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VOL. 36 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 7, 2012

28th Ave. Connector shifts attention to Charlotte Ave. revitalization

By Bill Lewis

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Nashville’s newest and most significant road, the plainly named 28th Avenue Connector, is just three-tenths of a mile long but stretches far into the city’s past and future.

After decades of separation, the white business and entertainment district along West End Avenue and the historically black neighborhoods north of Charlotte Pike will have a direct connection. When it opens in October, the Connector will replace a road that requires motorists to take a circuitous route skirting Centennial Park.

Neighborhood advocates, developers and city officials believe that, in addition to helping mend an old tear in the city’s social fabric, the Connector will spark public and private sector investment along a down-on-its-luck stretch of Charlotte Pike known for its self-storage units, used car lots, medical supply businesses, a liquor warehouse and vacant buildings.

In fact, that’s already happening.

The city’s Lentz Health Center is moving to a 106,800-square-foot building under construction two blocks away. On one corner where Charlotte and the Connector meet, the 18-acre One C1ty development is being planned. The research and development campus will house health care, life sciences and technology companies in 1 million square feet of space across eight buildings if the developer’s ambitious plans come to fruition. On another corner, zoning is in place for the 235-apartment Broadstone at Centennial. That project is on hold due to developer concerns about the large number of apartments being built in the area.

“We continue to see significant interest in economic development initiatives along the Charlotte Avenue corridor,” Mayor Karl Dean says. “The increased access provided by the 28th Avenue Connector will only accelerate development along this important artery.

“The construction of the new Lentz Health Center in close proximity to the Connector also adds to the vibrancy of that area. We believe all this activity will attract additional commercial, retail and residential redevelopment.”

The Connector also creates something that has never existed before – a direct link among the historically black universities on the north side of Charlotte with universities on the south side.

Until now, travel between them meant driving through neighborhoods and side streets. Now Tennessee State University, Fisk University and Meharry Medical College on the north side and Vanderbilt University and Belmont University to the south are essentially at opposite ends of the same road.

The new road also creates a “medical row” linking Nashville General Hospital, Baptist Hospital, Centennial Medical Center and Vanderbilt Medical Center, with the Hospital Corporation of American headquarters in between.

“The symbolic significance is the connection of the north side (of the city) with the south side. There has been a disconnect,” says Edith Langster, who represents the neighborhoods surrounding the Connector on the Metro Council.

The Connector will encourage residential development along Charlotte, which Langster says will attract retailers, restaurants and something the surrounding neighborhoods have wanted for years – a grocery store.

“We would love to have an O’Charley’s and especially a grocery store. We are really in a food desert,” she adds.

M.L. Rose Craft Beer & Burgers is an early arrival in the redevelopment of Charlotte Pike. The Melrose-area restaurant recently announced it is opening a second location at 4408 Charlotte in a building formerly occupied by Lavender Motors.

The neighborhoods near the Connector are increasingly seen as desirable places to live, and residents expect the new road to make the area even more attractive.

The Connector already is bookended by new developments. Closer to downtown, MarketStreet Enterprises expects to open Pine Street Flats, a high-end, 296-apartment development, in November. Rents range from $900 to $2,400. Eleven North, a 302-unit luxury apartment development, is nearing completion at the corner of Charlotte and 11th Avenue. Apartments will rent from around $1,386 to $2,367.

Both developments are located in the Gulch, where Velocity, a 220-unit apartment building that also has 43 individually owned condominium residences, was sold in August for $37.5 million. The Gulch is also home to other developments including Terrazzo luxury condos and the Icon condos.

The 28th Avenue Connector will connect the city’s traditionally black colleges with Vanderbilt, Baptist and Centennial hospitals, with the HCA headquarters and Centennial Park in between.

-- Photo: Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

Not far away on 25th Avenue North, the ParkCentral luxury apartment development is being built by Atlanta-based North American Properties. The 200-unit midrise building will feature a rooftop saltwater swimming pool. Residents are expected to moving in beginning September 2013.

