GLBT community ‘drivers’ for downtown living trend

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Nashville is growing up. Literally. Swanky glass lofts and Trump-style towers are changing the face of downtown (and its fringes) at a time when downtown can definitely use the facelift. New urbanism in the city has taken hold with concrete, steel and glass as its foundation and the gay and lesbian community is a captive target market for local residential developers to build on.

“We market to people that are forward thinking and like the energy of the urban lifestyle,” says Dan Daniel, principal of Bristol Development Group, the builders behind Bristol on Broadway, and the almost-sold-out-yet- under-construction, Bristol West End on 29th Ave. “We find in Nashville and in other cities, the gay and lesbian community are often the drivers of this trend.”

Daniel says although Bristol doesn’t market to any specific group, by default, the gay and lesbian communities mimic the lifestyle amenities that Bristol and other urban developers make available. The latest concept Bristol is introducing is ICON, the company’s crown jewel in the Nashville market, going up in The Gulch.

When complete, ICON will stand 21 stories tall and contain a unique mix of more than 400 walk-up brownstones, loft-style residences and condominiums all wrapped around a central tower with retail space at the ground level.

“There is more of a diverse group in The Gulch than anywhere else in Nashville,” says Daniel. “It’s an interesting, alive community and ICON is the first of many changes down there.”

Bristol isn’t the only developer leaving its new urbanism mark on Nashville. In spite of its local roots ( Bristol is headquartered in Franklin, but the company has been in on new urbanism booms in other cities while the trend in Nashville quietly took hold). One man jumped in first when no one else would. His footprint looms large across a swath of downtown development, leaving a path for other builders to follow.

Some call Tony Giarratana the “Donald Trump of Nashville.” The name fits, considering his holdings include some of the highest profile property downtown; namely the Church Street Corridor. The Cumberland was his first place marker there, the first downtown living of its kind that signaled the urban renewal trend in Nashville. He built it and they came. And the rest is residential history.

Viridian, Giarratana’s loft-style living concept going up adjacent to the L&C Tower, is almost completely sold out without so much as a single floor-to-ceiling window in place. Bennie Dillon Lofts (just down the street) is the other Giarratana answer to pent-up residential demand downtown. Hardwood and terrazzo floors, high exposed ceilings, big windows, sliding barn doors, exposed-brick walls, granite countertops and brushed-aluminum backsplashes are the things loft living here are made of.

Giarratana’s crown jewel, though, won’t be capped until 2009. Signature Tower, his boldest project yet at the corner of 5th and Church, will become the tallest building in the state of Tennessee. At 55 stories tall with a price tag of $200 million, it will be the largest construction project in Nashville history.

Why Nashville? Why Now? According to Giarratana, the answer is somewhere between public demand and city cooperation.

“As is the case in cities from coast to coast, people are seeking to return to downtown living,” says Giarratana. “Because of proactive efforts by the MDHA and the city, there has been over $1.15 billion in public and private investments downtown since 2000.”

“The primary target of our current projects has been young professionals who are single or childless — what I refer to as the ‘hip and cool’ of Nashville,” says Giarratana. They are seeking an exciting living environment with neighbors they can relate to.”

Echoing the sentiment of Bristol’s Daniel, Giarratana agrees the gay and lesbian market has been ahead of the residential curve. Here and elsewhere.

“The gay and lesbian community has been a major contributor to urban renewal in many cities,” says Giarratana. “Mid-town Atlanta is a recent example of this. The gay and lesbian community was among the first to realize the benefits of living along the Peachtree Corridor. That market is now red hot and appeals to a broad spectrum of buyers.”