From yesterday’s USA Today…click here to see the original article.
Nashville Works to Liven Gulch
By Larry Copeland
For decades it was little more than an eyesore, a sunken warren of freight railroad tracks and run-down brick warehouses that was home mostly to vagrants and a bluegrass bar with boarded windows.
The Gulch, as it is known, is now the focus of a $400 million makeover whose aim is to bring to Music City a trend that planted itself in cities of its size long ago – urban chic.
"The concept of creating an urban village for Nashville was something I wanted to do for a long time," says Bill Barkley, president of Crosland Tennessee developers.
Barkley’s company is one of several involved in a master plan to convert the city’s low lying backdoor entrance into a hip enclave of mod highrises, loft apartments, trendy shops, cafes and dog walks.
Replacing the parking lots and empty plots are glass-sheathed luxury residences with names such as Terrazzo and Javanco offering lap pools and concierges. Taking over abandoned industrial plants are bistros, clubs and sushi bars. Alleyways have given way to walking paths.
"Nashville is a sprawling city. I felt we needed to strengthen the urban core," Barkley says.
Nashville took its time getting around to the concept of an urban lifestyle catering to active single processionals and younger couples who want to live and play close to where they work.
For years, the liveliest part of town has been Music Row, a stretch of hundreds of businesses related to country, gospel and contemporary Christian music. In the 1970s, the city saw the start of restoration projects of some old buildings, but laws limited the creation of apartments downtown, in part because of lingering worries the units would become flophouses.
As a result, there is practically no housing in the central business district, says Phil Ryan, executive director of the city’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.
"It was anemic," he says. "There were just a few condominiums and a scattering of midrise apartments."
Ten years ago, Nashville entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Turner, who family founded the discount stores Dollar General, and a group of developers began buying land in the Gulch. They wanted to create something new for Nashville – a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, mixed-income project – and were appointed by the city to make it happen in the 60-acre spot.
The development plan emphasized easy access to bus rides, more than 6,000 jobs within a half-mile walk and abundant bike and walking paths. Nashville, the nation’s 21st-largest city with 650,000 people, anted up $7 million for new streets, landscaping and utilities. Construction cranes have dotted the landscape since 2001, and by the end of 2009, the Gulch will have one-quarter of the housing stock in downtown Nashville, the city says.
"It’s a remarkable achievement," Mayor Karl Dean says. "As a city we needed to focus more on our environmental priorities and making the city a place where people would want to live."
Jodilyn Stuart, 29, a personal fitness trainer, and her husband, Jesse, a mountaineer, were thinking about moving from Nashville until they heard about the Gulch.
"We lived at four other locations in the Nashville area," she says. "It’s more of an active, progressive energy ere. There are lots of runners, walkers and bicyclists. It’s a very active part of town, and the restaurants are fabulous."
The Gulch is even attractive music label executives and a few members of the NFL Tennessee Titans and the NHL Nashville Predators. Housing prices range from $550 a month for a small apartment to condominiums priced at $2 million.
The clientele is mostly locals, many of them suburbanites who want a place in town, says Tom Turner, president and CEO of Nashville Downtown Partnerships, a group focused on business recruitment and retention.
Joe Barker, chairman of MarketStreet Enterprises, lead developer of the Gulch, says the city did not want just a new hot spot.
"We recognized early on that it was important that…we build things in an environmentally positive way," Barker says, adding that Steve Turner wanted people of all income levels to live there.
The Green Building Council, which promotes the construction of energy-saving developments it deems good for the environment, awarded the Gulch a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design award for Neighborhood Development.
Whether the Gulch will meet hopes is debatable.
Five of the 14 new stores opening or announced to open downtown through March 31 are in the Gulch, Tom Turner says. There were none through the same period last year, he says. Urban Outfitters, the trendy apparel store chain, opened its first Tennessee store in the Gulch.
Yet the recession has slowed momentum. some stores and restaurants closed; others postponed plans.
"Things haven’t been what we hoped for," says Jonathan Barnes, general manager of Sambuca, a Dallas-based restaurant chain that opened its fifth location here in 2002.
"But things are only going to get better," he says. "This is a city on the rise amid one of the worst depressions we’ve had in a long time."
Barker agrees. "You have to be a patient developer to do this type of project," he says. "You can’t just blow in and blow out."