Real estate different role for doc

By Josh Flory

When a doctor needs someone to take quick action, it's as simple as barking "STAT!" - at least on TV.

Bob Overholt is a doctor and he's a fixture on local television, but he's living proof that the world of real estate investing isn't quite like the world of medicine.

The local allergist and star of the Dr. Bob show got into the land game in the 1970s after meeting Mike Price, a local broker who is now with Oliver Smith Realty & Auction Co. Both are former University of Tennessee football players, although Overholt's gridiron career preceded Price's.

In recent months, the two collaborated on Town Creek, a mixed-use development in Lenoir City. As part of the deal, Overholt and his partners sought a $20 million tax-increment financing package from the city and county for infrastructure improvements, and things appeared to be going swimmingly when the city signed off on the proposal. In November, though, the Loudon County commission unanimously rejected the deal, despite some politicking by Dr. Bob.

Commissioner Wayne Gardin discussed the project with Overholt during a sit-down at the Lenoir City Cracker Barrel, but the commissioner eventually voted against the plan. In an interview, Gardin said taxes probably will be raised this year to pay for schools, and he couldn't see handing out a $20 million tax break for Town Creek. "I think Dr. Bob was not interested in our community, I think he was more interested in his development," said the commissioner.

Funny thing is, at least one member of the family who sold the property has the opposite view. Frank Eldridge made the decision to sell along with his brother and two of their cousins. He said the group talked to several other developers but Overholt "just seems like a pretty fair, nice guy."

"Some developers don't care about the community," Eldridge said. "They just come in and put anything in and chop it up and take off. And he doesn't seem to be the kind to do that."

The project may yet get TIF financing from the city, but Overholt said he was surprised by the county's reaction. "I think most projects that are large and are in the middle of a city have the support of the government to improve their city and tax base," he said.

At any rate, the physician's ownership role is done now. His firm, MZEE, LLC sold a 267-acre parcel of the project to developer The Tetra Companies earlier this month for nearly $16.4 million. A Georgia developer had previously bought a smaller, related parcel and is developing a retail center along State Highway 321.

Real estate ranks low on Overholt's list of priorities - he said his family, his medical work, his church and his television work all take precedence among his loves - but said he'll always be interested to look at anything Price brings to his attention.

The doctor said medicine and real estate involved entirely different skill sets, adding that "you have to be more careful" in the former. Why? "Because I don't think that people who are selling real estate necessarily want to tell you the whole story," he said. "When a patient's sick, they want to tell you the whole story."