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VOL. 43 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 1, 2019

Giarratana: Think vertical to help preserve non-urban neighborhoods

By Hollie Deese

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Tony Giarratana

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Tony Giarratana has for decades devoted himself to transforming downtown Nashville into a vibrant, walkable community for residents and office workers, building such landmarks as The Cumberland, the Bennie Dillon Lofts, Viridian and 505 on Church Street.

Giarratana’s additional plans for Church Street include a park and his latest residential tower, 900 Church, with 312 units targeting the demand of employees of the nearby Amazon and Asurion developments.

What are some big challenges Nashville faces as it grows and tries to maintain its character.

“One of the biggest challenges we have is that planning has, historically, not favored vertical. They've wanted to grow horizontally rather than vertically, and I think that is why non-urban neighborhoods are feeling pressure. If planning would begin to think more vertically, meaning taller buildings in concentrated nodes of development, I think it would take a lot of pressure off the non-urban neighborhoods.”

What are the roadblocks?

“Mayor Cooper and Metro Planning Director Lucy Kempf, need to evaluate this, and if they agree, communicate it throughout planning and the Planning Commission, that this is the goal for our city.

“Downtown Nashville is a perfect example of an opportunity to go vertical with very little cost. The infrastructure is already in place. We don't need more roads, don't need more utilities. Everything is very compact. It's highly walkable. There ought to be a focus on concentrating the need for additional apartments, additional condos, additional office, additional retail, in the confines of the urban area, which is downtown Nashville.”

Do you think people have a hard time considering downtown as a residential neighborhood?

“Yes. And matter of fact, at the Mayor's inaugural event, a reporter asked me how I felt about Mayor Cooper turning his back on downtown, and my response was surely he understands that downtown is a highly concentrated residential, retail, office - in other words, live, work, play neighborhood. There are thousands of residents, and the contribution of the urban residents and the downtown office workers to metro Nashville is substantial. I think the latest figures are that, while downtown represents one half of 1% of the land area of metro Nashville, it accounts for 8.8% of the property taxes of metro Nashville, and over 25% of the sales taxes. So surely, this urban neighborhood that I and others have worked so hard to create over the past three decades or more, surely this urban neighborhood will be nurtured and not neglected.’’

What is needed to keep making it desirable to live downtown?

“On the positive front, The Fifth + Broad project and the Capitol View project, and the Nashville Yards project, and the development where The Tennessean used to be, all of these developments have a retail component. That's one of the things that we've been lacking downtown for a very long time. We've got a lot of restaurants, but that retail – shops for women and for men that disappeared during the 80s – we need those shops to come back.

“I'm very pleased that the downtown neighborhood, that has had only the H.G. Hill Urban Market that we developed back in 2006, now, we have a new Publix open, we have a new Whole Foods getting ready to open. So grocery, which is a very important part of the urban living experience, we now have a lot of choices for our urban neighborhood in the area of groceries.

“On the negative front, downtown has a homeless problem. This is not unique to Nashville, but the downtown neighborhood has a problem, both on Broadway and in the Church Street neighborhood, with the so-called Church Street Park. No neighborhood in Metro should be asked to tolerate a homeless encampment, nor should the downtown neighborhood, which is very important to the vitality of Nashville.

"This is going to become even more critical and even higher priority when the headquarters for Asurion is completed in 2021. That will add 2,500 workers, and the headquarters for Amazon will add another 5,000 workers. And it's rumored that there'll be another 5,000 Amazon workers in short order.

“And so, the challenges of downtown are real and need to be addressed, and it's going to become even more urgent in 2021 and 2022.

"A lot of those things are symptomatic of our growth overall that we're struggling to contain.

“It's obvious that developments should be concentrated in the urban areas and the historic Central Business District, the historic core of Nashville. The constraints should be lifted so that Nashville's urban core can become even more of a high density, mixed-use, walkable urban center.”

“West End Avenue, I think under the previous administrations going back to Dean, and then followed through with Barry and Briley, it was understood that the restrictions on development along the West End corridor would actually be hindering Nashville's ability to ultimately get mass transportation because there simply isn't enough density to support the mass transportation that we need. But with developments along the West End corridor, I think that West End can become an important concentrated node of development.’’

Why is Church Street so important to you and Nashville?

“Church Street has historically been a very important part of Nashville. It had the very large department stores, it had all the movie theaters, it had the diners, even the Harveys department store had a carousel that the kids would come down and play on. So Church Street was a very, very important center of activity for Nashville.

“When I got here in 1984, nobody was working on Church Street. Church Street had gone from a vibrant, urban corridor to, almost, the attitude of, "Don't go there." When we proposed a development at Sixth and Church, people literally said, "Are you crazy?

