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VOL. 37 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 11, 2013

Big, bold projects make a comeback

Midtown poised to be the next Gulch, SoBro

By Bill Lewis

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Nashville’s next transformation is under way, this time in the long-overlooked Midtown district between downtown and Vanderbilt.

It’s happened before. Construction of condominiums and apartments continues to turn the once-deserted Gulch into one of Nashville’s most-desirable addresses. SoBro, where the city once burned its trash at the Thermal Transfer Plant, is home to high-rise residences, the LEED certified Pinnacle building, Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Music City Center convention center. Another high-rise apartment building is planned.

Now it’s Midtown’s turn. The arrival of West End Summit – two towers, one 20-story and the other 17 with 775,000 square feet of space for offices, signature restaurants, high-end retailers and a boutique hotel – is expected to work similar magic for this down-on-its-luck district. Midtown’s borders are vague but generally are defined as the area from 11th Avenue westward to 21st Avenue. The district extends northward from West End Avenue to Charlotte Pike. It is home to older office buildings, small retailers, service businesses, storage facilities, car dealerships, medical supply businesses and restaurants.

West End Summit will be a sizeable addition to Nashville’s landscape with two towers, one 20 stories and the other 17, and 775,000 square feet of rental space. How does it compare to other downtown buildings? The AT&T (Batman Building) has 633,000 square feet of rental space; Regions Center on Deaderick, 600,000 square feet; The Pinnacle at Symphony Place, 520,000 square feet; Bank of America Plaza, 512,760 square feet; Fifth Third Center, 488,854 square feet.

“West End Summit will be a tremendous stimulus for development in the Midtown area,” says Rick Frazier, vice president of Alex S. Palmer & Co., the company developing the project.

“This project is surrounded by properties that are underutilized right now, in terms of value. There is always a desire to find the highest and best use for any piece of property, and the West End Summit will be a catalyst for a real emergence in Midtown for development,” he says.

West End Summit has yet to be built, but it has already resulted in one of the largest office expansions in the city’s history. HCA is locating the corporate headquarters of two business units – Parallon Business Solutions and Sarah Cannon Research Institute (SCRI) – to West End Summit into 500,000 square feet of space.

The two entities expect to employ 2,000 workers within five years. Parallon will relocate 750 jobs from Williamson County and plans to add 800 more by 2017. SCRI will consolidate 200 Nashville-area employees and could double in size within five years.

The big hole on West End split will be replaced by West End Summit, with two towers and 775,000 square feet of space for offices, restaurants, high-end retailers and a boutique hotel.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledge

“It is also interesting to note that there hasn’t been any significant new inventory in the West End corridor since 2000, when the 2525 West End Building opened,” Frazier says. “So for 12 years, there has been no new product in the West End area, other than the Roundabout Plaza nearby, and as market conditions improve and the economy comes back, the demand for space is increasing.”

Demand for affordable office space in Midtown will extend north from West End across Church Street to Charlotte, prompting redevelopment of those blocks, says Stan Snipes, president of XMI Commercial Real Estate.

“Everybody wants to be on West End, but it’s too expensive. So companies are going one block … to Church Street and Charlotte. It’s just logical,” he says.

XMI is one of the first commercial real estate companies to see Charlotte’s potential. In 2007, the company converted the old Duck Head linen mill at 1702 Charlotte into office condominiums. Today those spaces are occupied by a number of nonprofits including Oasis Center, STARS, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Business offices haven’t been as interested in the area, but as the district redevelops, Snipes expects that to change.

“There was always this perception, the ‘other side’ of Charlotte, like this barrier that no one would cross,” he says.

But businesses are awakening to Midtown’s plusses, including on-site parking, proximity to downtown and ease of access to major arteries. Restaurants and retailers are bound to follow.

Charlotte and Church also have something that is hard to find anywhere else nearby – available land.

“The natural progression,” Snipes calls it.

The change had begun even before Palmer Co. and HCA made their announcement. The city’s Lentz Health Center is moving to a 106,800-square-foot building under construction on Charlotte a few blocks west of Midtown.

At the district’s eastern border, just outside of downtown, Northwestern Mutual Insurance has brought into Boyle Investment Company’s plan to redevelop a 30-acre site on the north side of Charlotte. Another developer originally envisioned big box stores like a Target and other retailers, a movie theater, restaurants, offices and apartments. Boyle has not disclosed its plans.

There’s another reason Midtown will be the focus of commercial redevelopment west of downtown. The district recently lost a potentially formidable competitor.

Pat Emery, the developer who helped turn Cool Springs into a corporate headquarters destination, and MarketStreet Enterprises, the company that transformed the Gulch into the Southeast’s first LEED certified neighborhood, formed a partnership to eventually develop 1.5 million square feet of leasable office space in the Gulch.

Recently, they ended that relationship and are concentrating on their own individual projects. MarketStreet is completing Pine Street Flats, its new luxury apartment building in the Gulch. The building won’t be finished until March, but 40 percent of its 296 apartments have been pre-leased, said Dirk Melton, director of development for MarketStreet Enterprises. Sixty or more are already occupied.

“We’re delivering units as fast as we can,” Melton says.

Emery, meanwhile, is focusing on Franklin Park, a 71-acre, mixed-use development in Cool Springs that will feature up to five Class-A office towers, apartments, retail and green amenities that include 11 acres of parkland.

In The Gulch’s future, Emery sees development of more residential, retail and entertainment offerings. West End Summit, with several hundred thousand square feet of space, will soak up demand for new high-end office space.

“With (West End Summit) sitting on 300,000 more square feet of space, and with a hotel, it’ll be hard to compete with,” Emery says.

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