Ground was broken today for a project that could further transform Bowling Green’s downtown.
What is now just a concrete parking garage at Eighth Avenue and College Street is slated to become Hitcents.com Park Plaza.
The Mills family, including Clinton, his brother, Chris, and father, Ed, are developing the commercial wrap on two sides of the parking garage and will lease space to Hitcents, which is a child of Houchens Industries, and other clients.
“This will be more than just a place to work,” Hitcents CEO Clinton Mills said Thursday in an interview with the Daily News.
Mills said his company, which hires students fresh out of college, has had some difficulty retaining employees, who are lured to Nashville.
“We want to have a nice working environment for people,” Mills said. “We are really trying to create a vibe downtown.”
Both Mills and Doug Gorman, chairman of Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority, point to a recent Tuesday night when about 4,300 people were at the Bowling Green Ballpark, which Mills will be able to see from Hitcents offices, and 1,800 people at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center across the street.
“Who would have thought we would have that kind of activity downtown (during the week),” Gorman said.
Mills also was amazed at the vibrancy.
“That is the kind of energy that we need,” he said. “We need to have ways to keep young people here.”
Mills said he expects that the project will not only attract and help keep employees, but draw attention to Hitcents both locally and nationally for new business.
That’s one of the reasons the Mills family became interested in the project.
Hitcents at least initially will have a 10-year lease on the space. “After 25 years when the bonds are paid off, we will own the building,” Clinton Mills said.
The initial cost to construct the shell of the building and the Hitcents offices is $16 million. To fully develop the building as the spaces are leased will cost about $22 million.
Clinton Mills said there will be a per square foot allowance to renters to finish out any space they would lease.
“We want to give them enough money to make it a nice space,” he said. “Because we don’t want to have Class A office space and then not have it look nice.”
Class A denotes the infrastructure available to the site. Mills said they are working on getting fiber optic and electric service fed to the space from multiple supply points. That way work can continue in the event that fiber is cut from one location or if one of two power supplies is off line.
Already, a second tenant is on board for the building – Connected Nation will locate its headquarters in about 10,000 square feet of the building, founder and Chairman Brian Mefford confirmed Thursday.
“We’re really excited about it,” he said.
Currently, Connected Nation has about 50 employees based in Bowling Green who are spread out in multiple spaces totaling about 8,000 square feet.
“We have a pretty aggressive growth plan and have been looking at different spaces in Bowling Green for a couple of years,” Mefford said.
The move to one large space will allow for the company to grow. Connected Nation helps roll out broadband plans in 30 states and multiple countries. In all, it has about 100 employees.
Mefford agrees with Clinton Mills that having such a nice space with amenities and activities nearby will be a good recruiting tool for tech savvy employees, who often look to the coasts for such jobs.
“We need a good way to make a strong first impression,” he said.
Of equal importance to the Class A office space is the activity nearby, Mills said.
“They are working really hard to get the ground floor restaurant spaces developed,” he said.
Those restaurants, from five to seven of them, will open onto a pedestrian plaza that separates the building from the Bowling Green Ballpark.
“We have got to create a destination,” he said.
Of equal importance is developing the residential space on the College Street side of the building, something that another developer will do, Clinton Mills said.
“But then you have the old chicken or the egg first argument,” he said.
Restaurants and other services need residents nearby to support them, and in order for people to live downtown, they need restaurants, groceries and other services nearby, Mills said.
Once work begins, Mills said he is confident the space will lease out fairly quickly.
Jessica Thompson, marketing and communications coordinator for the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will help market the space through its contacts just as it does available industrial sites in the county and region.
Gorman said he is working closely with at least one developer on the residential space and is in discussions with another about developing retail on the ground floor of the College Street side.
Clinton Mills said his family won’t be developing the remainder of the building.
“We are not looking at getting into development other than this portion of office space,” he said.
Gorman said they already have some plans for the College Street side to show developers.
“We would like to get that going fairly quickly ... with the details being wrapped up in a couple of months,” Gorman said. “We don’t want it to be a construction zone for four years.”
Mills hopes that Hitcents can move into its offices by the end of the year.
“I know that’s a pretty tight timeline and we don’t want to rush it,” he said. “But everyone is coming together to make this happen.”