“Church Street was in a very bad state of repair. Mayor (Richard) Fulton had tried to turn things around by making Church Street a serpentine corridor, and then, later, Mayor (Bill) Purcell changed it back to a two-way corridor, and I think they did a very nice job getting it back to a two-way corridor for vehicles that accommodates both vehicles and pedestrians.

“For me, personally, I began investing here in 1987, and I did that for a couple of different reasons. No. 1, I was new in town. I was the outsider. It was hard for me to compete with large established development companies like The Mathews Company or Joe Rodgers' company, so I went where others weren't, and I was able to ultimately buy and develop, or buy and repurpose and sell, 18 parcels along Church Street.

“And so, I have been very active along Church Street for decades. And we are not done by any stretch of the imagination. I made a commitment to Church Street. We built the first high rise apartments in downtown Nashville. We built the first high rise condos in downtown Nashville. We built the first grocery since 1967 in downtown Nashville. We built the tallest tower, residential tower, that has both condos and apartments and vacation rentals. And now, we've just recently announced 900 Church, which is going to be 312 units targeted towards the significant demand of employees of Amazon and Asurion.’’

“I began investing here in 1987, and I did that for a couple of different reasons. No. 1, I was new in town. I was the outsider. It was hard for me to compete with large established development companies like The Mathews Company or Joe Rodgers' company, so I went where others weren't and I was able to ultimately buy and develop, or buy and repurpose and sell, 18 parcels along Church Street.

What are your plans for Anne Dallas Dudley Park?

“Anne Dallas Dudley Boulevard, if you go back to 1909, early 1900s, the community was up in arms that the view of the State Capitol was on this back alley, which was called Capitol Boulevard, now called Anne Dallas Dudley. So the right of way of Anne Dallas Dudley was expanded from, I think it was 30 feet, to 80 feet. So the potential within the right of way of Anne Dallas Dudley Boulevard, formerly Capitol Boulevard, is very substantial.

“During my interaction with, going back to Mayor Dean, Mayor Barry, Mayor Briley, and now Mayor Cooper, the suggestion that I've had for accommodating the need for an active public park, a true public park in the heart of the Church Street neighborhood, I've proposed to build, at no cost to metro, a one acre public place that would include twice as much green space as it currently exists on the so-called Church Street Park at 6th and Church today, but build an acre that has more than twice as much green space and all the state of the art sidewalks and roadways.

“The suggestion that I've had for accommodating the need for an active public park, a true public park in the heart of the Church Street neighborhood, I've proposed to build, at no cost to Metro, a one-acre public place that would include twice as much green space as it currently exists on the so-called Church Street Park at Sixth and Church today, but build an acre that has more than twice as much green space and all the state-of-the-art sidewalks and roadways.

“This is proposed as a solution to the debacle which is the Church Street Park. Twenty years it's been festering and it's not going to get any better. We proposed this Anne Dallas Dudley park as a solution that, fairly elegantly, addresses myriad issues at the existing location.

“In addition to building the park, we have proposed to activate the park for the first 10 years. So, we felt like committing $2.5 million in addition to the $7.5 million to build the park would ensure that this park had the opportunity to succeed. Metro merely needs to exchange the existing park parcel, which is about 0.3 acres zone, for a new residential tower that we proposed.”

“If Metro does not want to do that, that's okay. I encourage Mayor Cooper and the leadership of Nashville to do something, whether it's this particular park proposal that we've made or some other initiative that Mayor Cooper or the council planning others that have the authority to do these things within the city. I encourage them to take action, decisive action, to make the changes that the Church Street and urban neighborhood deserve. And I will be a big supporter of any real proposal that will make the necessary transformation at the heart of our city.’’

If you could dare dream anything else for Nashville, what’s next?

“I would say the Paramount, the tower we would like to do on the 12,000-square-foot parcel at Sixth and Church, would be a fantastic punctuation mark on the decades that I've spent trying to contribute to the vitality of downtown Nashville. So, selfishly, I would like to do that.

“But I'm very excited about the Four Seasons mixed-use tower that's underway on First Avenue and Demonbreun Street. I think that is a fantastic development. I'm a huge fan of Fifth + Broadway. Nashville Yards has come out of nowhere and has been just an incredible success.

“Capitol View has made a great contribution on Charlotte, and an endeavor out of Austin is really transforming intersections of Broadway and Demonbreun at the highway.

“My hats off to what all these developers are doing, and if I may add, all the developers that have built these wonderful hotels on 4th Avenue, which was a ghost town. The development of the Noelle, the Dream, the Bobby, the Fairlane. What they have done with the old First American Bank building with Jeff Ruby's at the bottom - I am so thrilled that they were done and they are succeeding.

“My focus is on Church Street, and all of what these other developers are doing is only contributing to the efforts that we have been long making along Church Street. So I hope that all the development proposals that are already underway, will enjoy great success, and I hope that Metro leadership will embrace vertical high density, mixed-use, walkable communities as the solution.’’

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