Major Retail Center Planned for 'Gateway to Broadway'
March 27, 2015
Major Retail Center Planned for 'Gateway to Broadway'
The Tennessean

High-quality retail is necessary for viable downtowns.

That's the message from city officials and the team behind the major redevelopment plan announced Friday morning for the 6.2-acre Nashville Convention Center property between Broadway and Commerce at Fifth Avenue.

The $400 million public-private project includes:

205,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment uses.

About 350 apartments.

300,000 square feet of Class A office space.

The National Museum for African American Music.

And a 781-space underground public parking garage.

The redevelopment of the site is years in the making. Local developer Pat Emery and his team was selected from among five finalists that pitched proposals to redevelop the property, which became available after the city built the Music City Center convention center south of Broadway.

The theme among developers, Mayor Karl Dean and Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Ralph Schulz on Friday was the project's potential impact on the downtown retail market.

The words "walkability," "urban destination" and "streetscape" were repeatedly used to describe the development, which still needs approval by Metro Planning Commission, Convention Center Authority and Metro Council.

Metro would be on the hook for $25 million in tax-increment financing and at least $32 million for the parking garage. The Convention Center Authority would pay for the garage, with parking revenue paying off its debt. Emery and his team would pay $5 million at the closing of the land transaction, all of which would go to the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing.

Renderings show retail, restaurant and entertainment uses lining both Broadway and Commerce Street, along with retail stretching down a new mid-block walkway. New sidewalks and pedestrian pathways are meant to promote walkability and boost foot traffic.

The high-profile corner space at Broadway and Fifth avenues is reserved for the National Museum of African American Music.

Dene Oliver of OliverMcMillan, a national mixed-use development firm partnering with Emery on the project, said the retail uses would be both high-quality and unique, noting his company does not work on malls or strip centers.

He said it will be a mix of soft goods retailers, substantial food offerings and an entertainment component that will include a live music venue.

"I don't want this to be anything that is resembling a run of the mill tenant mix that you can pick up and see anywhere. I don't do malls, I don't do shopping centers. This is neither a mall nor a shopping center; this is an urban street scene," Oliver said.

Details on specific ground-floor tenants aren't yet available, but Oliver said his company — along with local real estate partners such as broker Elliott Kyle — will work to attract a mix of national and local players. Oliver cited Imogene + Willie in 12South and a boutique grocery market as examples of the types of tenants he would like to attract to the site.

"There are no great cities where you can't go and shop and buy some things," Oliver said. "We want to bring in some of the things that make living downtown able to happen without getting in your car."

The retail market in the Lower Broadway area is limited mostly to gift shops targeted toward Nashville's booming tourist scene. Cowboy boots, Nashville-branded apparel and gift items are readily available, but a diversity of other retail uses is lacking.

Emery, who called Nashville Convention Center site the "gateway to Broadway," said the project "will provide a quantum leap in offering retail in the downtown district."

Oliver said a goal for the project is to "bring the locals back down" and to create places where Nashville area residents want to shop, dine and hang out.

"Not everyone can spend their time in the honky-tonk bars. …There needs to be a piece beyond that," Oliver said.

Dean agreed. He said the development will complete the story of Music City and make downtown Nashville a shopping destination that rivals other thriving urban cores.

"This project will bring much-needed retail to downtown, close the final gap in the Music City brand and make our city even more attractive to visitors," Dean said. "Great cities constantly move forward and it is time for Nashville to take this next step."

The next step for OliverMcMillan is to create a merchandising plan by looking at each space and deciding the optimum tenant mix for the center, Oliver said.

"That comes from a lot of study of the local market — what's here, what's not here and what's going to be synergistic and attract people here," Oliver said. "We'll go through a process, but I can tell you, I've already seen some local tenants I would love to have."

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