By SUSAN LEATHERS
As the City of Brentwood celebrates its 50th birthday, it’s fitting that we go back to the beginning to understand the city’s cautiously undertaken but almost unimaginable transformation from a sleepy little suburb to a vibrant, very deliberately and carefully planned destination.
After decades of nurturing a community that emphasizes and cherishes its residential nature, Brentwood has taken measured strides toward the future, most recently envisioning commercial development that would support, and not overwhelm, the city’s neighborhoods and green spaces.
In the early 2000s Brentwood invested several years and thousands of dollars into a reimagined and revitalized vision of what “downtown Brentwood” could become.
They called it Towne Center.
The dream? A pedestrian-friendly district filled with brick-faced shops, restaurants and offices. And yes, even the possibility of – gasp – residential options that looked far different than the city’s suburban, one-house-one-acre tradition.
A new two-block city street, christened Town Center Way and lined with wide sidewalks, paved the way for other improved streets to follow.
Alas, with too many individual landowners and too few tracts large enough to make any serious redevelopment feasible, the Town Center vision began to evaporate right along with the “e” in Town. Top that with the Great Recession, and you might have thought you’d come to the end of this story.
Not so fast.
In many ways, what didn’t happen back then in the district roughly bordered by Franklin Road, Old Hickory Boulevard, I-65 and Church Street has been a blessing.
The district has blossomed into a go-to destination for interior designers and individuals alike. Within blocks of each other, the local owners of Spruce, Vignette, Snooty Fox and Brentwood Interiors have created unique shops offering a broad range of furnishings and home goods in addition to whimsical gifts and apparel.
Alicia Helm took a “leap of faith” 10 years ago when she and her former partner opened Spruce in Brentwood Station – the city’s original train depot — on Church Street.
“We found the right spot for the right price and that really helped with our success. The upside of Town Center not happening is you can hold onto these locally owned boutiques and businesses,” says Helm, who couldn’t afford to rent space in a new building or even one of Brentwood’s established shopping centers.
The respective owners of Local Taco and Judge Bean’s Barbecue transformed tired restaurant buildings into hot spots for locals hungry for new dining experiences. Stacey Rhodes’ exclusive fashion boutique moved into a transformed former bicycle shop on Franklin Road.
And yes, a handful of new buildings went up too, all built to the city’s new C-4 Town Center standards.
Among them is the Pinnacle Bank built at Town Center’s official gateway — the corner of Franklin Road and Town Center Way.
Fast forward to today and the almost-complete, 134-room Springhill Suites hotel has already changed the Town Center skyline. Developer Rakesh Govindji, president of Pinnacle Hotels, can’t wait for it to open.
“When we originally purchased this land, we had a vision of adding not only the hotel but also walkable retail and great office space,” he shares. “It’s exciting to be putting the finishing touches on that vision.”
NAI Nashville has already announced it will move into the adjoining office space later this year. Devin McClendon, a Brentwood native and president of the commercial real estate firm, can’t wait either.
“We are not only excited to be a tenant in the project, we’re excited to be working with the restaurants and office tenants interested in joining us.”
Town Center’s first and only residential project within the district’s original footprint – a two-story, mixed-use project – is well under way on the corner opposite of Pinnacle Bank. Several blocks away, the 1.12-acre lot at the corner of Wilson Pike Circle and Church Street where a forlorn white house has stood empty for more than 20 years finally sold last summer. The price? $2.8 million.
Though the original Town Center district is finally beginning to transform into a modified version of what city leaders envisioned early this century, their decision in 2012 to expand the district’s boundary spurred other, even bigger, changes that have been game changers.
Hill Center Brentwood
Ten years ago, the Hill Center was a typical 1970s-era strip mall. The long-abandoned Murray Ohio corporate headquarters sat empty beside it. Across Franklin Road, historic Mooreland Mansion stood quietly in the middle of a nondescript office park. Even Brentwood Place, the Kroger- and TJ Maxx-anchored shopping center, seemed tired.
Today the drab Murray building and the Tennessee Baptist Convention headquarters are gone, replaced by the shiny, new Hill Center Brentwood, which completed the first phase of its mixed-use development in 2016.
