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VOL. 43 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 11, 2019

Don’t know WeHo? You will

Apple Music, shops, restaurants, artists flip former industrial area

By Hollie Deese

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Wedgewood-Houston is having a moment. Once a South Nashville industrial area, nicknamed WeHo, it’s now an emerging neighborhood with local businesses, retail establishments, galleries and restaurants opening at a rapid pace. It’s catering to creatives, millennials, makers and local entrepreneurs.

And it just got a major boost with Apple Music announcing the opening of an office in the neighborhood next year. There also is on-going development for The Finery, the addition of the Soho House Hotel and micro-unit housing recently approved by the Metro Zoning Board.

Michael Dukes, 59, and Geoffrey Gill, 27, are owners of the new furniture emporium Royal Circus, one of the businesses that took the WeHo plunge.

Open since August, the furniture store aims to provide shoppers something different than the typical showroom and give locals a place to meet for business and connect with the neighborhood.

Dukes’ background is in advertising as a writer and a creative director. After years in Los Angeles making TV commercials, he moved to Nashville to pursue music while doing freelance advertising work. Gill is a Belmont grad who does large-scale fabrication work for architects and builds and designs furniture.

The two met on a project when Gill was living and working out of a photo studio off Belmont Boulevard right down the street from where Dukes lived. Dukes was great friends with John Scarpati, owner of that studio.

“So, we were looking hard and purposefully and using the best guy we knew of in town to do that, and had narrowed it down to two spaces,” Dukes says.

But they weren’t exactly jazzed on either, despite both being great spaces. One was in East Nashville, but the neighborhood did not feel quite right for Royal Circus.

The other was also in Wedgewood-Houston, but there were some issues ahead of them in turning it into what they needed.

On a whim, Dukes joined a few people for drinks and was talking about their predicament. One of the guys also out for drinks happened to know a freelance leasing agent for Houston Station, Boyer Barner, and connected the two of them.

The next day Gill and Dukes toured the location – two adjacent spaces in Houston Station, one the storefront and the other warehouse space behind with a loading dock, for a total of 5,800 square feet.

It was perfect.

“There’s never been a moment that we haven’t been extraordinarily happy to have chosen this space,” Dukes explains. “We feel like we found our space, and as much as we sensed what was going on in the neighborhood, we had no inkling of how much was going to start unfolding in this neighborhood or how quickly, or on such a grand scale.”

Gill always thought the area should be in more of a destination space rather than a neighborhood like 12South that is crawling with tourists.

“We aimed to find more of an up-and-coming area that felt like it was still fairly local, but it was growing and had great potential,” he explains. “We wanted to be in the area that carries more of an artistic vibe to it. Houston Station, which is no longer here, but used to be a focal point of the neighborhood, was a big part of the community.

“So, there was a lot of makers around, a lot of artists and we were very much drawn to that. I think that’s definitely what impacted our decision to pick Wedgwood-Houston.”

Royal Circus is just one of many new businesses to crop up in the neighborhood in recent years. On Houston Street alone, Jackalope has moved most of its brewing from The Gulch, restaurants Bastion and Hemingway’s Bar and Hideaway have elevated the dining scene, and Americano Coffee is serving lattes to clients such as Tuck Hinton architects, who have moved in down the block.

CoHub finds a home

Elliott Roche, 27, is one of the founders of CoHub, a software development company that grew out of his father’s existing company, TapeOnline, which had been located on Logan Street off Thompson Lane for more than 20 years. They sold that building and moved into space in the old Houston Station building in August 2017, just before things really expanded in the neighborhood.

“We knew we wanted to be somewhere that was walkable and that eventually there would be more than what there was, even though there was Hemingway’s and Bastion, which we were more than happy to have,” Roche points out. Before, we’d walk up the street to a Thai restaurant, but that was about it. That was a big reason we wanted to come here.”

They had considered 12 South and some more office-park locations, which they all hated. But Roche had been working out at Nashville Pilates Company in the same building for years and knew how the neighborhood was changing.

“The Houston Station Building had a lot more to offer, just in terms of other businesses being around here and being a cool space,” Roche continues. “The walkability and the ability to go meet and entertain people at spots that weren’t just in our office was big.

“Being able to walk to lunch, wherever it may be, and have more than one choice where we can just step outside and not have to drive anywhere was nice.”

Historic factory, historic music

Houston Station is home to Hemingway’s and Bastion restaurants, as well as office, retail and studio space. It also houses Refinery Nashville, a coworking space for entrepreneurs and innovators.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Earlier this month, Apple Music announced it will open a content-creation office in the restored, historic May Hosiery complex, with 30,000 square feet of office space and an outdoor event space. The SoHo House hotel will open next door.

