Biltmore Property Group and affiliates (BPG's) develop, own and operate community-oriented shopping centers and mixed use destinations. BPG focuses its development efforts in well-established and proven retail areas where there is an additional need in the community and demand from our retail partners. BPG develops projects, using both Innovative and timeless architecture, that both the community and our retail partners can be proud of. BPG builds and manages properties for long-term ownership and has a track record of not cutting corners.
BPG’s beginnings go back to 1929, with the opening of Bell’s General Store, and today BPG is Jos. A. Bank’s largest franchisee, a Lilly Pulitzer licensee and a Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchisee. With BPG’s long history of operating retail stores, BPG has a perspective from our retail tenant’s side and truly understands what it takes to make a retail store successful. This extensive understanding of retail is rare for a real estate developer. Having this understanding of retail enables BPG to excel at fulfilling the needs of its retail tenants thus greatly increasing the prospects that a BPG development will be highly successful.
Backed by its over eighty-seven year old retail operating business and its conservative debt position, BPG is well financed. This ensures that BPG’s planned projects will achieve funding and come to fruition, thus eliminating the retailer’s frustration of wasting time and money on lease deals for projects that are significantly delayed or never developed.
The Bell Family
John W. Bell, Sr., founded the Company in 1929 and built a chain of general stores serving rural North Carolina. His son, John W. Bell, Jr. (Bill), is Chairman Emeritus, a Director and Principal of BPG. In 1957 Bill expanded The Company into upscale men’s and women’s clothing and gifts with the formation of Bell’s Traditionals, Ltd. (Bell’s). In 1963, Bell’s opened its second store in Asheville, North Carolina’s Historic Biltmore Village, one of America’s first planned mixed-use communities built by George Vanderbilt in the 1890s. Historic Biltmore Village is located at the entrance of Vanderbilt’s famed Biltmore Estate – America’s largest home and North Carolina’s largest tourist attraction. Bill was a pioneer in the preservation and the re-development of Historic Biltmore Village. Through the years he became a substantial property holder. In 1965, Bell’s contracted with the Biltmore Estate to operate the retail business on the Estate, primarily gifts, commemorative Biltmore House items and decorative accessories. Bell’s operated this business until 1985 when the contract expired and the Biltmore Estate decided to take over this very successful business that Bell’s had built. Bill’s son, John W. Bell, III (John) is CEO, a Director and Principal of BPG. In 1983 John joined the company and Bell’s eventually grew to five stores in three states and operated until 1991 when it joined Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, to become its first franchisee, and converted stores to Jos. A. Bank stores. As part of this arrangement with Jos. A. Bank, John agreed to work for the company for several years, as Director of Franchising and Real Estate, to help the then current Chairman and CEO, Tim Finley, expand Jos. A. Bank nationally. John’s brother, Jefferson E. Bell (Jeff) is a Principal of BPG. In 1991 Jeff joined the Company and took on a leadership role in the operations of The company’s Jos. A. Bank stores.
John August Batt, Jr. (Jay), is a Director and Principal of BPG. Jay has over 32 years of experience in financial services, real estate and retail. From 2002 to 2006, Jay represented District A as a member of the New Orleans City Council. Jay currently serves as the Deputy Chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana and has been past President and past Chairman of the Board of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee where he continues serving on the Executive Board. Jay also serves on many Greater New Orleans boards and foundations including the City Park, the Florida Parishes Bank, and as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Crimestoppers. In 1928, Jay’s grandfather, Harry J. Batt, Sr., founded New Orleans’s Pontchartrain Beach, the largest amusement park in the country prior to the opening of Disneyland. Eventually Jay’s father, John A. Batt, ran the company until 1983 when he decided that it was in the best interest of the Batt family to sell the park to a developer. Subsequently, the Batt family focused on managing their substantial real estate holdings acquired over the years. Jay attended Sewanee, the University of The South, and graduated from Tulane University.
John Fenner French (Fenn) is a Director and Principal of BPG. Fenn has over 30 years of experience in financial services, real estate and retail. Fenn is a graduate of Sewanee, The University of the South, and the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University (MBA), and holds a Louisiana broker license. Fenn’s grandfather, Darwin Fenner, was a partner of the firm Fenner & Beane of New Orleans, the country’s second largest brokerage firm at that time. In 1941, it merged with the stock brokerage firm Merrill, Lynch, E.A. Pierce & Cassatt of New York. The combination of the New Orleans firm with the New York firm led to the largest brokerage firm in the country, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. Darwin Fenner served on the board of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith until the early 1970s.
John and Jay first met in 1979 at Sewanee, the University of the South, where they were SAE pledge brothers. After college, they had little communication until they were reacquainted in 1992 at another pledge brother’s wedding. John mentioned his family’s endeavor with Jos. A. Bank Clothiers. Jay was particularly intrigued because his recently deceased father, a loyal Jos. A. Bank customer and fan, had looked into franchising a store in New Orleans years ago, right after the Batt family sold Pontchartrain Beach. However, at that time, Jos. A. Bank was not yet franchising stores. A few days after the wedding, Jay and John were at a meeting in New Orleans and Jay introduced John to Fenn. Fenn was also an SAE at Sewanee, but he arrived there after John had already transferred to the University of Georgia to attend business school. During this meeting, Jay and Fenn, in the entrepreneurial tradition of both their families, decided to franchise a Jos. A. Bank store in New Orleans. John was able to get corporate approval for them and the store opened in November of 1992. Jay and Fenn opened their second Jos. A. Bank store in Jackson, MS in 1994, and then later in 1996 officially teamed up with The Bell family.
Today BPG’s investments are primarily in real estate, retail and financial services. In retail, BPG is Jos. A. Bank Clothier’s largest franchisee with thirteen stores, a Lilly Pulitzer licensee with four stores, and a Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchisee. In financial services, BPG has a controlling interest in Commerce Services Corporation, a financial and administrative service firm founded in 1992. In real estate, BPG has over 20 properties in five southeastern states.