October 05, 2017

Real density comes to Cool Springs

There’s no denying the key role Cool Springs’ office market has played in Greater Nashville’s growth over the past two decades. Year over year, it seemed, workers would break ground on another 250,000-square-foot building to give health care companies, financial services firms and other notable names a top-shelf home within an easy drive from their executives’ homes and downtown Nashville. And year after year, those buildings would rise to six, eight or nine stories and be surrounded by a lake of surface parking.

Those years are over. The combination of rising land prices and rents, a supply crunch that dates back to the Great Recession and changing consumer demand is quickly turning parts of Cool Springs — the epitome of mixed-use suburban development in Middle Tennessee, with your retail over here and your office over there — into a smartly designed and better-connected district.

The best example of that trend — and looking around the country, it’s not a fad — comes in the form of Bigby, a $150 million hub at the corner of McEwen Drive and Carothers Parkway. There, Crescent Communities plans to build offices, apartments, retail spaces and a hotel in a way that will tie in its nearby One and Two Greenway office buildings as well as neighboring high-end apartment communities Venue Cool Springs and Cadence Cool Springs.

About a mile to the north on Carothers, development firm Boyle several years ago finished building its Meridian project, which includes several office buildings tucked behind dining, retail and hotel structures that front Carothers. The company also connected the new Meridian site to the One Meridian and Two Meridian office buildings it owns on adjacent sites. There, the Boyle team led by Phil Fawcett has taken the next step toward densifying its holdings: Crain Construction recently topped out an eight-story Hilton hotel building that sits snugly between One Meridian and Two Meridian and includes a 224-space parking garage.

The ever more popular concept of live/work/play — and our blending of them during the course of the day — is at the the heart of such projects. Another factor driving the move toward urban design in suburban settings is an interesting alignment of generational preferences: Brian Leary, Crescent’s president of commercial and mixed-use project, says Baby Boomers looking to downsize from their empty nests and millennials finding their way — and thus maybe still priced out of city centers — are seeking walkable places that integrate their work and leisure lives.

Developers are having to adapt quickly: Leary says Crescent’s Two Greenway, a five-story, 155,000-square-foot office building started two years ago, likely is the last “traditional” suburban building his team will develop here. Simply put, customers and prospects are asking for a different product now.

“As we were leasing Two Greenway, people kept asking us, ‘What can I walk to? Where is the shopping?’” Leary says. “We realized we had to rezone the land we had for Bigby. We had a responsibility to put the ‘there’ there.”

At Bigby, “there” is a place that, despite being anchored by a 10-story office tower, creates a walkable, cohesive district that erases the car-centric and long-defined suburban boundaries between uses. Bigby will feature office lofts above stores and restaurants within 30 steps from a hotel and an apartment building.

“We want this project to be a little more quiet and connected,” he says. “We don’t want to do 10 more square feet of retail than we have planned.”

“Connected” also describes what Boyle has in the works on the other side of Interstate 65 with its Northside at McEwen project. Southside, its sister development across McEwen Drive, is anchored by a Whole Foods store, a 175,000-square-foot office building set back from the road and acres and acres of surface lots. The much larger Northside, though, will hug an extended Aspen Grove Drive with almost 800,000 square feet of office space in seven buildings as well as 580 residential units — while featuring no fewer than five garages with about 4,500 spaces. It will look different, feel different and function differently.

Leary sees no reason owners of other complexes wouldn’t follow the example being set by Crescent and Boyle as well as — to a slightly lesser extent — Spectrum|Emery Properties’ Franklin Park project nearby. With rents on the rise — and in some cases rivaling those of downtown Nashville properties — the numbers work better to fill in parking lots and connect buildings now separated by hundreds of yards.

“Those buildings with gigantic lawns and huge buffers? For what?” Leary asks. “People want to be close to the amenities.”

So picture this a decade from now: Crescent Centre Drive, the horseshoe road now home to 700,000 square feet of office space and an Embassy Suites hotel, is lined with townhomes and apartments whose first floors are packed with restaurants and other amenities such as gyms or daycare centers.

Not long ago, that scenario was fanciful. Today, it feels palpably close.

Originally Published in Nashville Post

By Geert De Lombaerde