Topgolf Huntsville: An Interview with Topgolf’s Director of Real Estate Devin Charhon
Topics: Commercial Real Estate
Markets: Huntsville-Madison County
With construction of RCP’s monumental MidCity Development well underway, the highly-anticipated Topgolf is teeing up to be the paradigm of entertainment in the Rocket City.
The 53,000-square-foot location, on University Drive, is set to entertain over 300,000 visitors in the first year and grow from there. Topgolf has 33 locations worldwide, in 12 states, and 2 countries and is rapidly expanding its footprint, with plans to open locations in 10 more states by December 2018, including the noteworthy Huntsville location.
So what were the driving factors of Devin Charhon’s evaluation of the Huntsville market?
“Topgolf is looking to expand into as many cities as possible,” said Charhon, Topgolf’s director of real estate sales. “With that, we realize that each city’s needs and demands are different. Huntsville will be the smallest city we have ever opened in, so we took the size and market into consideration when drawing up the plans. A typical Topgolf location has 102 hitting bays, while the Huntsville location will have 70 hitting bays. The Huntsville location will be our first swing at a scaled version of Topgolf.”
Charhon said, "Growth of the city is the top factor when considering a new market. As the fastest growing metro area in Alabama, Huntsville is a natural fit for our expansion into the state."
And then there is MidCity…The $350 million, 100 acre, RCP development that will include 345,000 square feet of specialty retail, 200,000 square feet of high-tech office space, more than 900 residential units, a 150-room boutique hotel, an outdoor performance venue, and an artisan food hall and market, making it the ideal location for Topgolf to break ground.
“Huntsville is developing these pockets of growth surrounding downtown, and we knew we wanted to be in one of them,” Charhon said. “When we were looking at locations, we saw Southwest Huntsville as the hipster district with Lowe Mill and the arts and with 805’s breweries. We looked at areas in the South Huntsville but felt that the area wasn’t as easily accessible due to the construction project, and it was a good drive from the Madison area.
Then Topgolf took a look in Northeast Huntsville.
“We knew that area was starting to really make headway, but did not feel that it was easily accessible to the entire market,” Charhon said. “When we met with RCP, the developers of MidCity, we knew right away the Northwest Huntsville, University Drive, location was where we would open our doors. It checked all of our boxes. First of all, it’s a prime location. It’s right next to the second largest Research Park in the U.S., a 5 minute drive from downtown, and a 10 minute drive from Redstone Arsenal. Then you’ve got MidCity which is going to have over 345,000 feet of specialty retail space (70% of which is new to market). That allows us to tap into the single largest market of consumers in Huntsville. Combine the location with being a part of one of the largest real estate developments in the nation, it’s a no brainer.”
There are no mulligans in business, so “you’ve got to read the numbers and read them well,” Charhon says citing the “cost of doing business” as key player in his evaluations.
“In business, everything comes down to the numbers and there is a certain balance you have to strike between potential and reality,” Charhon said. “When our analysts evaluated the Huntsville market, we were pleasantly surprised to say the least. Operating costs in Huntsville are 25% less than the national average. Land per acre is 32% less than the national average, and you have one of the highest incomes per household than any other city in the country. It couldn’t be a more ideal place for us test our first scaled version of Topgolf.”
Huntsville’s healthy growth, mammoth MidCity development, and favorable cost of doing business are par for the course in Charhon’s evaluation of the market, but what about the “golf” in Topgolf?
Many would assume that Charhon selects markets with larger golf communities like Huntsville, who has approximately nine golf courses including the renowned Robert Trent Jones Golf Course in Hampton Cove.
However Charhon says, “37% of our guests are non-golfers, so we don’t set criteria locations being a golfing community or not. The number of courses is not an indicator of our interest in a market.”
“At the end of the day, Topgolf is really a place to come together and hang out,” Charhon said. “We’re as known for our menu, atmosphere, and beer and wine selection as we are our golf. Think about a bowling alley. Most people who go to a bowling alley aren’t on a bowling team or in a league. Bowling is just something fun to do and it brings people together. The same is said for Topgolf. Most people who walk in aren’t golfing every weekend or members at a country club. They are people who want to get together and do something different.”
While the official opening date of the high-tech greens is still to be determined, the expected date ranges anywhere from late 2017 to early 2018. The hype amongst Huntsvillians is growing, and even more so with Charhon and the Topgolf Executive team who are projecting this location to be a hole in one.
Kathryn Rickmeyer is community driven marketing coordinator for SVN Commercial Real Estate in Huntsville, Alabama. Rickmeyer focuses on providing commercial real estate investors and brokers with local and competitive market insight in Huntsville, Alabama.