On July 5, the Metro council will consider what constitutes rural in Nashville.

Is the best representation of rural character to mandate fields remain fields as outlined in Nashville Next, or should we foster development that reflects the intent of preserving a rural look and feel?

The owners of Fontanel are challenging a decision by the Metro Planning Commission that prevents them from building a conference hotel on 30 acres next to their existing property.

The planning commission, in a complicated session that had it first approve and then later deny the Fontanel request, ruled that adding the 30 acres to the Specific Plan zoning that covers Fontanel’s existing 185-acre properties jeopardizes the rural component of the Nashville Next plan, particularly 11 parcels planners want to stay undeveloped. Part of the Fontanel plan includes one of those 11 parcels.

After visiting the property and reviewing the plans with the owners and Councilwoman Brenda Haywood, and also talking with several Whites Creek residents opposed to the plan, it appears the council is faced with a difficult decision.

While I share many of the concerns outlined by opponents to the development, and am intrigued by the history of the field they wish to protect, I think the Fontanel plan is consistent with the idea of rural development as outlined in Nashville Next, and, in many ways, enhances the rural character of Whites Creek Pike.

Historic Whites Creek

Northern Davidson County has a character quite apart from the Nashville we spend most of our time writing and reading about, and apart from the dense areas of the county where we work, shop and mingle.

Drive (slowly, please) along Whites Creek Pike from Briley Parkway north to Joelton and you are treating yourself to a step back in time.

If you are a gardener, you may have visited Bates Nursery and Garden Center. Northwest past Bates you’ll notice a community garden on the left, where Metro allows folks to plant vegetable and cutting gardens. Across from the community garden is the back entrance to The Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel.

As you head north along Whites Creek and up the hollow to the Devil’s Elbow switchback, you will pass small homes, a couple of incongruous housing developments, Fontanel, the quaint intersection with Old Hickory Boulevard, small farms and pastures. It is beautiful.

If I were smart, I would not tell you this. Driving into Nashville along Whites Creek and Buena Vista Pikes is my preferred route into work. It enables me to avoid my harried co-commuters and spend 20 minutes of quietude before re-engaging with the seamy stream of fellow commuters.

I would hope that Whites Creek can keep its character, if only that I may preserve what little sanity my commutes have left me.


Nashville Next

Preserving the unique character of neighborhoods and open spaces was a key objective of the Nashville Next planning process, and the effort to keep Whites Creek’s rural nature was one of the more contentious conversations in that process.

Almost 20,000 Nashvillians participated over a two-year span to craft zoning and development guidelines that would foster the city’s growth and protect the qualities that have made Nashville one of the most attractive places in America to live. The plan was adopted in June 2015 in the waning days of Karl Dean’s regime.

It is a plan that will constantly be challenged by the evolving nature of Nashville, and the city’s need to fund growth.

For example, the investment by Fontanel’s owners has changed the tax revenue contribution coming from the property from $21,000 in property taxes in 2001 to $120,000 in 2015, and from $0 in sales tax revenues in 2001 to $750,000 in 2015, according to Robert Ekman, a partner in the property.

As Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and founder, observed, “Any plan won’t survive its first encounter with reality. The reality will always be different. It will never be the plan.”

Can we reconcile the needs of our reality with the vision articulated in Nashville Next?


In 2001, music industry veterans Dale Morris and Marc Oswald bought Barbara Mandrell’s 30,000-square foot log mansion, Fontanel, and its 138 acres with the idea of building a high-end retreat. Its current specific plan zoning includes permission for a 150-room hotel located near the mansion.

In 2010, they opened The Woods, a 4,500-seat amphitheater, and in 2011, bought the 47 acres to the south of the property to create parking and and entrance to the theater that reduced traffic and protected Whites Creek.

The property now hosts an Italian restaurant, a winery, a distillery and a highly rated bed and breakfast, which was created from the Southern Living dream home built on the grounds in 2013. The owners have built three miles of greenway and hiking trails that are open to the public.

