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Springfield, MO

From the Ground Up: Business partners quietly amassing real estate, development portfolio

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Springfield commercial developer James Tillman and business partner Joseph Hulston are planning a retail center at the southeast corner of Kansas Expressway and Kearney Street.

Should it come to fruition, it’ll add to the roughly $40 million worth of area real estate they’ve acquired together.

Their names are not widely known in the Springfield development community, but they’ve quietly completed about 10 development projects.

Among them are the recent First Watch cafe at a vacant Shoney’s, two multitenant retail centers on Battlefield Road – one housing Starbucks, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Pie Five Pizza Co., and the other with a UPS center and Pure Hot Yoga. Along North Kansas Expressway, the two also have developed a commercial area now housing Mattress Firm, MetroPCS and Wingstop.

“We both have our strong points,” Tillman said, noting their responsibilities across projects is typically evenly split. “Joseph’s more of the real estate mind.”

Tillman also works as an electrical contractor at his company, Complete Electrical Solutions LLC.

The unlikely pairing began on a real estate call three years ago.

Hulston, an associate at global commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE Group Inc., contacted Tillman about selling a property in Nixa he owned. It wasn’t long before the two became friends and, later, business partners.

Next up on their docket is another First Watch. They plan to build the cafe on property they own at 3108 E. Sunshine St. The construction side is where Tillman comes in.

“That’s probably more what I bring to the table – my construction abilities and knowing Springfield, the other contractors and having my connections,” he said.

In the works
With a fast-growing list of commercial developments completed, Tillman said the Kansas and Kearney project might be his and Hulston’s largest yet.

“We’ll have a convenience store at the corner, and then we plan on doing a retail center for the rest of the space,” Tillman said.

Tillman expects the available tenant space to approach 20,000 square feet, though tenants are still being courted – including the Kum & Go fuel and convenience store chain, which has invested about $40 million in the Springfield market in recent years.

“They have shown some interest, but we do not have a confirmed deal,” Tillman said. “We’re also looking at putting in a fast-casual restaurant or it could strictly be a retail center. It all depends on the type of commitments we get.”

Construction should begin in the second quarter, he said, noting a general contractor has not yet been selected.

“Again, it depends on the tenants,” he said.

“Each tenant may pick their own contractor.”

Several of the projects have been financed through Springfield First Community Bank, Tillman said. The Kearney and Kansas development will likely be, too.

For a current project – a center for up to four tenants underway at 210 W. Republic Road – he’s working with general contractor Dock Brothers Construction Co. and Ireland Architects Inc.

“James has a lot of ambition,” Ireland Architects owner Stephanie Ireland said. “He’s always learning and he’s not scared to take a risk, but it’s a calculated risk.”

Ireland has been working with Tillman for approximately a year, she said, for projects including commercial infills and the exterior work for First Watch.

They’ve known each other for much longer.

“He and I worked together many, many years ago when (Mercy) was still St. John’s Hospital. He was a contractor for a lot of work there,” she said. “We plan to continue working together.”

What’s in a name
For the developments, Tillman and Hulston have created multiple LLCs. Common development entities are CES Holdings LLC, Tillman Investments LLC and Ozark Endeavors LLC – which the First Watch plans are running through.

Even though the portfolio is growing, Hulston, who lives in the Kansas City area, still prefers to lay low. He declined an interview for this story.

Individually, Tillman owns about 35 commercial properties throughout Springfield, as well as in Branson and St. Louis. His properties include Big O’ Tire at 1503 W. Republic Road, an Easterseals Midwest office at 3828 South Ave. and a handful of pawn shops, operating under several LLCs: CES Holdings LLC, CES Leasing LLC and Tillman Properties LLC. Other properties developed include City Electric Supply at 300 E. Chestnut Expressway, Speedy Cash at 2949 S. National Ave. and a public defender/parole office at 638 N. Roberson Ave.

“You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket,” Tillman said.

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