Harpeth Square Development estimated as Franklin’s biggest construction project

from franklinhomepage.com on December 1, 2014

The Harpeth Square Development, an estimated $80 to $85 million project if approved, was the subject of a special meeting with the City of Franklin’s Design Review Committee on Monday night in City Hall.

The Harpeth Square Development, an estimated $80 to $85 million project if approved, was the subject of a special meeting with the City of Franklin’s Design Review Committee on Monday night in City Hall.

If the project is approved it will be the biggest construction undertaking in the city’s history, spanning four separate city blocks and including a hotel, residential and retail complex.

One of the principle investors of the project, Rod Heller, spoke to the committee about the financial challenges that the project will face. However, Heller, who is a Franklin native, was optimistic about what the complex will bring to Franklin.

He informed the committee that the investors are planning to keep ownership of the complex and pass it down to their children and grandchildren.

Heller said he is determined to ensure the project “stands the test of time,” and will be built entirely of concrete. However, the financial burdens imposed by the city codes, actualized in road impact fees, parkland dedication fees, and parking requirements, will mean the investors will have to pony up millions of dollars before the project begins.

“Before we even begin working out a revenue generating structure, we have $12,000,000 in costs that will need to be absorbed,” Heller said.

The Landmark Community Bank building on Main Street also poses financial challenges. Heller said if he was an “independent actor” he would side with those who would like to see the building torn down. But, the bank has a five-year lease that expires in 2019, so the building will likely stand in its current location for the foreseeable future.

“It would be almost irresponsible to tear it down,” Heller said.

Although the property the bank sits on was purchased by Heller and his investor group, finding a suitable location for the bank and expense of the lease would add cost to an already expensive project.

The planned complex will be 54 feet at its tallest location, reaching four stories in places. But, local developer Greg Gamble showed several other buildings in downtown Franklin’s historic 16 blocks with similar heights.

For example, the Masonic Lodge on 2nd Avenue reaches 56 feet to the top of the building, and the Landmark Books building cupola reaches 60 feet.

Gamble said the features the complex will be composed of 19,000 square feet of retail space, a 115-room hotel, 151 rooms of apartments ranging from 900 to 1,200 sq. ft. in size and a major restaurant location.

Mike Hathaway, the architect for the project, led the DRC along with Gamble on a digital tour of the planned site so DRC members could imagine what the structure would look like if they were driving in a car in downtown Franklin.

“If you come around Bridge Street, you start to see the multi-family units, which have a Browne Stone look,” Hathaway said. “Come around 2nd Avenue and you can see the hotel.”

Multiple views of the structure were provided so DRC members could not only get a sense for how the structure will blend in with the surrounding buildings, but also the design elements Hathaway created.

His idea was to give the structure the feeling that it isn’t just one giant concrete slab, but rather multiple structures that are separate and have unique architectural features.

On Main Street, Hathaway’s plans call for a “jewel box building,” which will be directly adjacent to and a modern glass replica of the Landmark Books building.

Behind these two structures will be the entryway into the hotel, as well as an alley composed of retail shops and public places.

The planned four story parking garage, which will have an estimated 550 spaces, was brought up in previous meetings when Hathaway and Gamble said the garage will not be free, although there will be dedicated spaces for hotel guests and apartment residents.

Gamble said there are plans to eventually envelop the City Farmhouse building on Bridge Street into the project, though the group has not yet been able to successfully acquire the property.

“We’ll set the tone with Harpeth Square as to what can be developed there in the future,” Gamble said.

Some DRC members, like Susan Besser, had some concerns of the project.

“I am struggling with the height,” Besser said. “I do not think I could support four stories.”

Ward 1 Alderman Margaret Martin disagreed, saying, “this is the biggest thing we’ve ever done – ever.”

Martin was also exciting by the fact that the developers of the project are Franklin natives.

“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “I’m sick of people coming from San Antonio and building something. We have to clean up their mess.”

Heritage Foundation CEO Mary Pearce said the project reminded her of the financial improvement to Charleston, South Carolina.

“The current mayor of Charleston said that the financials did not stabilize until the hotels came,” she said. “The principle of getting people to stay in your urban core is something we get asked for every day. All of our vacation rentals by owner’s are exploding.”

Senate Hospitality of Brentwood has been hired to preside over the planned 115-room hotel. They will be in charge of marketing the hotel, as well as hiring the 70-80 full and part-time employees.

Monday night’s meeting is just the beginning of a long journey for the Harpeth Square project, whose fate will ultimately be decided by the Board of Mayor and Alderman, most likely in 2015.

Michael Ackley covers the City of Franklin for Homepage Media Group. Contact him at Michael@franklinhomepage.com.