REJOURNALS – A major moment: Not even pandemic could stop Fifth & Broadway from transforming downtown Nashville
BY DAN RAFTER – REjournals.com
Brookfield Properties’ Fifth + Broadway mixed-use development hit a major milestone earlier this month. And not even the COVID-19 pandemic was able to stop it from happening.
The retail section of the more than 6-acre development in downtown Nashville opened March 4. This marks the end of a multi-year effort by Brookfield Properties and local developer Pat Emery to transform the former Nashville Convention Center site into a mixed-use development featuring, retail, restaurants, apartments, office space and entertainment.
In all, Fifth + Broadway brings about 200,000 square feet of restaurants and retail to downtown Nashville, across from the Bridgestone Arena and Ryman Auditorium. The project is also home to the 56,000-square-foot National Museum of African American Music, which is now open to the public.
A long process
Getting to this point, of course, took plenty of planning, and the home stretch of this opening was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Burgin Dossett, vice president of development at Brookfield Properties, said that the desire to see Fifth & Broadway become a reality never lessened, not since the seeds for this major mixed-use project were first planted in 2012.
Back then, the city of Nashville issued an RFP to redevelop the old convention center site. Emery, the local developer, won the proposal. His mandate was a big one: to reenergize the 6.2 acres of land that once housed the old convention center and to provide an additional spark to downtown Nashville.
Plans for Fifth & Broadway, then, were always big. But since 2012, they’ve only grown and evolved.
“Pat’s original concept was primarily focused on office and retail,” Dossett said. “By the time we joined forces, the plans included a full residential tower, office and retail. This project, through the sheer amount of retail, food and beverage options that we are bringing online at one time, is making a big difference in downtown Nashville.”
What is Fifth & Broadway bringing to downtown? Retailers include Free People, Molly Green, Sephora, Ray-Ban, Tecovas, Ariat and REVV. Dining options include Cava, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, Shake Shack, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Eddie V’s, Le Macaron and Boqueria.
The development is also home to the Assembly Food Hall, planned as a major attraction for both tourists and residents of downtown Nashville alike. Food hall eateries include Smokin Chikin, Thai Esane, Donut Distillery, Oke Poke, Cotton & Snow and DeSano Pizzeria.
In the late spring, Assembly Food Hall will open its South Hall, which will add 15 new eateries to the mix.
Wendy Welch, director of development for Brookfield Properties, focused on the retail end of the project. She said that the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for Fifth & Broadway. But construction continued on the mixed-use development even during the darkest days of the last 12 months.
In the state of Tennessee, construction was considered an essential business. This means that the Fifth & Broadway project was never shut down. The job site, though, did have to put new protocols in place. And Brookfield Properties had to figure out how to manage 800 people coming to the site each day.
At the same time, many of the retailers slated to open in Fifth & Broadway began sending force majeure letters, stating that the pandemic was an unforeseeable circumstance that would prevent them from opening on time. Originally, Fifth & Broadway’s retail component was scheduled to open in September of 2020. That timetable was no longer going to work.
“We realized that most of our tenants were not going to make it on our original opening date,” Welch said. “They needed breathing space. We stepped back and discussed with our retailers and tenants what made the most sense. We decided to move our opening to March. That would give us a full year since everything with COVID came into play. We figured we’d be over the hump by now.”
The results of these discussions? Fifth & Broadway did not lose any tenants because of the pandemic. Brookfield Properties even signed five or six new leases in the last six months, some with national retailers, Welch said.
“Once we pressed the pause button and released our new dates, our tenants got on board,” Welch said. “Yes, it was a challenge. But we had the experience to manage a safe site during COVID. Even with restrictions, we managed to make it to this point.”
Fifth & Broadway also includes The Place at Fifth & Broadway, the tallest for-rent apartment tower in Tennessee, featuring 386 units. There’s also 501 Commerce, a Class-A office tower and the future headquarters of global investment firm AllianceBernstein.
A new way to lease apartment space
COVID also impacted the residential portion of the project. Shaw Henry, senior manager of development at Brookfield Properties, who focused on this residential component, said that construction of The Place at Fifth & Broadway was mostly finished by the time the pandemic hit.
Leasing that space, though? That would come with challenges.
“Leasing had always been an in-person thing,” Henry said. “We had been developing more of an online digital strategy to our leasing efforts before the pandemic. But still, most people want to see an apartment unit in person before moving in. During the pandemic, we pivoted even more to an online strategy.”
This included 3D tours that allowed potential renters to tour an online model of the units that interested them. Brookfield Properties also turned to Tour 24 self-guided apartment tours. With this program, potential renters downloaded an app on their smartphones. They then used that app and their phone to tour The Place at Fifth & Broadway on their own.
Say prospects use Tour 24 to access the building’s onsite fitness center. The app will tell them about the features of the gym. Those who visit the apartment’s social lounge or pool area will receive information about these amenities through the app, too. In essence, the app served as a leasing consultant during those days when potential renters didn’t feel comfortable touring the site with another person.
“We signed our first three to five leases sight unseen,” Henry said. “Those renters knew they wanted to live downtown. They took a gamble that what they saw online was what they were going to get. Now with the vaccine rollout, we are seeing in-person traffic pick up. At the same time, our digital online leasing strategy is paying off. We get a lot of people who come to Nashville from other cities. They are still viewing our online tours to determine if this is a place for them to consider.”
Construction on Fifth & Broadway began in April of 2017. Led by Skanska USA, more than 7,000 workers have been involved in the construction of the project. Another key stat? A total of 98,500 cubic yards of concrete were used for Fifth & Broadway, equal to 29 Olympic swimming pools.
Gresham Smith and Gensler designed the retail component of the development.
“We didn’t have one retailer drop out of the project,” Dossett said. “That really shows the belief people have in this project and in Nashville itself. We had to have some difficult conversations with the retailers. They all doubled down on their belief in the city and this project. The fact that they are all still with us is the best example you can find that people believe in the strength of the Nashville market.”
Tom Miller, general manager of the Fifth & Broadway project, said that the mixed-use development will attract not only tourists but will bring locals back to downtown Nashville.
“We’ve gotten feedback from the other venues downtown that Nashvillians come down for an event, get in the car when that event is over and leave,” Miller said.
Fifth & Broadway, though, offers these locals a chance to do more when their Nashville Predators game is over or that concert ends. They now have additional shopping and dining options that can keep them downtown for an entire day.
The dining portion is important. Downtown Nashville was lacking in eateries. Fifth & Broadway has now brought several new ones to the area.
“What we are seeing are families with strollers coming out from the suburbs that would not otherwise have come into downtown,” Miller said. “This isn’t just another tourist draw. This serves the locals. It’s more of a family-focused destination.”