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VOL. 36 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 9, 2012

The next Gulch? Charlotte corridor, East Bank high on developers’ lists

By Linda Bryant

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Middle Tennessee’s top architecture and engineering firms have designed some of the area’s most iconic structures of the past decade, from Nissan’s corporate headquarters in Williamson County to the Public Square at the Metro Courthouse in downtown Nashville to the Music City Center, Nashville’s new supersized convention center in SoBro.

They have influenced the growth of flourishing new neighborhoods and commercial districts such as The Gulch, SoBro and12South.

They also see a coming decade of growth in Middle Tennessee, with new areas such as Midtown Nashville and the Charlotte Pike corridor ready to bloom. But some of the strongest development, they say, will likely occur in areas that are already up and booming.

They predict a meshing of some districts and neighborhoods. The Gulch and SoBro, for example, will be linked effectively at some point, and growth in that area will spill over to the East Bank of the Cumberland River. West End Avenue will continue to grow and spark growth on Charlotte, which will create new neighborhoods between the two.

“I think the biggest hot spot is continuing what we’ve started,” says David Powell, architect and principal at Hastings Architecture Associates, a downtown Nashville firm with a focus on local projects.

“We need to be careful not to take our eye off the ball when it comes to some of our most obvious growth spots. They are like unfinished songs with fantastic hooks. We have to go back and add the verses now.”

From Core to Cool Springs

Architects and engineers surveyed agree established areas of construction and development such as The Gulch and SoBro in the downtown core and those further away from downtown, such as Green Hills, Carothers Parkway in Cool Springs and the Middle Tennessee Medical Center district in Murfreesboro, will add new layers of density and mixed-use developments in the coming years.

“I think you’ll see us trying not to sprawl, building sometimes with as much density as possible,” says Mary Roskilly, an architect at Nashville-based Tuck-Hinton Architects. Roskilly says building with more density in commercial and residential cores and saving green space in outlying areas or in parks within the city has taken hold in suburbs and small towns, too.

“So many (communities) like the idea of creating neighborhoods with a tight downtown feel,” Roskilly says. “They may not have readily accepted it 10 years ago, but they’ve seen it work and now they are ready.”

‘Secondary Skylines’

Sam Burnette, an architect and principal at Earl Swensson Associates Inc., calls the growth in areas next to and expanding from downtown Nashville “secondary skylines.” Davidson County’s zoning is allowing the city’s growth to continue in a form more pleasing than cities such as fast-growing Atlanta, Burnette adds.

“Our zoning has allowed for taller buildings, so we don’t have a sprawling skyline coming from the core,” Burnette explains. “The skyline is continuing to grow and mature, but it’s not haphazardly scattered. You are going to see a continuation of it in areas such as Vanderbilt and Elliston Place and Midtown.”

But it’s not just the inner city that’s primed for growth, Burnette says.

“Very few cities have such a strong suburban edge. There’s a big demand to live on the periphery, so we’ll continue to see growth further away from Nashville, too.”

Corridors, Pikes and Connectors

Despite the recent Great Recession, Middle Tennessee had a significant building boom in the past decade that changed the shape of the skyline and redefined how many people live. Several areas that were underdeveloped, underused or considered urban wastelands now brim with condos, townhomes and walkable retail districts.

Yet some areas never took off in a major way. Area architects and engineers expect that will change in the next 10 years and beyond.

At the top of their list for redevelopment is the Charlotte Pike corridor, an eight-mile stretch from downtown Nashville to the Nashville West shopping center. Experts say the opening of the 28th Avenue Connector could be the tipping point for interested

developers. The bridge and roadway, which opened in early October, connects North Nashville and West End Avenue by linking 28th and 31st avenues over the CSX railroad tracks.

The connector, more than 20 years in the making, unites previously isolated areas such as Fisk University and Meharry Medical College with parts of West End Avenue and areas surrounding Centennial Medical Center, HCA and Vanderbilt University. The bridge and road also made room for streetscaping with sidewalks, bike lanes and bus stops, a factor that architect Jeff Earwood of Brentwood-based Thomas Miller & Partners says is usually a precursor of new growth.

“The pieces are beginning to come into place on Charlotte,” Earwood says. “I think we’ll see more infill and redevelopment.”

Metro Spurs Charlotte Growth

Earwood gives the Metro government credit for acting as a catalyst in the area by turning an old Ford dealership into the new $7 million West Precinct Police Station at 5500 Charlotte. With more than 4,000 square feet of working space, parking areas and a community room, the LEED-certified building was designed as an example of the kind of redevelopment that can happen on Charlotte.

“The growth has to go somewhere, and Charlotte is a place that really makes sense,” says Kenny Diehl, senior vice president of Smith Seckman Reid, Inc, a Nashville-based engineering firm. “Developers are looking for property (on Charlotte) because it’s close to downtown and because of the relatively cheap price of the land.”

Kathryn Winters, a senior planner at Metro Planning Department, agrees that Charlotte Pike is a logical place for new development. A related area in Midtown located between West End Avenue and Charlotte is likely going to pop soon, Winters says. That area is very close to the recently announced $200 million West End Summit development that will bring 2,000 Hospital Corporation of America jobs to the area.

“Midtown is a good place for renewal,” Winters says. “It’s an employment center for hospitals, and now that you have the 28th-31st Avenue connector open, it’s possible to live in Midtown and work at places like Fisk or Tennessee State. MTA has even created a new route for it.”

But Winters says possibilities for growth also exist on similar long corridors that connect to downtown Nashville such as West End Avenue and Nolensville, Franklin and Lebanon and Gallatin pikes.

“I think you will continue to see redeveloped neighborhoods connected to these areas,” Winters says. “You’ll see developers and owners wanting to subdivide or squeeze in infill housing.”

Some design professionals, including Diehl, say a renaissance is overdue in the Madison area.

“It makes sense that Madison will evolve,” he says. “People displaced by development have gone there. You’ve got a place for East Nashville and Inglewood to continue to grow.”

West End and Traffic

A major factor in the development of West End is fate of the East-West Connector, a 7.5-mile bus rapid transit system route that would stretch from Five Points in East Nashville to White Bridge Road. The project, which has the full support of Mayor Karl Dean and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, would be funded on a federal grant that only became available on Oct. 1 of this year.

“The issue on West End is the traffic,” says Steve Johnson, associate architect and project manager at Tuck-Hinton Architects. “It’s too dense to sustain more traffic. Growth will be slower if we don’t make it possible to get down West End (with public transit.) The pressure of all of it is really starting to show, so I think we’ll see changes on West End, and I think Charlotte will follow suit.”

Powell, of Hastings Architecture, says it might take an official public initiative to jumpstart major growth on Charlotte, something similar to the public dollars that supported the 12South neighborhood with infrastructure, sidewalks and streetscaping in the mid-2000s.

Powell is high on the growth of the area, but admits to being little worried.

“Looking to the future, I hope we don’t suffer from urban ADD,” he says. “We don’t want to lose steam.”

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