Ryman Lofts' Affordability Draws Musicians and Artists

02/13/2013 -

Ryman Lofts'affordability draws musicians and artists

Written by Andy Humble

Artists trying to establish themselves generally don’t make big money or have an income that can be considered steady.

Creative types live in East Nashville or Antioch, affordable parts of town, says one local singer, who plans to apply for an apartment at Ryman Lofts, a 60-unit complex set to open in the fall of 2012. It’s designed to be an affordable community for artists and musicians within the Rolling Mill Hill redevelopment project.

"No matter what accolades you’ve had, you still have lean months," said Ruby Amanfu, whose work includes being a member of an a cappella group, The Collective, that has appeared on NBC’s The Sing-Off this season.

Amanfu hopes she makes the cut to become a Ryman Lofts resident, to become part of something bigger than her own career.

"It’s about camaraderie, not competition," she said. "I think it will change the game for artists … musicians, painters, dancers. It will put Nashville on a worldwide stage of recognition."

Ryman Lofts is a Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency project downtown on Hermitage Avenue, near Middleton Street and the Cumberland River. Originally, the site was the campus of the old Nashville General Hospital. The overall project includes renovation of six buildings completed in the 1940s on the site known as the Historic Trolley Barns, to be used predominantly for office and retail space that also will have an artistic and philanthropic purpose.

MDHA spokeswoman Julie Oaks said a committee will be formed with members from different areas of the art community and an attorney to review applications. To earn an apartment, residents must earn no more than 60 percent of the median income of Davidson County and convince the committee they are legitimate working artists.

"Some will be waiting tables on the side, too, but the main point of the committee is to make sure this person is really working to make a living as a serious artist," Oaks said. "There isn’t an affordable community with a preference for artists. Many other cities have it. No place else is called Music City; that alone tells you the importance of the creative arts in Nashville."

Prices haven’t been set, but rough initial estimates are $600 a month for a one- bedroom unit and $900 for a three- bedroom unit.

The idea for such an arts community originated out of the Music City Music Council, an organization that promotes Nashville’s music identity.

"Anything that makes ways to make (Nashville) more compelling, more friendly and makes it easier to come in and apply their craft is probably a good thing," said Randy Goodman, co-chairman of the Music City Music Council.

At a groundbreaking ceremony for the apartment complex last week, Mayor Karl Dean predicted the project will be a "center of innovation and creativity."

'Going to explode'

Emma, a fast-rising email marketing company with about 85 employees in Nashville, was recently announced as an anchor tenant and will take up two of the Historic Trolley Barn buildings near Ryman Lofts.

Other tenants announced include the Center for Nonprofit Management, Hands On Nashville, The Entrepreneur Center, Centric Architects and MDHA. The Historic Trolley Barns are 75 percent leased, according to Bert Mathews of The Mathews Group, which is working on part of the project.

The renovation and mix of tenants represent an attempt to create "a c ommunity of like-minded companies," Mathews said.

The philanthropic and art components were reasons Emma chose to move to Rolling Mill Hill from its location on Eighth Avenue.

Some residential projects are already complete at Rolling Hill Mill — including the Art Deco, the Victorian, the Metro and Nance Place apartments.

"It’s just starting to percolate,’’ said Art Deco resident Josh Mock, 27, who also will work at the Trolley Barns for Emma. "It’s not much of a neighborhood yet, but I feel like it’s going to explode."

Restaurants wooed

The development has a 3,500-foot greenway, partly built during initial construction near the apartments. It currently ends between the Art Deco and Victorian buildings. A switchback link will be built near the Historic Trolley Barns, where the greenway will extend before connecting with the Korean Veterans Boulevard Bridge, Oaks said.

Mathews has had discussions with multiple restaurants about opening at the site.

"I hope it will be a destination for people to come and enjoy the river, have a good time, work with different nonprofits and investigate entrepreneurialism," Mathews said. "I hope activity up there will be valuable to the community, whether (it’s) outreach, a place to work or a place to gather.’’

Contact Andy Humbles at ahumbles@tennessean.com or 615-726-5939.


I have a rule about real estate: there’s a time to buy and a time to sell.  The trick is knowing when to do that.

You just have to have feel about it.” – Bob Mathews