At the other end of Charlotte, neighborhoods like Sylvan Heights and the Nations expect positive fallout from the Connector, which will make it easier for residents to reach jobs, shopping and entertainment on the south side and, they hope, attract more businesses, shops and restaurants to the area.

“The Connector will make it easier for us to get around and for people to come to Charlotte,” says Jeremy Jeter, president of the neighborhood association in the Nations, a quickly redeveloping neighborhood on the north side of I-40 near 46th Avenue. The neighborhood also is known as Historic West Town.

Jeter currently has to drive down Charlotte to 21st Avenue in order to reach his office in Midtown, off West End.

“I think (Charlotte) has been a lost street, a neglected street. You look at how beautiful West End is. Why can’t Charlotte be like that?” he says.

Jeter believes the city should reconsider its plans for bus rapid transit on West End and instead choose Charlotte, whose young professionals and other residents would likely support mass transit.

“The kinds of people who live on West End aren’t interested in public transit,” he says.

Other signs the street’s future is looking brighter include the opening of a new Metro Police precinct headquarters on the site of a former automobile dealership at 5500 Charlotte and the purchase of three derelict Tennessee Department of Transportation buildings at 2200 Charlotte by Holladay Properties. The company has not announced its plans for the four-acre site.

“The TDOT building won’t be an eyesore anymore,” says Cate Dundon, vice president of the Sylvan Heights Neighborhood Association. “Every development has been the type of development we were looking for.”

Residents of Sylvan Heights, which borders the south side of Charlotte from 33rd to 40th avenues, hope the next phase of the street’s renaissance will include a coffee shop, restaurants and other gathering places that neighbors can walk to. Their model is East Nashville, where Margot Café & Bar, one of Nashville’s finest restaurants, and a variety of bars, brew pubs and restaurants are thriving in the Five Points and Eastland Avenue-Porter Road districts. The surrounding neighborhoods are popular with home buyers.

“East Nashville has had a roaring comeback. We want to see that on Charlotte,” says Dundon. “Sylvan Heights is close enough to Charlotte to walk to places, but for now there’s no place to walk to.”

Charlotte and its surrounding neighborhoods are benefitting from a “generational shift” among younger home buyers. Unlike their parents, they aren’t interested in moving to the suburbs and commuting to jobs in the city. Instead, they want to live in town, close to where they work and play, says home builder Michael Kenner.

“In the 60s and 70s, we abandoned our inner cities. Urban sprawl. Then cutting-edge people started redoing 11South and East Nashville,” says Kenner, who sees the same phenomenon occurring in the neighborhoods along Charlotte Pike.

“It’s not just the 28th Avenue Connector” that is renewing interest in those neighborhoods, he says. “It’s the fact that people don’t want to live in Smyrna anymore.”

Kenner’s company, Kenner McLean Development, is building three houses in Sylvan Heights and four in the Nations.

“We just bought the land for three more” in the Nations, he says.

Redevelopment of the Nations began several years ago when the neighborhood’s vacant lots caught the eye of builders and buyers alike. Sylvan Heights began its comeback more than a decade ago, when developers began replacing its tiny post-World War II Eisenhower houses with new construction. Both neighborhoods are seen as affordable by single individuals.

There are other indications of a bright future for Sylvan Heights. A noisy metal fabricating plant no longer disturbs residents at night. The Nashville Ballet and the Nashville Opera Association have facilities nearby.

“It’s happening all around Charlotte, but not on Charlotte,” Kenner says of the area’s redevelopment. The 28th Avenue Connector is beginning to change that. So would new zoning that encourages mixed use developments – shops, restaurants and residences – along the street.

Langster hopes after almost 30 years of discussion, construction of the 28th Avenue Connector will attract a range of businesses Charlotte has not seen before.

“It’s time to put words into action,” she says.

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