The plan to build a conference hotel on 30 acres along Whites Creek Pike north of the current properties is a challenge to the concept of rural character, but, Oswald says, Fontanel embraces its place in Historic Whites Creek.

“We want to fit in,” Oswald said. “The hotel will look like a farm, low buildings and fields, and hidden from the road.”

“We are maintaining our commitment to holding 75 percent of our land as greenspace,” he added, “and adding to the greenway trails we have built for Nashville.”

Councilwoman Haywood thinks the Fontanel plans reflect the intent of Nashville Next and the desire to keep rural Nashville rural, but she’ll need the support of her fellow members to make that happen.


The Mystery of The Masters’ Pimento Cheese

Made fresh daily and wrapped in fairway-green plastic bags, the pimento cheese sandwiches at Augusta National—which will only put you back $1.50, $3 if you add chips and a sweet tea—are nearly as iconic as the illustrious golf course’s pink and white azaleas. But since 2013, more than one sports writer has commented on the distinct difference in taste and consistency of the pimento-studded spread. Longtime patrons, too. And they’re not happy about the change.

A brief history: For forty-five years, a caterer named Nick Rangos from nearby Aiken, South Carolina, made the Masters’ famous pimento cheese. Then in 1998, the club switched contracts and began using Wife Saver, the local Augusta restaurant chain that had been responsible for making the tournament’s fried chicken sandwiches—which are back on the concessions menu. (To add to the confusion, they are no longer served hot, and they are not made by the fried chicken pros at Wife Saver anymore either.) Back in ’98, led by franchise owner Ted Godfrey, the folks at Wife Saver set out to recreate Rangos’ pimento cheese. Godfrey and team presented several batches to Augusta National, but couldn’t get it quite right—something was missing. Luckily, a woman who worked for the tournament had frozen a batch of the original, and after comparing it to his version, Godfrey finally hit on a formula that seemed right. For the next fifteen years he served this recipe at the course during Masters Week. Then in 2013, the tournament changed vendors again. This time, people noticed. ESPN even investigated.


What made Masters pimento cheese so special? Rangos, who passed away last year, even admitted he wasn’t sure. Wife Saver is tight-lipped when it comes to their version, too. “There are definitely a couple things we do differently,” says owner Chris Cunningham, who began working for the company his father founded when he was just twelve years old. “Like our fried chicken recipe, it’s very simple,” he says. “Simple is better.” Whatever the secret is, though, Cunningham is not divulging it any time soon.

But if you’re in Augusta this weekend and the tournament pimento cheese still doesn’t live up to the memory of sandwiches past, you’re in luck. You can visit the North Augusta, Fury’s Ferry, North Leg, or Washington Road Wife Saver locations (only those four; the spread isn’t sold at the other two) and pick up a container of the original stuff—or as close to it as you can now find. Does it taste as good as it did when you were sitting in the shade of a pine tree on Augusta National’s stunningly beautiful course? That’s for you to decide.

By Elizabeth Hutchison


Developer dials back insane apartment rents in $20M Hillsboro Village project

With the cost of renting an apartment skyrocketing to heights Nashville has never seen, an increasingly active developer is defining success by pricing its Hillsboro Village project a notch or two below those record top-echelon rates.

Price, as much as location and amenities, is a core part of the sales pitch that Brentwood’s GBT Realty Corp. is making in its attempt to entice renters such as Vanderbilt nurses, Belmont students and retail workers who have jobs in what is one of Nashville’s most popular urban neighborhoods.


GBT’s timing is notable, with Metro government pursuing a law to spark the creation of more affordable housing units, priced below market rates (Metro is still striving to figure out how to get more developers on board). More broadly, worries about housing affordability have become a dominant byproduct of the city’s surging growth — a spurt that has attracted developers from all over, pushing the price of land and construction ever-higher, a dynamic that is juicing rents in the city to record levels.

