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Lancaster, Arnold Form New Boutique Atlanta Brokerage Firm

A CRE veteran who helped usher in popular adaptive reuse projects in Atlanta has teamed up to form a boutique brokerage firm with another seasoned real estate pro who led Stream Realty Partners' retail group. 

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Bridger Properties co-founders Jack Arnold and Merritt Lancaster

Merritt Lancaster and Jack Arnold have started Bridger Properties, a full-service brokerage firm that already is managing 500K SF and leasing 2M SF across Metro Atlanta, including the ground-floor retail spaces at Spectrum on Spring apartments and the retail leasing for the mixed-use Westside Paper project, which is currently under construction.

Lancaster and Arnold established the firm in late 2020 but officially announced its formation this month.

Lancaster — whose last firm, Confluence Real Estate, was folded into Bridger — said the timing of starting up a new brokerage house in Atlanta is partly due to real estate cycles: The coronavirus pandemic may be providing an opportunity to gear up as Metro Atlanta enters a recovery that will look hugely different from the last one.

“Even though it's a very odd real estate cycle and it doesn't jive with the other ones, it feels like the beginning of maybe a new cycle,” Lancaster said.

Since forming, Bridger has hired a handful of other CRE professionals, including property management Vice President Chris Hicks, previously a property manager for Stream Realty and Lincoln Property Co.; Laura King, who previously headed up leasing at Paces Properties; and Shelbi Bodner, who also worked at Paces Properties and assisted in leasing Krog Street Market's food hall.

Arnold was previously the managing director of retail for Stream Realty in Atlanta, and he acknowledged that the firm at the moment is retail-heavy in its experience. But Arnold said Bridger is scouting the brokerage world for new hires to expand its expertise into other product types, including office.

“We plan to include having all the food groups as we go,” he said.

Arnold and Lancaster said Bridger is focusing on urban mixed-use and suburban properties throughout the metro area. Its initial leasing and management portfolio includes grocery-anchored and neighborhood shopping centers in Peachtree City, Acworth, Kennesaw, Smyrna and Sandy Springs, as well as retail at the Alexan Eight West apartments near Georgia Tech.

Bridger's co-founders also have experience with adaptive reuse projects. At Stream Realty, Arnold drove the firm's retail and mixed-use investment activity, spearheading the acquisition of 2.1M SF of retail, office and industrial spaces in the Southeast.

In the seven years he was a principal at Paces Properties, Lancaster and Paces CEO David Cochran developed a number of Atlanta's most notable adaptive reuse projects, including Krog Street Market, Atlanta Dairies and Optimist Hall, a food hall in Charlotte that was converted from a historic textile mill.

Lancaster said Bridger also has opportunities to penetrate into the adaptive reuse and mixed-use sectors, which have been gaining more interest among institutional investors in recent years. Institutional owners have been tapping local experts with a track record in those properties to lease up empty spaces, Lancaster said. 

Transcend CEO Patrick Braswell, who co-founded his boutique brokerage firm in Atlanta in 2015, agreed that more institutional investors are looking to work with local experts, rather than relying solely on large, multinational firms.

“To understand where to find [deals] … and what tenants would be great for it, you have to have local knowledge,” Braswell said. “And sometimes the local boutiques have more local knowledge.”

Arnold said owners are seeking more nimble, less bureaucratic firms to lease their properties, and he and his co-founder think Bridger's mix of services will hit the sweet spot for the increasingly large funds chasing real estate deals

“As capital consolidates and gets larger, they will continue to need local expertise on both the service and investment side,” Lancaster said. “We have the resources on both the landlord and tenant sides within the market. … That's hard to get if you're in New York. If you're not touching it, it's hard to get that local information."