October 26, 2023

How developers of mixed-use campuses decide what goes where

As Nashville grows, many of the city’s industrial and commercial sites have transformed into large-scale mixed-use projects. But what makes these projects work? How do they become more livable, pedestrian-friendly spaces? At two prominent mixed-use campuses, developers have transformed large parcels into spaces where people can connect — their design choices have ultimately created new lifestyles for residents and visitors.

Jeff Haynes is the managing partner for Boyle, the developer behind Capitol View in The Gulch. He tells the Post that the 32-acre urban district was previously “an assemblage of 88 parcels.”

“We had 30 different land transactions, with a car dealership, a karaoke club, a convenience market, a strip club and odd industrial uses,” he says.

Environmental assessments revealed some soil contamination from the site’s industrial history. After purchasing the parcels, contractors removed hundreds of tons of contaminated materials from the site.

“We had a blank slate to plan an urban mixed-use project from the ground up,” Haynes says. “You don’t often get that unique opportunity, and we had a stewardship obligation to plan it.”

Capitol View now includes office space, retail, 378 apartment units and a Hampton Inn and Suites. It’s also the homebase for HCA Healthcare, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. and other organizations.

Boyle convinced HCA officials to add ground-floor retail to their office building. The developer in turn decided ground-floor retail was appropriate throughout the footprint, changing the feel of the finished product.

A Publix grocery store was another important addition: “We wanted to build a sense of community that was reasonably affordable, where people could live at Capitol View and walk to work at HCA and walk to the grocery store and then walk to our park [on] the greenway and never get in their cars,” says Haynes.

Beyond the office and retail space, Capitol View also features a park dedicated to suffragist Frankie Pierce. There are volleyball courts, a dog park and other athletic areas. Early in the development process, Boyle extended Nashville’s greenway through Capitol View at the request of then-Mayor Karl Dean, and donated land to the city to build Frankie Pierce Park.  

When asked about what makes Capitol View work, Haynes credits project architect Cooper Carry and designer Kiser Vogrin. “I don’t think enough credit goes to the original architects and land planners,” he says.

“Everything from the width of the street lanes and sidewalks to the width of our outdoor restaurant seating all played a part in creating an urban, walkable, comfortable, safe, pedestrian-friendly environment.”

West Nashville’s One City (styled ONEC1TY) also started with a sizable parcel of land, but developers designed the area with a particular vision: healthy living. The 20-acre development was a new venture for health care-focused Cambridge Holdings, which wanted to build a community focused on “making healthy choices the easy choices,” including by giving residents and visitors easy access to healthy food, green space, exercise and community. One City was Cambridge’s first mixed-use development outside the health care sector; the company typically builds and manages medical facilities.

One City also focused on sustainable design: It’s one of the first LEED Neighborhood Developments in Tennessee and includes five acres set aside for green space (about a quarter of the total development). When Cambridge disassembled a lumber yard on one of One City’s parcels, it reclaimed the wood materials to use in public spaces and buildings. And when the development is completed, it will have fewer flood-prone impervious areas than when it started, according to Cambridge.

Alan Aschenbrenner, senior vice president of Cambridge, explains that healthy living went into unexpected parts of the development, like circadian rhythm lighting in apartments. The company also focused on common areas.

One City holds regular events like the Nashville Shakespeare Festival at its green space; last year One City hosted more than 80,000 visitors for various events, and Aschenbrenner says the development’s common spaces can provide a “counterbalance to the nightlife of the city.”

As a health care-focused developer, Cambridge saw high levels of employee burnout; because of this, the company wanted to provide a space where Nashville’s health workforce could feel more connected. “We see today more social isolation than ever,” Aschenbrenner says. “And a mixed-use development that really engages people at multiple levels is what we should all be doing, right?”

Overall, experience in the health care industry put Cambridge in a unique position. “We spent 30 years using real estate as a tool to improve the patient experience and health outcomes for patients. The state of health care in the U.S. … we were never going to solve that problem as a developer,” says Aschenbrenner. “But what we can do is create healthier options for communities.”

Cambridge is now looking to recreate One City’s success in new markets (including in the Dallas area), and the company’s leaders hope to see similar developments emerge from other teams, too.

“Things like this can move the needle,” Aschenbrenner says. “They can demonstrate to communities that there’s a different way.”

Originally published in Nashville Post.