Franklin billionaire Brad Kelley tied to Factory purchase

One of Tennessee’s wealthiest residents is tied to the recent purchase of The Factory at Franklin.

Publicity-shy billionaire Brad Kelley, the Southcentral Kentucky native who founded and sold discount cigarette empire Commonwealth Brands and now lives in the Nashville area, is connected to the deal.

The details of that connection are unclear, but here’s what we know:

The buyer is a billionaire, who cherishes his privacy and has ties to Bowling Green, Ky., according to Calvin Lehew, who sold the 12-building, 20-acre retail development this week for $24.2 million.

Lehew said, however, he never met with the secretive moneyman. Instead, he negotiated with Bill Murphree from Bowling Green, who represented the buyer and is part of the group that will oversee the shopping, dining and entertainment complex.

Murphree is vice president of Cumberland Western Resources LLC, a real estate holding and development company controlled by Kelley, according to reports. On other projects, Murphree has acted as a representative for Kelley and the company.

Murphree declined to reveal the identity of any investors in the new ownership group, but said Kelley has a stake in the new company that is in charge of leasing and managing The Factory. He also said Kelley has a stake in one of the mall’s new tenants.

Kelley founded Commonwealth in Bowling Green in the early ’90s, then sold it a decade later for $1 billion. Forbes estimates his worth at $1.7 billion, making him Tennessee’s third-richest person and No. 263 in America.

The low-profile billionaire is one of the top 10 land holders in the United States, according to Forbes. He owns 1.7 million acres in New Mexico, Florida and Texas and owns a small stake in Churchill Downs.

Harvey Johnston, an attorney with Reynolds Johnston Hinton and Pepper in Bowling Green, represented the buyer but declined to reveal the individual behind the purchase.

“The buyer is very private and likes to do things without much fanfare,” Johnston said.

The new ownership group has no plans of making major changes to the The Factory, Johnston said.

“There won’t be much change at this point in time,” Johnston said. “They do have some new ideas. But it will never leave the original tradition built up over the years.”

The new ideas include growing the mall’s potential as a venue for “music, technology, media and art,” Johnston said.

“The new owners will be a welcome addition to the Franklin community and will give back as much as they may take,” Johnston said.

Staff Reporter- Nashville Business Journal

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