This 76-unit apartment project is also relevant because it accelerates the mission of George Tomlin, the under-the-radar founder of GBT, to redefine his company by focusing on urban development— while still nourishing the prolific 30-state retail portfolio that is his company’s specialty. GBT already has another, $45 million mixed-use development under construction in Hillsboro Village, and also is pitching plans for a $100 million office development near Brentwood.

GBT is sharing new details about this latest project first with the NBJ. Perspective from Ben Owenell, managing director of GBT’s diversified development division, suggests the $20 million Belcourt Park project is as much a reflection of the city’s changing needs as it is about GBT’s evolving identity and branding.

“GBT is comfortable with this project the way it is designed and what the apartments will rent for, as are our financial partners we’re speaking to,” Owenell said. “We’re very confident these sizes and prices of apartments will hit the market right where they need to. And hey, if we’re leaving some money on the table, well … it is what it is. We’re trying to do what the city’s leadership is asking, and we want to be one of the leaders in this community to show that developments of this ilk are possible.”

Let’s be clear about these prices. If you’ve been in Nashville longer than three or four years, they’ll probably look like premium rates. In context of how much apartment rents have spiked in the present-day, GBT’s prices are below the peak rents developers are seeking, but not wildly out of this new norm.

• the average studio will be 450 square feet, and start at $1,250 per month

• the average one-bedroom will be 650 square feet, and top out at $1,750 per month

• the average two-bedroom will be 950 square feet, and cost about $2,200 to $2,300 per month to rent

“In general, we’re dialing it back from where every part of the market is. You have micro apartments in the surrounding area going for north of $1,600. Ours will be 10 to 15 percent larger, and going for $1,250,” Owenell said.

“This is an example of local developers hearing what is going on and churning out what the market is craving. We’re trying to hear the concerns of the neighborhood,” Owenell said. “Currently, they (our target renters) can’t afford to live in the area and as a result, they’re driving to work and taking up parking.

“It will be cheaper than what’s on the market currently, and we’re really proud of that,” Owenell added. “You look all around Nashville and you’re paying north of $1,800 for a one-bedroom, and up to $3,500 for a two-bedroom, especially in this near vicinity. We decided to go a different track.”

A zoning change, which GBT needs to do the project as designed, won a favorable review last month from the Metro Planning Commission. Metro Council must approve the zoning change for it to take effect.

A construction loan is not yet in place. GBT is focused first on securing the zoning change before locking in financing, Owenell said.

He said he hopes to begin construction in August, and open the building at 1710 Belcourt Ave. in summer 2017. Owenell said GBT is in talks with contractors for the job.

Each apartment will have a connection to Google Fiber’s high-speed internet, and in the common areas, and it’ll be free for residents when they use it in the building’s amenity spaces, Owenell said.

“That’s a little thing that gets glossed over, but when you look at the demographic of who will rent these places … that is huge,” Owenell said.

GBT also is offering Google Fiber at its Village 21 mixed-use development, a quarter-mile away. That project includes more than 100 apartments.

Adam Sichko
Senior Reporter
Nashville Business Journal

Former East Nashville Wal-Mart property sold

The former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market property in East Nashville has been sold to a self-storage company.

According to a news release, SpaceMax Storage paid $5 million for the 38,690-square-foot building, which is located at 1216 Gallatin Ave.


SpaceMax Storage is owned by commercial real estate firm Childress Klein, which also plans to add 15,000 square feet of retail space to the site.

It’s worth noting that Wal-Mart stipulated that the building could not be sold to a potential competitor, such as a grocery store or big-box retailer, according to the news release. Wal-Mart shuttered the property earlier this year.

JC Darby represented Childress Klein in the deal, while John Cavin represented Wal-Mart; both brokers work with Nashville-based Southeast Venture.

