Mark Pirtle, key developer in the Murfreesboro Gateway area, dies

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Mark Pirtle is remembered by mourners for his successful commercial real estate development and philanthropy in Murfreesboro.

Pirtle was 70 when he died Monday night. Funeral arrangements are pending, said his brother Mike Pirtle, former editor and general manager of the Murfreesboro-based Daily News Journal.

Mark Pirtle has had a successful career as an auto dealer, including in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, in addition to commercial real estate development in many locations in Middle Tennessee, said John Harney, a friend and business partner of more than 35 years.

“Mark was an exceptional entrepreneur in the auto business, but even more so in the real estate development business,” said Harney. “He was like a brother to me. He was a wonderful man.”

Pirtle envisioned developing a large portion of the commercial properties in the city’s Gateway area on Medical Center Parkway, which surrounds Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital, Harney said.

Mark and Anita Pirtle

Harney recalled Mark Pirtle competing with two other developers, one national and one regional, around 2005 to purchase land on Medical Center Parkway through a Murfreesboro Gateway Commission recommendation to the City Council for development of a Class A corporate office building.

While competitors wanted to start construction on the condition that 65% of the office space be pre-approved, Pirtle told city officials he and his partners would break ground in three months.

“Mark and his partners got the contract to build it,” Harney said.

What followed was the StoneGate Corporate Center, a 92,000 square foot building that was the first and initially the largest in the Gateway area designed to attract office jobs. Many referred to the development as “Pirtle Building”. The property was sold to a medical investment company in December, Harney said.

Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland also praised Mark Pirtle’s “instrumental” efforts to develop the Gateway area through the hospital.

“You can look at the entire community, specifically the Gateway area, and see where Mark was a visionary to try something in that area that has never been done before,” McFarland said. “He could take ownership of a project or an idea, and Mark was tireless in getting things across the finish line.”

The mayor also appreciates Pirtle’s encouragement to others to succeed in business.

“Mark was always available to meet with young entrepreneurs or young business owners to share knowledge and ideas,” said McFarland, who owns a home construction business that has never partnered with Pirtle.

“The cool thing about Mark was that Mark was always known as a dealmaker,” added McFarland.

This DNJ file photo shows Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, left, chatting with Mark Pirtle as he stopped to eat and talk to people at the Maple Street Grill in Murfreesboro on August 5, 2014.

The mayor noted that Pirtle has always remained faithful to McMinnville, where Pirtle grew up, and has served on a bank board at McFarland.

“He was really loyal to his hometown,” McFarland said. “Mark was a small town boy at heart and wanted his hometown of McMinnville to still thrive.”

McFarland met Pirtle even before he won a seat on the Murfreesboro City Council in 2006 before becoming mayor in 2014.

“Mark was the first person who encouraged me to run for city council 20 years ago,” McFarland recalls. “Mark not only campaigned for Murfreesboro to be a great place to do business, he wanted Murfreesboro to be a very livable place.”

Mark Pirtle is known as a generous and humble donor of time and money to nonprofit organizations, including charities and health services, the mayor said.

“He’s really been a champion for many different organizations throughout the community,” said McFarland.

For example, Pirtle and his wife Anita donated land for the former office of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce near the northeast corner of Northwest Broad Street and Memorial Boulevard. The chamber was relocated to the Gateway area at Medical Center Parkway and Interstate 24. The former office now serves the American Red Cross office at 501 Memorial Blvd. The property was part of a former State Farm regional office before Pirtle redeveloped the busy intersection corner area for commercial office and retail space, including restaurant and bank uses, Harney recalled.

“Mark and Anita have always looked for ways to improve the lives of those around them and worthy organizations and to enhance our community,” Harney said. “Mark and Anita have been very generous to many people and good causes.”

The Chamber of Commerce idea came about after Pirtle and Harney met with representatives of a corporate relocation in an old log cabin in the city’s Cannonsburgh Village, an urban resort that features a collection of buildings dating from the 1830s to the 1930s.

Harney recalled that Pirtle said after the meeting that the city had to have a different image to attract a business than a log cabin, which was the location of the Chamber of Commerce office at the time.

“He had such foresight on a number of occasions,” Harney said, recalling Pirtle saying we had to do something, “and then he would go through with it.”

Mark Pirtle has earned the recognition he deserves from the Chamber of Commerce. He had served as a past chamber chair before the organization presented him with Businessman of the Year and Business Legend awards, Harney said.

The Chamber also honors Mark Pirtle today by using his name for its business development center.

Pirtle had also been made fun of at times for being a little man.

“Mark may have been short in stature, but he was a giant in personality,” Harney said. “He was one of the most positive people I’ve ever been with.”

Contact reporter Scott Broden with news tips or questions by emailing him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden. To support his work with The Daily News Journal, sign up for a digital subscription to all dnj.com stories.

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