In the mood for Mexican? Try Uncle Julio’s – but expect a wait. Prefer breakfast? Give Holler and Dash — Cracker Barrel’s new biscuit-themed concept – a try. Resolved to get out of your meatloaf and pot roast funk? Sign up for a cooking class or demonstration at Sur La Tab.
Here you’ll find unique women’s fashion boutiques — several of which are new to the Nashville market – along with a yoga studio and, for good measure, Nashville-favorite Jeni’s Ice Cream shop. And that’s just a sampling of the stores, restaurants and offices now open.
Another new hotel will open with additional office space once Phase II, now under way, is complete.
Meanwhile, a just-completed facelift of the original Hill Center, anchored by Fresh Market and Tennessee’s only REI store, is as busy as ever. Growing competition hasn’t dampened the popularity of Brentwood stalwart, Puffy Muffin, where Chicken Amaretto and custom-designed cakes that defy imagination still reign.
Across busy Franklin Road, which now thankfully includes multiple stop lights with pedestrian crossings across its five lanes, Boyle Investment Partners’ 2013 investment in what was then Synergy business park has paid off.
Today the existing office park, rebranded CityPark, surrounds six new retail buildings and a 126-room Hilton Garden Inn. A diverse mix of tenants line a transformed Executive Center Drive with historic Moreland Manor as its anchor. Folks hooked on Blaze Pizza’s fast-serve, wood-fired pizza often wind their way out the door and around the corner of busy restaurant. Across the street, Burger Fi features grass-fed beef burgers and fresh cut fries at its first Tennessee location. Just Love coffee shop gives nearby Starbucks a run for its money as the “it” place to meet friends or conduct an interview.
But restaurants, which also include Franklin-based 55 South, and regional chains Newk’s Eatery and Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, are just part of the CityPark mix.
Exercise studios, a jewelry shop and a home goods and gift store and more line the divided Executive Drive. This summer look for a return of the Thursday night Farmer’s Market in the grassy courtyard that fronts the mansion.
The adjacent 390-unit Tapestry welcomed its first residents in 2016. The lock-and-go lifestyle of the rental community is home to a diverse mix of residents, who range from “trailing grandparents,” single parents and young professionals.
When Stout, an upscale burger restaurant opened in Tapestry’s dedicated retail space, it quickly became a “Cheers”-like watering hole for Tapestry residents and locals alike.
Longtime Brentwood resident Sheila Cleveland called Tapestry home for over two years while her “new” ‘60s ranch home in nearby Meadow Lake subdivision underwent a major remodel.
“I loved everything about it,” says Cleveland, “especially the amenities: the workout space, the pools, and the great camaraderie among the residents.”
Most of all, she loved its location.
“Between Uber and walking, you can get to just about anywhere you need to go.”
That’s the main reason she bought in Meadow Lake, one of the city’s oldest subdivisions.
“I’m about the same distance to Starbucks as I was when I lived in Tapestry,” she says with a smile. The Williamson County School Board member walks there most mornings to meet friends and constituents.
Not to be left behind, Brentwood Place shopping center has undergone its own revitalization – several in fact – over the past decade.
In 2013, it welcomed Tennessee’s first Nordstrom Rack. Next door, TJ Maxx/Home Goods remains one of the chain’s most successful stores. SteinMart returned to the city, taking over most of the space Kroger vacated when it relocated to Peartree Village shopping center two blocks north. (Speaking of Kroger, it’s now home to one of the city’s busiest bars, nestled between the meat department and the store’s large wine and beer section. Seriously.)
Cross Corner sports pub is gone, replaced by Ludlow & Prime steak and seafood house. A diverse mix of smaller retail and restaurant options line the busy center, offering everything from fine-linen Christening gowns and running shoes to massages and makeovers.
Heading back to the original Town Center, we ask Helm if Spruce has experienced any negative effects from the commercial boom and new competition.
She pauses to think about the question, but after a few seconds, still can’t come up with one.
“My apparel sales are up. Business is good. We’ve been here 10 years – can you believe that? Best of all, we are a destination shop and our customers are loyal,” she says with an authentic air of appreciation.
And she can’t wait to learn what restaurant will be opening in the nearby Springhill Suites. “We still need more homegrown restaurants. I hope it’s a good one!”