along both corridors. Between them sits 4,500 acres of Shelby Farms.
Larry Smith, an environmentalist, has opposed Boyle on such issues as building Kirby Parkway through the park.
“As with all developers, profits come first, profitability is No. 1. They don’t get money from investors by saying ‘We’re going to put the environment at the top of the list,’” Smith said.
In the 1970s, the Boyles proposed to develop half of the land with The Rouse Co., a big national developer from Maryland. The effort was blocked by a coalition of environmental activists and developers who feared it would dry up demand for their projects for years.
The Wolf River Parkway was the name of the road the Boyles advocated in 1977 to link Germantown Road and Walnut Grove south of the Wolf River. It, too, was stopped by foes who said it would mainly increase the value of Boyle property.
The Boyles didn’t give up. Ten years later, Humphreys Boulevard tied Walnut Grove to Poplar along part of the intended path of the Wolf River Parkway.
As construction of the road progressed, so did Boyle’s construction of Humphreys Center. The 291-acre project will include a shopping center, offices, homes and hotels.
County Commissioner Perkins has been outspoken about Humphreys Boulevard, saying the road was sold as a partial solution to East Memphis traffic congestion but was, in fact, “a real estate development.
Bloodworth played a major role in the Humphreys project as a member of the City Council-appointed Poplar Corridor task force that recommended the project. He also coordinated the effort to have landowners contribute the land to build the road. And he has a direct financial interest. Records show Bloodworth is a minority partner in a venture developing Humphreys Center.
Bloodworth said it would be “absolutely incorrect” to suggest the road was motivated by development interests. He said Humphreys Boulevard long had been a priority with the city and county and task force members unanimously supported it to relieve traffic congestion.
Boyle has other projects going in the I-40/Poplar wedge. Fifteen years on the drawing board, Century Center is under way at Whitten Road and I-40. The Regalia is nearing completion on Poplar. And the retail phase of Hunters Hollow, a 450-acre subdivision with commercial frontage on Germantown Road near Macon, is about to begin.
Not surprisingly, the Boyles are more convinced than ever that Kirby Parkway is needed through Shelby Farms.
A letter from Bayard Boyle, Jr., urging City Council members to get the Kirby Parkway project off the ground, called it “the most serious growth obstacle in Shelby County.” In an interview, Boyle said he didn’t care which route the road took through the park as long as it provided relief to east-west traffic problems.
In a separate letter plugging a direct route across the Wolf River, his father wrote: “I implore you not to let anyone persuade you to make almost as big a mistake as was made when Interstate 40 was not allowed through Overton Park.”
Boyle’s departure from downtown came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision halting I-40 through the park.
It was a total retreat and left some hard feelings. In the early years of the company, Boyle helped finance landmarks such as the Sterick and Exchange buildings. Its headquarters were downtown at Second and Monroe until 1973.
Boyle then moved to Ridgeway and leased part of the building to the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce for $7,000 a month. The chamber’s membership declined, and by 1977 it was more than $100,000 behind on its rent.
A settlement was reached, but on less generous terms than those proposed by the chamber’s main backer, businessman Abe Plough.
Bayard Boyle, Jr. said the company moved for several reasons. William Clark already had built Clark Tower and White Station Tower and filled them with tenants. Boyle was heavily into residential development in East Memphis in the 1970s. The family and the company’s top executives lived in East Memphis. And almost everyone else in the real estate business was making the same move.
“We should have really moved out a little earlier than we did,” he said.
Once the move was made, Boyle never looked back.
The company’s promotional handout, the Boyle Report, identifies 28 projects. All of them are located outside I-240.