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

Study: Downtown needs ‘right’ plan

By Renee Elder

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A new study projecting Nashville’s downtown real estate outlook over the next five to 10 years cites increased demand for a variety of uses, including residential, office, retail and entertainment.

But to make the most of that growth potential, not just any concept will do, according to the study authored by Randall Gross/Economic Development on behalf of the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.

“Downtown will be best positioned to reach its full potential if policy makers focus on the issues which impact on the marketability of downtown and create an environment conducive to the right type of development,” Randall Gross notes in his report.

The study, which looks at the area inside Nashville’s interstate loop, indicates the need to attract certain types of urban development, namely one- and two-bedroom town homes or row houses, emerging tech and “artisan”-style business spaces, full-service hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Tom Turner, CEO of the Nashville Downtown Partnership, calls the report a “realistic look at market potential.”

Ease of access and proximity to after-work amenities will be increasingly attractive to business owners, Turner says.

“Employers, in particular, expect to be in an area where their employees can thrive,” he says. “We’ll see that even more as economy improves and businesses become more driven by employee expectations.”

The report predicts demand for more than 3,500 residential units, about a half-million square feet each of additional office and retail space, and more than 4,300 new hotel rooms over the next decade, with growth in the downtown workforce projected at 15 percent over the next five years.

To optimize the potential, downtown needs to improve access for both pedestrians and drivers, the report states:

“Capturing demand downtown for many of these uses will require policy makers to create ‘walkable’ urban neighborhoods and to overcome negative perceptions about options for downtown parking. For example, downtown has significant unmet potential for destination retail, but still lacks walkable shopping and mixed-use districts with parking that can attract consumers from the greater Nashville region.”

Creating “walkability” takes more than adding a few sidewalks, Turner points out.

“There’s no magic wand to make a place more walkable,” he says.

“Attractive green spaces are part of it. Having residential and office components increases it. Another part is having something interesting to look at as you walk along, looking in store windows. It’s really a combination of things that are complementary to one another.”

Turner echoes the report’s recommendation for more full-service hotels to broaden Nashville’s appeal as a destination for conferences and other big events.

“A full-service property with meeting space and the ability to block off rooms generates traffic not just for the hotel but for the properties around it,” he says.

The full report is available online at www.nashville-mdha.org.