The former hosiery complex is a series of buildings abandoned as a factory in 1983 and is being transformed into a mix of business, retail, restaurants and offices. May Hosiery was one of the largest employers in Nashville in the 1900s and even made socks for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to wear on the moon.

Colby Sledge, Metro Councilmember for District 17, says the announcement about Apple Music moving into the area is good for the neighborhood because it provides a reliable, solid tenant with global recognition.

“We have created a kind of business district in Wedgwood East and the surrounding area. And having those kinds of reliable workers during the day, they can help with the business ecosystem when it comes to getting lunch, or getting groceries or grabbing a beer after work, they can really benefit the small businesses that are around that whole area,” he says.

Still, there is plenty the neighborhood needs to have in order to encourage more people to live and work there.

“We have a great market, Sassafras Market, that’s really good for a good bit of grocery shopping, but we still need some other kind of services if we’re going to become a walkable area,” Sledge adds.

“We’re going to need things like a pharmacy, some sort of basic medical services. Things like that where we can get to the point, obviously, that if you live in the area that you can walk, or not necessarily have to drive very far, to take care of most of your everyday needs.”

Gill, who also lives in WeHo and walks to work, wants to see the neighborhood remain local even though he knows larger businesses with deeper pockets are going to start to see the appeal too, especially with its proximity to downtown.

“We just don’t want the mall kind of stores popping in, taking up spaces in the neighborhood. We want to support local businesses, and we hope to see more unique local businesses come to the neighborhood,” Gill says.

“I think Nashville is very eager to support new local businesses.”

Beautiful iron doors welcome visitors to Royal Circus furniture store on Houston Street.

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Mark Deutschmann, founder of CityLiving Group at Village Real Estate – recently purchased by Central Real Estate Partners – and Core Development, opened another office in Wedgewood-Houston on Martin Street in June. He has worked to promote walkable areas in emerging communities like WeHo, where he has also completed, The Finery, a mixed-use development.

He says he would like to see a Greenway connector from Brown’s Creek at the fairgrounds down through the neighborhood and past Greer Stadium and into the city.

“I think walkable and bikeable access is something that would connect the neighborhood to other neighborhoods and create an alternative transportation opportunity,” Deutschmann says.

And even with the Apple Music announcement Sledge says they still have to have more “daytime heartbeats,” where people are coming to the area, working, and spending money at those businesses, and then when it comes to evening and weekends, residents are patronizing those services and businesses as well.

“We are still seeing that even among longtime Nashville residents, a lot of people simply aren’t aware of Wedgewood-Houston as a destination, as an up and coming neighborhood,” Dukes acknowledges.

“It’s getting better all the time, and having Bastion and Hemingway’s down here has certainly been a big part of that, but I feel things like Apple Music getting so much press, it has a tremendous power to validate this neighborhood.

“I think it’ll make people aware of the neighborhood who otherwise weren’t aware.”

Mix of business, creative

The Finery from Core Development encompasses an area the size of a city block, with more than seven acres of industrial land for development planned over the next five years.

Core has completed a rezoning process, which entitled this land to accommodate up to 490 residential units and approximately 80,000 square feet of commercial space.

“We hoped to find people to use the spaces to help further the maker community,” Deutschmann says. “And I think that’s what we still hope to do. But I do definitely favor those creative businesses that are locating in the area. I just think it fuels a creativity and spirit and identity for an emerging neighborhood.”

1260 Martin is Core’s newest development at The Finery, and that project reflects the creative, maker culture already present in the neighborhood, with first-floor flex space within the townhouse units.

“It’s a bit of an evolution and there’s an unknown quantity to it,” Deutschmann notes. “You come and you start putting some of the infrastructure in place, or redo a May Hosiery, and you’ll see who finds you, who self identifies with the neighborhood. And in our case, we ended up getting a lot of makers who happen to be distilleries.”

That includes Diskin Cider, Jackalope Brewery, Nashville Craft Distillery and Corsair.

“I like that it’s starting to create a center,” Deutschmann says. “There was no true heart of that neighborhood. And I also like that it is expanding with the fairgrounds emerging, and you’ll see what happens when the new exhibition center comes in and what happens to Nolensville Road itself as a major corridor through the neighborhood.”

The week before Christmas the board of zoning appeals approved an application for 150 micro-units in the industrial part of the neighborhood, about a block from the May Hosiery building, Sledge says.

The units will be at Humphreys and Martin Streets.

“These are maybe the first true micro-units that we’ll have in the city,” Sledge explains. He says they will average 200 square feet each and with all utilities included, rent for around $950 a month.

“We are trying to preserve an entry point into the neighborhood that is as affordable as possible,” Sledge adds. “That’s always one of my main goals, to try to ensure no matter what salary point somebody’s at, or family size, that there are entry points into this area because it is so close to downtown and jobs and transit lines and everything else, we have to make that a priority.’’

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