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VOL. 39 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 3, 2015

Gulch approaching 50% buildout

By Joe Morris

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Pioneer Gentlemen’s Barber, which has scheduled an August opening, plans to tap into the growing number of residents and workers in The Gulch.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Nashville’s storied Gulch, originally the home of the downtown railway terminal, is approaching another milestone in its long history.

Revitalization of the area began in the early 2000s, and The Gulch Improvement District was formed in 2006. Since that time, developers have found great success in luring in upscale residential, commercial and mixed-use tenants.

Now, The Gulch is rapidly approaching the point of having 30 of its 60 acres built out.

And as the district moves toward that mark, it’s a rare week that a new project isn’t announced, or at least talked about in tandem with what’s already going on.

Variety has been key to The Gulch’s success, with multistory office towers being talked about one day, and much smaller, boutique projects the next. And, the buzz only gets louder.

Here’s the news, for example, from late June:

Boyle Investment Co. announced a $90 million, mixed-use project next to HCA’s new 506,000-square-foot office building on a chunk of property it owns.

All that is taking place off Charlotte Avenue, an area dubbed North Gulch.

(“The Gulch,” as defined by its boundaries and a master plan created by MarketStreet Enterprises, which is developing the area, is the 60 or so acres between the CSX railway line to the east, I-65 to the west, Broadway to the north and I-40 to the south.)

But just a few blocks south, Pioneer Gentlemen’s Barber will start tidying up the shaggy locks of nearby residents and workers when it opens in the Pine Street Flats building in August. The venue will have a decidedly retro feel, with antique barber chairs from the late 1800s, an original barbershop pole and offerings from straight-razor shaves to facials and shoe shines, says owner Tom Gaudreau.

Road construction accompanies the development of 11th Avenue in The Gulch.

-- Leigh Singleton | The Ledger

“This is a guy’s environment, with everything from the hot-towel treatment to a shoulder and scalp massage,” says Gaudreau, who relocated to Nashville in 2000 to join a software startup that’s now a part of Underwriter Laboratories.

“I’m not a barber, but I love the men’s grooming experience. This feels like the right time for this idea, and if I can’t make an upscale men’s barbershop work in The Gulch, then I can’t make it work anywhere.”

Gaudreau says his research has identified around 1,000 men living in his building’s condos alone, and thousands more living and working in the walking area around his shop.

His combination of high-end services and retro appearance fit snugly into the vibe that’s been carefully created for The Gulch over the last 15 years, says Dirk Melton, development director for MarketStreet.

“The definition and branding of The Gulch is something that was carefully defined when MarketStreet began acquiring land in 1999 and established the physical boundaries of the neighborhood with the city in 2001 as past of a comprehensive land master use plan,” Melton says.

“Most of the older buildings in the neighborhood have been repositioned and redone with other types of uses.

“For instance, the Turnip Truck came in 2010 and moved into a building from the 1950s. Now we’re seeing the newer buildings being built with mixed-use space on their ground floors, and those spaces are attracting a wide variety of restaurant and retail.”

While MarketStreet doesn’t own all the properties, it does work with developers on the types of tenants these eye-level spaces will have, Melton adds.

“The merchandising mix of users is going to evolve over time, but they are a critical component of the neighborhood’s success and so it’s something we plan for very carefully,” he says.

“A lot of people are coming to us with ideas, and we’re going out to people who we think would be a good additive to the merchandising mix in the neighborhood. We are getting more service-oriented retail now that is only possible because we’re at a certain critical mass of residential and office users.

“For example, we have been trying to get a dentist, and now have the Gulch Dental Studio opening. There’s also Apothecary, a new pharmacy.

“Amenities within walking distance is a real focus for us right now because the people who want to live and work in the same neighborhood want to leave their car in the garage as much as possible.”

Urban planners such as Gary Gaston, director of the Nashville Civic Design Center, share that goal. He says mass transit options, along with open and green spaces, as well as a range of price points, should factor into The Gulch’s next phases of development, for it to achieve maximum success.

“The larger conversation in the headlines now is the overall affordability of housing in the city,” Gaston adds. “That’s definitely going to be in play, even in these higher-end urban neighborhoods. Developers certainly want to maximize the value of their property, but there is lots of room to do different things.”

On the parks front, the Design Center has begun a conversation regarding park space along the interstate loop downtown, which would run alongside The Gulch. As a conversation starter, it has a lot going for it, Gaston says.

“It would connect Midtown to The Gulch, and would provide the open space that people who live in those buildings are going to want,” he explains. “They want to walk to a park, not have to drive to one, so green space is definitely going to be a factor as development continues there.”

And speaking of cars, he points out that even if those residents do travel outside the area, they’re likely to want a viable mass transit option alongside driving their own vehicles.

“High density means massive congestion if everyone’s using a car,” Gaston says. “But at the same time, that growth can spur things that are needed, which includes a transit system.

“The push toward the Amp was an effort to get to that, and although it didn’t go forward it was a good first step in the process. The Gulch has always been somewhat disconnected because it’s physically depressed below the street grid, with very few ways in and out.

“Now with a pedestrian bridge planned and new stairs that connect up to Demonbreun Street, and new bike lanes going in, people are moving in and out easier.

“But it’s still a lot of people living in a very small area, and it’s a microcosm of the larger downtown development picture and what’s happening all across the city,’’ Gaston says.

“What The Gulch is going through now, much of the rest of the city is going to experience. As far as green space and mass transit, Nashville really is at a turning point.”

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