July 12, 2018

Mega-developments are hoping to make downtown Nashville greener

The Tennessean

July 12, 2018

Green spaces are in the works across some of downtown’s most gray areas, where frenetic construction has transformed neighborhoods into grids of boxes and asphalt.

Mega-projects Nashville Yards, Capitol View and Peabody Plaza are plotting sizable parks around their towers. In the process, they’re forgoing more profitable choices.

“It looks good,” said John Eakin, whose firm is now building the 9-story, $90 million Peabody Plaza office tower at Rolling Mill Hill. “Amenity space has become the standard in high-quality office buildings. In an urban environment it gives tenants a place to go to be outside.”

A lawn for event space and walking paths will cover nearly a quarter of the Peabody Plaza lot under construction.

The building will also sport a green amenity roof for workers on a deck above the lobby, similar to Eakin’s office building at 1201 Demonbreun.

Landscape architect Kim Hawkins said she is busier than ever.

“Tenants are looking for flexibility and environments that promote creativity,” Hawkins said. “What we’re seeing now is privately-owned public spaces filling a void for the city. The city doesn’t have the funds to purchase, develop, maintain and operate new parks because our land values have gotten so high.”

Developers are taking cues from the global sustainability movement that promotes parks within walking distance of every resident.

Green spaces afford a needed break from air and noise pollution in urban centers and encourage physical activity and relaxation, according to the World Health Organization. Studies also show they also improve mental health.

Trends like coworking spaces to boost worker morale, inspire innovation and better the environment are changing standards.

Lawns, patios, fountains and other public areas can also lure new visitors into restaurants and shops.

“Enlightened developers certainly understand they need to contemplate things beyond the amount of space they’re building,” said Jeff Kuhnhenn, a principal at Gresham, Smith and Partners architecture and engineering firm in Nashville. “Just like with our whole transit issue, we’re standing at the threshold of needing serious solutions to these issues.”

Parks and green roofs are critical stormwater infrastructure as well.

“We need to look at it as a must-have,” Kuhnhenn said. “The answer going forward cannot be that we continue to endure periodic floods that cause millions in property damage.”

Parks can improve morale

The Nashville Parks and Greenways Master Plan calls for private partnerships to secure new open land for a fast-growing population. By 2026, 4,500 acres of new open space is needed to provide enough recreation for the region.

“Downtown parks are under intense pressure,” the plan states. “With a growing population, these parks are at or are reaching maximum capacity.”

Five open public acres adorn OneCity, a new 19-acre development next to Centennial Park. A volleyball court, lawn, stage, fitness areas, pond, patio tables and fountain are woven through the offices, shops, restaurants and apartments.

“If you sacrifice some space for really great urban design and connections with nature, we think it will pay back tenfold in real-estate values,” said Ryan Doyle, general manager of OneCity. “We’re really focused on creating a place to make healthy lifestyles easier.”

City encourages green space

The city doesn’t offer direct incentives for developers to include green space. But it sometimes partners with them to do so.

Mayor David Briley said real-estate investors are encouraged to include urban parks in their plans.

“There certainly are challenges to providing green space downtown just because land is so expensive,” Briley said.”Obviously we’re adding a lot of new residential and office development in the core of the city. I think best practice is that, in conjunction with those new residents and workers, that you incorporate open space into the overall environment.”

Briley announced plans in March to demolish the old Greer Stadium and restore Fort Negley Park. The city is now finalizing demolition plans.

Metro helped finance a 2.5-acre park at Capitol View, a five-block development of offices, homes and shops in the Gulch. It will be built, maintained and operated by Boyle Investment Co.

“It makes sense for all involved,” said Jeff Haynes, a partner with Boyle. “The project will perform better financially and have a higher tenant retention. Workers can eat at the park. We just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

‘Meaningful public realm’

A downside of privately owned green space is that some projects are closed to the public.

The green roofs at Eakin’s projects, as well as the TwelveTwelve condos and Pinnacle at Symphony Place, are private.

JW Marriott’s 533-room downtown hotel will have a small fenced park for guests, and The Adelicia condos’ park is strictly for residents.

But even inaccessible green areas are a net benefit, Hawkins said.

“We have such a deficit of open space that that land can feel borrowed as you walk by it,” she said. “It helps the city extend the idea of a meaningful public realm.”

Government-incentivized parks can backfire, resulting in poorly designed spaces, Hawkins said. Such deals trade added density or height for pocket parks or enhanced landscaping.

Better community connections

Hawkins said Southwest Value Partners’ decision to develop a 1.4-acre lawn fronting its 16-acre Nashville Yards project on the northern edge of the Gulch is an ideal private park project.

“They did it at the Yards because they felt it was a huge contribution to show they believe in place-making and healthy communities,” Hawkins said. “That’s a real difference from saying: ‘If you do a park, you get one more floor.’ It’s different than checking a box.”

Gresham, Smith and Partners is now designing that lawn and new street connections for the development. It will stretch from Broadway to Charlotte Avenue along 10th Avenue.

The architectural firm also planned Metro’s 28th-to-31st Avenue connector that opened access to OneCity and Capitol View, while uniting West End with North Nashville.

“Sometimes those barriers are more psychological,” said Mickey Sullivan, Gresham, Smith and Partners executive vice president of land planning and design. “It feels like a bigger barrier than it is because it’s not inviting. People will walk farther than they think they can to get to something they want to see if the path or journey is pleasurable.”

Reporter Sandy Mazza can be reached at 615-726-5962 or by email at smazza@tennessean.com. Follow her on Twitter @SandyMazza.​​

Private downtown parks under construction

Capitol View: Construction is underway on a volleyball court, play areas, a dog park and picnic tables at the Capitol View development, along Charlotte Avenue at 11th Avenue North. The park will also connect to Metro Greenways, uniting the Gulch Greenway with the Cumberland River Greenway through Centennial Park.

Nashville Yards: A lawn will stretch across the front of this development of office and residential towers, retail shops, and entertainment venues now being built.

JW Marriott: A dog park and stage have been designed for a fenced lawn at the SoBro hotel. It’s set to open later this summer.

Peabody Plaza: A open lawn will front the office building under construction at Rolling Mill Hill. It will complement the adjacent Cumberland River Greenway. A green roof for workers will also be installed on a deck above the building’s lobby.