Exploring Nashville's urban renaissance

By Gary Gaston

When I moved back to Nashville in 2002, I strong-armed my best friend Ryan into becoming roommates. We set out in search of the uber-cool bachelor pad--and didn’t have to look long. Stumbling across the newly opened Mercury View Lofts in The Gulch, we knew we had found it.

We chose the building because of its clean, minimal design, amazing views, proximity to our Downtown offices, and the promised restaurants, bars and shops that would later (unfortunately too late for us) open.

What we did not quite realize at the time is that we were urban pioneers of sorts.  Even in 2002, downtown living was a relatively new concept for Nashville.  At the time, Nashville severely lagged behind most of its peer cities in the number of units it claimed in downtown (to be truthful, Nashville has a bit of a disadvantage in the way it geographically calculates downtown residents - but that’s another story). 

Ryan and I ventured back to The Gulch last month to attend a preview event at the new Terrazzo Building – and boy, have the times changed. In 2002, just over 2,000 people called downtown home; by the end of 2009 over 5,000 people will live downtown – a whopping 250 percent increase in just seven years.

The Viridian Building (completed in 2005) introduced Nashville to the commercially viable high-rise condo building. Complete with concierge, urban market, on-site parking garage, rooftop workout room, club and pool, it brought to Nashville a level of convenience and sophistication that many of our peer cities had long enjoyed.  The project dropped a new neighborhood onto Church Street and broadened the concept of downtown living for Nashvillians. If you have not been to one of the rooftop pool parties yet – lie, steal or cheat your way into an invitation. 

Further punctuation marks on our skyline soon followed with The Encore, ICON, Terrazzo, and the soon to open Velocity in the Gulch. 

In addition to these large-scale residential projects, numerous existing historic buildings have been renovated in downtown over the past five years.  The unique character of these units is one of the hallmarks of a successful historic renovation project. Notable examples include Lofts at the Exchange, Church Street Lofts, The Stalhman, The Quarters, The Kress, Art Avenue Lofts and The Phoenix, as well as the soon to open Lofts at Noel Court.

A great way to take in a comprehensive overview of what downtown living has to offer is during the Sixth Annual “Live It Up! Downtown Home Tour” held on Sunday, April 19, from noon - 6 pm.  The tour features 12 different stops (some stops feature multiple units). 

Whether you are interested in purchasing a unit, snooping around for the latest in home décor ideas, or just want to get a glimpse of what it is like to live downtown, the home tour offers the best way to explore Nashville’s urban renaissance.

Gary Gaston is the Design Studio Director of the Nashville Civic Design Center and serves on the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Committee.  He lives with his partner and dog in East Nashville.

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