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$80 million hotel project would redefine Franklins Main Street

Jay Franks (left) and Rod Heller
Photo by Brandy Blanton

Downtown Franklin may soon have what its investors describe as a “deluxe destination hotel” with more than 100 rooms for nightly rent, and condominium and/or apartment residences atop a retail/commercial component to the building.

Jay Franks and J. Roderick Heller III, said the working name for the project is The Inn at Harpeth Square. Franks and Heller are developing the project under the auspices of a recently established company, Harpeth Associates, LLC.

The Inn at Harpeth Square would take up the majority of a city block, from First Avenue to Second Avenue and from East Main Street to Bridge Street, Heller said. The block is roughly 4.5 acres.

“Harpeth now controls 90 percent of the block,” he said.

Harpeth Associates began acquiring the property in September 2012, and purchased five parcels in deals that included eight different sellers, according to information provided by Heller. He estimated that the project, which will also include up to 50,000 square feet of retail space, will exceed $80 million.

“This is especially interesting because it is the redevelopment of a block that could definitely use it,” said Eric Stuckey, city administrator. “It’s always good when people develop a vision and invest in the way this is envisioned for the city.”

Franks and Heller declined to provide renderings of what the project might look like, saying such representations would likely not accurately represent the final development.

“We want to maintain Franklin’s small-town feel and retail attractiveness,” Heller said, indicating the structure might have up to four stories, with the top-most offset from the bottom. They were unsure whether the structure would face East Main Street or Second Avenue, which offers a longer span of space. Two structures will remain on the block: the historic building on East Main Street that houses Landmark Booksellers and one on the back of the block that houses The Coffee House at Second and Bridge. As such, the development must be built around them.

“It will be incorporated into the overall project design,” Heller said. “We don’t want something that will overwhelm Franklin.”

The pair said they plan to ask for two things from the city of Franklin in order to further pursue the project: that the city build at its own expense a 500-space parking structure on the 200 block of Main Street, and that it develop a river walk along the Harpeth River for recreation and retail purposes. The property that would house The Inn at Harpeth Square abuts the Harpeth River. The river walk Heller envisions would connect Carnton Plantation to Harlinsdale Farm.

Heller said that without a city-funded parking facility, the project could die. Despite a price tag that could be in the neighborhood of $7.5 million – based on $15,000 per parking space, a fee that often accompanies such projects in the region – he said Franklin officials seem enthusiastic to support the project.

“So far, there has not been any resistance,” Heller said.

“Very little” of the new parking availability would be for public use, he said.

“We want to make sure that anything we put into it would have a tie to the public benefit,” Stuckey said. “There’s a lot of homework to be done and decisions to be made. It’s very early in the process.”

Other amenities possibly slated for the development include “a high-end restaurant,” and two swimming pools; one for permanent residents and one for hotel guests.

Although, they have contracted with Heather Cass of Washington, D.C., to be architectural consultant, Heller said he and Franks have yet to hire an architectural firm or a developer to bring the project to fruition.

The project could break ground in 2014 and be open for business in 2015, Heller said.

Franks is a Franklin native and son of the now-retired Juvenile Court Judge Jane Franks. Heller is a direct descendent of Carrie McGavock, who lived at Carnton Plantation during the Civil War and famously tended to the dead and wounded of the Battle of Franklin. Heller was instrumental in establishing Carnton as a historic destination.

Posted on: 4/24/2013


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