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VOL. 38 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 24, 2014

Tony Giarratana: Having fun, taking risks, reshaping Nashville's skyline

By Bill Lewis

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Nashville’s skyline has barely changed since 2008, the year Pinnacle Tower was completed. That’s too long for Tony Giarratana.

The developer who built downtown’s first high-rise apartment building – the Cumberland – and the first condominium tower – the Viridian – had announced plans to launch a half-dozen new projects in the downtown, SoBro and Midtown districts. Together, those projects have a value of at least $500 million.

Now, that estimate is already out of date.

Giarratana has added yet another development to the mix, a 17-floor apartment building at 1818 Church St., a few blocks west of downtown.

Giarratana says he’s in no rush to start building again now that the economic downturn is over. It just looks that way.

505 CST, a 38-story, 605-foot project planned for Church Street, would include 700,000 square feet of Class-A office space, a 200-room, five-star hotel, 6,000 square feet of ballroom space and underground parking for 1,000 cars.

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“While unable to secure financing during the downturn, we continued to prepare plans for our properties,” he says. “What seems like a rapid-fire series of apartment, office and hotel projects is actually the result of years of careful study. It is only now that the market and financing is again available and that we are able to move forward with our plans.”

Ambition doesn’t automatically equal success, even in a place called America’s “It City” by the New York Times. Giarratana announced his projects at about the same time another developer’s high-profile project, Alex Palmer’s West End Summit, seemed unable to launch.

The West End site where Palmer hopes to build 900,000 square feet of space in two 20-story buildings is quiet while the developer seeks financing. Anchor tenant HCA will instead move into office space to be built in the area known as the North Gulch at Charlotte Pike and 11th Avenue N.

In the high-stakes business of commercial real estate development, Giarratana is no stranger to disappointment. He was the public face of May Town, the proposed $4 billion development in rural Bells Bend city planners rejected in 2009.

A downtown project, Signature Tower, which at 70 stories would have been the tallest building in the United States outside of New York and Chicago, was set to launch in 2007 but was grounded by the changing economy.

Today, Giarratana sees an opportunity to develop another project at Signature’s former Church Street site. That building, named 505 CST, will have 700,000 square feet of office space, a 200-room hotel and a conference center.

Additional projects include:

  • Sheet Music, a 41-story mixed-used tower at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Demonbreun, will include offices and space for residences or a hotel.
  • SoBro Tower, at 202 Second Ave. S., will have more than 300 apartments. At 32 stories, it will be one of the city’s tallest buildings.
  • A 400-room Marriott hotel near the new Music City Center convention center and apartment developments in Midtown, including innovative micro apartments with just a few hundred square feet of living space.

For many developers, launching one of those projects would be enough. They are impressed by Giarratana’s confidence.

“It’s passion. It’s persistence,” says Tom Frye, Nashville office managing director for CBRE, a commercial real estate firm.

“Tony is the real deal,” he adds.

Giarratana’s apartments will be in the red-hot Midtown and SoBro neighborhoods, where demand for new residences is strong. They will have to compete with up to 8,000 apartments coming on line this year between Gallatin and Murfreesboro. There are even luxury apartments being built in Mt. Juliet and Spring Hill.

“I don’t think that many units have come on line in Nashville,” Frye says. “It’s certainly going to test the limits of demand.”

Sheet Music is a proposed 41-story mixed-used tower at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Demonbreun

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If Midtown and SoBro are hungry for new apartments, downtown is starving for new Class A office space.

Even during the downturn, when no one was willing to risk breaking ground, the city’s economy kept growing as businesses expanded and people relocated here for their careers. Now they need offices to work in.

“Those people aren’t moving here to retire, they’re moving here to work,” says Doug Brandon, regional managing principal, Cassidy Turley, a commercial real estate firm.

To keep up with growth, the city needs 750,000 to 1 million square feet of Class A office space a year, he says. Another two or two and a-half years will go by before projects begun today are finished.

“You’re creating all this pent-up demand,” Brandon says.

That’s the demand that Giarratana hopes to tap.

“I love his fire. I love his enthusiasm,” Brandon says. “He’s come up with some great ideas.”

Giarratana had a vision of what downtown could be, Frye says. Not long before he built the Cumberland and the Viridian on Church Street, the city had a law against living in the Central Business District.

“At 5 o’clock, you could shoot a cannon down Church Street and not hit anyone because everybody went home,” Frye recalls.

Before it became a tourist destination, Lower Broadway was overrun by peep shows and porn shops. SoBro was best known for vacant lots and the Thermal Transfer Plant, where the city burned its garbage to heat downtown buildings.

Bridgestone Arena, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Schermerhorn Symphony Center and Pinnacle changed that. Giarratana participated by co-developing SoBro’s Encore condominiums.

“Now there are people all over the street at all hours of the night,” Frye says.

Those developments changed Nashville’s appearance and the way people live. After a six-year wait, the city’s skyline may be changing again.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 0 0
MORTGAGES 0 0 0
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 0 0
BUILDING PERMITS 0 0 0
BANKRUPTCIES 0 0 0
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 0 0
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0