Monday, April 12, 2010

12,500 workers at MetroCenter want restaurants, retail

North Nashville Community Plan asks what's next for area? By Andy Humbles • THE TENNESSEAN • April 12, 2010 MetroCenter has grown as a daytime business and industrial area, but the environment in North Nashville hasn’t supported additional residential development or brought in sit-down restaurants and retail. That could be the next step for the neighborhood, home to Watkins College of Art, Design & Film and the Tennessee Titans practice facility. “Strictly daytime activity,’’ a North Nashville resident Hershell Warren said about MetroCenter, and that opinion seems to be a consensus. “Retail failed and residential never developed,’’ he said. Warren is among those residents who are actively participating in a series of meetings about the North Nashville Community Plan held by the Metro Planning Department. Meetings began earlier this year and will continue into September, when a document will be drafted. Each meeting focuses on specific areas of North Nashville, and the last one on March 30 dealt with MetroCenter. No longer a ghost town Back in 1999, the Fountain Square Shopping Center and with its restaurants, stores and movie theaters closed completely, leaving it something of a ghost town. All of that has changed as MetroCenter has flourished as a business and industrial area. Several businesses have office parks there. Watkins College moved into the old Fountain Square building. The Tennessee Titans practice facility and offices increased visibility. Fast-food restaurants and car sales opened. MetroCenter now has about 12,500 employees and just a 4.3 percent vacancy rate, according to Planning Department figures. “All of a sudden, it’s been discovered again as a well-kept secret,’’ Councilman Frank Harrison said, “but it is still a daytime type venue.’’ Several apartment complexes are the only residential footprints within MetroCenter, estimated to be 835 acres. Workers have needs Retail options that would allow MetroCenter workers to run errands and shop in the same place they work were suggested by Lori Rochelle, who works in the corridor at Southeast Community Capital. Rita McDonald of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce believes a big box anchor like a Target would draw well within MetroCenter and from much of North Nashville. And that could multiply with additional retail and sit-down restaurants. “Metro Center has been identified as an ideal location because of the large lots still remaining, access to daytime employees, access to much of North Nashville, and because it is already perceived by many to be safe and inviting,’’ Metro planner Tifinie Adams said. Retail options and better pedestrian access could help better connect nearby neighborhoods like Germantown and Salemtown and provide further rooftop support for retail. What's next? Adams presented pictures of Atlantic Station in Atlanta and Belmar in Denver as mixed use communities with commercial and retail amenities and residential living that MetroCenter could use as a model for the community plan update. Adams emphasizes important aspects to those communities are residential areas within walking distance, or part of, the office, retail and commercial components of such a mixed use development. Much of the available land at MetroCenter or such projects would need to be rezoned from industrial uses. More commercial and retail amenities have been discussion points throughout the North Nashville update sessions. Discussion points have included Jefferson Street being a tourist draw with entertainment and small business and Buchanan Street with more daily-needs like grocery stores, pharmacies and cleaners. The next meeting is May 6.

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