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VOL. 37 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 29, 2013

‘Take these towers down'

What would Vanderbilt do with the ‘most desirable’ piece of real estate in Tennessee if Chancellor Zeppos gets his wish?

By Bill Lewis

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The demolition of Carmichael Towers, the aging Vanderbilt University high-rise dormitories that occupy some of the highest profile real estate on West End Avenue, could help revitalize one of the major gateways to downtown Nashville.

Just don’t expect that to happen right away. The four boxy, 14-story towers have loomed over West End Avenue near Centennial Park for nearly 50 years. Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos makes no secret of his desire to replace them but hasn’t announced a timetable.

“Take these towers down,” Zeppos recently declared in MyVu, a university publication, channeling President Ronald Reagan’s demand in 1987 for destruction of the Berlin Wall.

The wall fell two years later, but Carmichael Towers may take longer.

“It’s a long-term wish list,” says university spokesman Jim Patterson.

Current plans are for the towers to be replaced by a “living-learning community” in which students and professors would live near one another. The university has created such a community for first-year students at the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons on the east side of campus across 21st Avenue.

Another community is being developed near the corner of West End and 21st Avenue, where the university is spending $115 million to replace six dormitories with two residential colleges.

Eliminating Carmichael Towers from the Nashville skyline would be another step in the transformation of nearby Midtown. That long-neglected district west of downtown, known for its mix of older office buildings, car dealerships, small businesses and restaurants, will soon be home to West End Summit, two 20-story towers with 900,000 square feet of space for offices, restaurants, high-end retailers and a boutique hotel.

Towers East and Towers West were built in 1966 and 1970, respectively, and house a total of 1,184 students.

-- Photo: Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

HCA is locating the corporate headquarters of two business units in 500,000 square feet of space at West End Summit, which is being developed by Alex S. Palmer & Co. near the West End-Broadway split a few blocks east of Carmichael Towers. HCA expects to employ 2,000 workers at West End Summit within five years.

Around the corner from Carmichael Towers, Southern Land Co. is wrapping up construction of the Elliston 23 Apartments at 2300 Elliston Place. Also known as E23, the six-story building offers 331 luxury apartments. Another luxury apartment building, Park 25, is under construction on 25th Avenue North, about two blocks from E23.

In addition, developer Tony Giarratana and Chicago-based LaSalle Investment Management have plans for an apartment building at 2110 Elliston Place and 201 21st. Ave. N. near Baptist Hospital.

Now that it’s understood that Carmichael Towers will eventually fall, the question on the minds of real estate developers and city planners is what form its replacement will take.

“From a market perspective, that’s a dead and underutilized portion of the strip,” says Henry Menge, affiliate broker for XMI Commercial Real Estate, which has been active in the revitalization of Midtown.

But, he says, the site occupied by Carmichael Towers would have tremendous potential for the right mix of restaurants and retailing.

“It’s one of the most desirable locations in the state of Tennessee,” Menge says.

On the other hand, simply building new student housing would have “limited impact on the city, apart from aesthetics,” he says.

The design of Carmichael Towers’ eventual replacement is unknown, but the university has been taking steps to link the campus to the surrounding neighborhoods. One example was the decision to move the university’s bookstore into space formerly occupied by Borders in the 2525 building, says Gary Gaston, design director for the Nashville Civic Design Center.

In addition to textbooks, the Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt offers bestsellers, children’s books, Vanderbilt-related clothing and a café, all open to the public.

“Their goal has been to get out of the Vanderbilt bubble and embrace the community,” Gaston says.

The replacement for Carmichael Towers could follow that pattern, says Gaston, and be “something that connects Vanderbilt to the community.”