The Dell: (Re)creational Heart of Nashville

for the ULI Hines Urban Design Competition, 2014
with Tom Ng, Jamie Usas, Lirad Kligman, and Justin Sabourin

Brief: to transform this largely underused area [Sulphur Dell, Nashville, Tennessee] —by taking advantage of its adjacency to downtown and the state Capitol complex, its location near the Cumberland river and the Bicentennial Capitol Mall, and its historical assets—into a thriving urban neighborhood that highlights its locational advantages, including the new baseball stadium, to create a resilient and healthy community. Your proposal, in its placement of land uses and discussion of building siting and design, should address how to build a neighbourhood that can withstand future flood events.

Sulphur Dell has long been an under-appreciated part of Nashville’s downtown core, despite being just minutes from the central business district. With the success of the recently located farmer’s market, new plans for a state library and museum to reinforce the Mall Park and the imminent return of Nashville’s professional baseball team, Sulphur Dell is set to become an attractive destination for the re/creation of the healthy city.

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Our master plan begins by establishing an active, pedestrian-friendly circuit that travels around the whole Sulphur Dell site, touching upon all the key civic and community facilities, from the Farmers’ Market in the west to the riverfront to the east. At the core of this circuit is the new baseball stadium and our proposal extends the health and recreational theme towards the river with a major community centre and an urban park connected to the Music City Bike Path. We envision before and after a baseball game, 10,000 spectators will flow to/from the stadium and be encouraged to explore and enjoy “The Dell” following the circuit through the site.

Section through proposed Jackson Street revitilaztion.

Section through proposed Jackson Street revitalization.

The Jackson Street Promenade

The Jackson Street Promenade

To the north of the circuit is a new mid-rise commercial district providing services and employment for nearly 2000 people. Jackson St. becomes the main commercial corridor along the north, extending directly down to the river front, touching upon all the most important buildings.

Flood Resiliency Plan

Flood Resiliency Plan

The Music City Parkway with Artist in Residence Studios behind

The Music City Parkway with Artist in Residence Studios behind

On the eastern edge of the site, we have repurposed the riverfront condos as an artists’ live-work residence and opened up the ironworks shed to become a multi-function public space for fairs, markets, etc., framing one edge of the park. Furthermore, 1st Ave is closed off to traffic and becomes a pedestrian plaza. Food trucks will park here during baseball games, and a couple of historic railcars rest on the preserved train tracks as visitor attractions.

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Where Stockyard Boulevard meets the ironworks, we create a new opening through the building with a pier jutting into the river. 1st Ave also becomes the northern terminus of Cumberland River Greenway, encouraging visitors to come walking and biking along the river to and from Downtown.

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Building Typologies

To the south is a new residential quarter of mid-rise apartments and townhouses, designed to establish a more intimate sense of local community for over 3000 people. Our housing development mixes a diverse demographic population and provides a variety of affordable accommodation for the local workforce. Achieving LEED ND accreditation is an essential aspect of our development to receive +1 storey height bonuses. Harrison St. becomes the unifying residential corridor, starting at the Market is extended to meet the river and arrives at a new riverside park for the locals, directly on the river.

The new central urban park accommodates diverse activities from play to musical performances with a land-formed amphitheater. The park is also designed as an environmental “sponge” to naturally collect and diffuse floodwater from the area, forming an essential aspect of the site’s environmental resiliency.

Financial Plan

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Nashville, Tennessee is poised to deliver unprecedented growth over the next several decades, and The Dell development is positioned to capitalize on it. Developer owned condo inventory is depleted, rental occupancy remains high at 98%, and a healthy unemployment rate are indicators that Sulphur Dell will absorb the supply of multi-use product released over the next 10 years. It is forecast that in the next 5 years alone, Downtown Nashville can absorb an additional 700 residential units annually, while retail and office space will be absorbed at 1.4% per annum.

Development of The Dell begins with the property owners of the Sulphur Dell Development Corporation combining the value of their parcels as equity ($20.2m). In addition, Covenant Capital Group and Baupost Group, both private equity funds with interests in real estate, will be approached to invest equity into the project worth $30m each. This project is well aligned with the institutional goals of these private equity funds, as it is a well-collateralized capital project in a strong real estate market. The combined investors’ equity is leveraged to secure a $320.8m construction loan at a rate of 200 basis points above Prime, which will pay for development of phase one. Once development in the first phase is complete, a permanent take-out loan will be issued to amortize the financing expenses over a 30-year period. This process occurs once more during the second phase of development. Financing will be almost entirely private, with the only subsidy amounting to a $77m TIF. IRR is forecast to deliver 10% unleveraged before tax and 22% leveraged before tax.

Development of The Dell is strategically phased so that retail and office space will capture the increased traffic generated by the new baseball stadium as of 2017. Phase I is meant to capitalize on the city’s demand for office and retail space, as Jackson Street Promenade will become a tree-lined hub for shopping and entertainment. As restaurants, retail, health and technology-based businesses populate the area, we project retail and residential prices to steadily rise. To capitalize on the foreseeable growing demand for The Dell as a desirable residential neighborhood, Phase II will offer a mix of affordable and market-priced residences for rent and sale, as well as generous green space, community center and amenities. To round out the mix of development, an affordable artist in residence live-work space will become available near the end of the 10-year development, further adding to the artistic desirability of the neighborhood. In total, there will be 908 rental units (10% affordable, below 60% of Area Median Income), 1178 for-sale housing and 44 artist live-work residences.

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Further Projects