Eric Snyder
Managing Editor
Nashville Business Journal

Developer buys two North Nashville apartments

A developer is paying $3.3 million for two North Nashville apartment projects.

The Tennessean reports that John Eldridge has paid $2.6 million for the former Herman Street Apartments. The property, located behind Marathon Village, has sat vacant for two years, and will be converted into 77 rental units. According to The Tennessean, Eldridge plans to invest $4 million renovating the four-building complex at 1601 and 1603 Herman St. The property will be rebranded as The Vibe at Marathon Village.


Eldridge is also set to close today on the former Titans Terrace apartments, located a few blocks away at 2507 Clifton Ave., for $700,000. He plans to convert that property into a 16-unit condo project.

Eric Snyder
Managing Editor
Nashville Business Journal

Boutique luxury brand signs deal to open Printers Alley hotel

The Nashville developers overhauling iconic buildings in Printers Alley have signed a boutique luxury hotel brand to open a 169-room hotel as part of the project.

Dream Hotel Group will open Dream Nashville within 206-212 Fourth Ave. N. Demolition has begun on-site. That, and the addition of Dream Hotel, mark notable progress for a project that’s been in the works for two-plus years. The roughly $70 million project has overcome a budget gap and the developers have negotiated $6.5 million in public aid, as well as an agreement on how best to preserve the structures, which date to the late 1800s.


“In Nashville, we found great partners and an amazing location, and it’s Music City, one of the most up-and-coming cities, and perfect for a lifestyle brand like ours,” said Dream Hotel Group’s CEO, Jay Stein, in an interview with the publication Travel Weekly.

The hotel is expected to open in mid-2018.

In a statement, developer Alex Marks called Dream Hotel “the ideal partner for this project,” citing the company’s “30-year history of managing properties in some of the world’s most highly competitive hotel environments.”

I can’t speak to a global view, but certainly from a national perspective, hotel investors and developers still view Nashville as one of the hottest hotel markets to be found. Demand far outpaces supply at the moment, spurring a surge of construction and proposals for more hotels — more than 4,000 rooms in SoBro alone.

Marks is co-developing the Printers Alley project with Bill Barkley, known for his early work in the Gulch. Joining them as equity investors are husband-and-wife Billy and Jennifer Frist. Billy Frist is a son of Dr. Tommy Frist Jr., who co-founded the hospital chain HCA Holdings Inc.

Dream Hotel Group, based in New York City, is pursuing a $1.5 billion jolt of new hotels. Nashville is in that group, along with hotels in Qatar, Dallas, Hollywood, Calif.; and also two in New York City. The company already has hotels in New York City, Thailand and Miami, among other locations.

Nashville company Strategic Hospitality, known for establishments including Pinewood Social and The Catbird Seat, is overseeing the Printers Alley project’s 15,000 square feet of restaurant and bar space.

Adam Sichko
Senior Reporter
Nashville Business Journal

East Nashville property fetches $3 million

A group of real estate investors has paid $3 million for 3.07 acres in East Nashville.

The purchase includes the historic McGavock House at 908 Meridian St. and the Ray of Hope Community Church sanctuary property at 901 Meridian St., The Tennessean reports.


The investor group includes Ed Cooper and John Rochford. The buyers are considering using a portion of the site for an expansion of the Belle Meade Winery, where Rochford is president.

Eric Snyder
Managing Editor
Nashville Business Journal

Metro wants to buy more homes in flood zones

Six years after flooding struck Nashville, Metro officials want to spend another $5 million buying and demolishing homes in flood-prone areas.

As WPLN Nashville Public Radio reports, the proposal comes as officials hope to spend $110 million on a flood wall and other measures to protect the downtown area, which led to some criticism that other areas of town were being ignored.


“A flood wall application in a lot of other areas of the county just isn’t going to be economically feasible,” Metro Water Services Director Scott Potter told WPLN.

Eric Snyder
Managing Editor
Nashville Business Journal