Trolley Barns could bring industry groups together

02/25/2013 -

From the Nashville Business Journal:

Trolley barns could bring industry groups together

Premium content from Nashville Business Journal - by April Wortham , Staff Writer

Date: Friday, December 3, 2010, 5:00am CST


Commercial Real Estate

From Music City to City of Entrepreneurs, Health Care Capital to Techville, Nashville’s nicknames have a common thread of creativity. They soon may have a common address.

Groups representing some of the city’s largest industries are planning or considering moves to the trolley barns, a collection of 1930s-era buildings undergoing redevelopment on the banks of the Cumberland River just south of downtown as part of the Rolling Mill Hill development.

Nashville Entrepreneur Center is already on board, as is the Nashville Technology Council and e-mail marketing firm and local entrepreneurial success story Emma.

"Our goal is to put together a campus for the creative class," said Michael Burcham, president and CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

Others may soon follow. The Center for Nonprofit Management and Hands On Nashville have signed letters of intent to lease space at the barns.

Baptist Healing Trust, the grant-making foundation created by the 2002 sale of Baptist Hospital System to Ascension Health, is "exploring" a move to the trolley barns, said CEO Catherine Self. Other possible tenants include the Nashville Health Care Council and year- old Nashville Music Council.

Bringing together some of the city’s top creative minds on one site would encourage collaboration among industries that often operate in silos, said Janet Miller, chiefeconomic development and marketing officer for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. She compares the concept to a coffee house, with a "vibe and energy" that gives birth to new ideas — and, hopefully, new businesses.

Miller noted the health care and technology councils have been working with the entrepreneur center since it launched more than a year ago. And the music council, while an advisory body at present, also is building ties with the center.

"The fact that all of these organizations and initiatives are growing up together bodes well for a true collaboration, not just names on buildings close to each other," she said.

Momentum for troubled project

It also bodes well for Rolling Mill Hill, whose condominium component fell into receivership last year after a Wisconsin-based holding company representing the project’s investors defaulted on $21.4 million in construction loans. Primary lender Bank of America bought back the condos, which are currently on the market.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Development Housing Authority, which owns the 34-acre site, is proceeding with construction of Nance Place, a 109-unit work force apartment complex at the site. Pre-leasing is underway, and the first tenants are expected to move in early next year. A third residential component is under design. Ryman Lofts, scheduled to begin construction next summer, will provide affordable housing for artists.

The entrepreneur center, which assists budding entrepreneurs until they’re ready to pursue venture capital, already has made clear its plans to move to the trolley barns from its office at 105 Broadway. Last month, the center kicked off a campaign to raise the estimated $3 million needed to pay for the move. It’s part of the center’s larger campaign to raise up to $8 million.

Sophie Moore, the health care council’s spokeswoman, said that while the group has no immediate plans to leave its current location at 211 Commerce St., "We understand ...there are a number of organizations interested in the trolley barn space that would create a dynamic energy from a diverse group of nonprofits."

The list of prospective tenants is "very purposeful," said Bert Mathews, chairman of The Mathews Co., which is handling leasing and development of the trolley barns on behalf of MDHA.

"We’re trying to work with the whole campus up there to make it a place for like-minded folks so they can build synergistically," Mathews said.

The trolley barns, the former home of Metro’s government vehicle fleet center, offer a view of the Cumberland River and easy access to interstates and downtown. But it’s the idea of working in close proximity with organizations with similar goals that most groups find attractive.

Groups can work together

Lewis Lavine, president of Nashville-based Center for Nonprofit Management, said people often don’t realize that three-quarters of the center’s income is earned revenue, as opposed to donations, and many of the nonprofits it works with have close relationships with private businesses.

"We can lend an excitement by being together in terms of bringing together both nonprofit and for-profit entrepreneurial leaders. Because in this era, both sectors require help from the other," Lavine said.

Brian Williams, executive director of Hands On Nashville, said it’s possible the volunteer organization and groups such as the nonprofit center could share office functions, allowing them to put more of their resources toward their missions. But the greater benefits are harder to quantify, he said.

"For us, this is really about the intangible opportunities that can result through closer-knit collaboration," Williams said.

The letters of intent represent more than 70 percent of the combined 85,000 square feet available in the barns’ six separate buildings, Mathews said. His company is working to convert those letters into leases and hopes to begin renovating the barns in the first quarter of 2011. MDHA has spent $12 million to date on the Rolling Mill Hill project, a price tag that includes construction of a greenway and improvements to the site’s infrastructure and adjacent Hermitage Avenue. MDHA’s budget for the trolley barns is $2 million.

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