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VOL. 35 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 16, 2011

New restaurants, clubs stake claims prior to Music City Center’s opening

By Joe Morris

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Gavin DeGraw, the singer/songwriter who, along his brother Joey, own The National Underground restaurant/club in New York, is opening a restaurant at 105 Broadway across from the Hard Rock Café.

Up the street, the former Seanachie Irish pub at 329 Broadway has been purchased for $2.1 million by Tootsies and Rippy’s owner Steve Smith and business partners Al and Hardy Ross. The group is rehabbing the 17,000-square-foot main floor space into a restaurant and bar.

And in the Pinnacle at Symphony Place, TomKats has inked a deal to develop as much as 7,500 square feet for its new eatery, The Southern, at a cost of $5 million.

The restaurant business is booming downtown as players lock down space in advance of the 2013 opening of the 1.2 million-square-foot Music City Center and the conventioneers it will deliver.

“This year, more than 70 percent of new retailers downtown have been restaurants,” says Crissy Cassetty, retail recruiter for the Nashville Downtown Partnership.

“There’s a lot to pick from, from smaller spaces to some very large, empty concept-style locations. That’s why we’re getting more interest now from big-box restaurants that want to make a big splash, all the way down to smaller operations that want to be in the older buildings.”

The heightened interest bodes well for the city, says Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“There are at least three live-music venues on their way, and some restaurants, but beyond that we don’t know a lot right now,” Spyridon says.

“But between January and March of next year, things will legitimately heat up. There are a lot of hotels kicking the tires on property around here, as well as large-scale restaurant and retail chains, but nothing too firm yet. But we have a lot of real estate, both lands and buildings, so we can shop downtown to a lot of different people, which is a very strong plus for us going forward.”

The influx of new restaurants will bring competition to those already established.

“The size of the convention center is going to bring a lot of extra people down here,” says Jonathon Scott, general manager of The Palm, which opened in December 2000 on the heels of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Country Music Hall of Fame other new venues.

“Everyone rises together in a situation like this. Everyone’s going to benefit from more people, and more conventions, downtown. We’re all pretty jazzed about it, and even if we get some new direct competitors, like a Bob’s steakhouse, we’re not really concerned about that.”

Bob’s Steak & Chop House, a popular Texas-based chain, is rumored to a part of the new Omni Nashville Hotel.

“We are looking at a steak concept, and also at what we call a ‘three-meal’ restaurant, which would have a Nashville flavor to it,” says Caryn Kboudi, vice president of corporate communications for Omni Hotels. “There also will be a coffee bar inside the hotel, and we’re also looking at an entertainment venue.”

While Kboudi wouldn’t address the Bob’s Steak & Chop House rumor, she did say that the hotel wants to offer food and entertainment experiences that are a good fit for the city.

“We want to create something that resonates really well with both the guest coming to Nashville and the folks that live there,” Kboudi says. “We want to add to the local color. That’s why we are looking at a steakhouse concept, and why our three-meal restaurant will have a strong Nashville flavor to it, be very fun and engaging, and also have a menu that resources a lot of local ingredients.”

The Omni is set to open in the latter half of 2013, within six months of the MCC coming online.

“The bigger players are going to start coming in here now, because by the time they identify space, go after it and then start their buildout, we’ll be much closer to opening,” says Charles Starks, executive director of the Nashville Convention Center.

“We’ve been contacted by a number of folks who want to know about the limited retail space that we’ll have within the MCC itself, so I know that there are plenty of people looking all around us as well.”

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