By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
About 300 people gathered at Franklin Theatre to hear plans for a new upscale boutique hotel in downtown Franklin.
A posh, boutique hotel with residential and retail space – and even a river walk – could become a reality in downtown Franklin, breaking ground as early as fall 2014 if all goes according to plan.
Visionaries and investors Roderick Heller and Jay Franks of Harpeth Associates, LLC revealed the preliminary plans for the approximately $80 million mixed-use project to a crowd of about 300 at the Franklin Theatre on July 16.
The crowd eagerly listened to the plans for the project that could redefine the future of downtown Franklin.
Nestled between First and Second avenues and from East Main Street to Bridge Street, the mixed-use development would include a 100-room boutique hotel, about 300 units of upscale apartments and/or converted condos, and retail space, plus about 500 private parking spaces. The block is roughly 4.5 acres.
Heller showed slides of what the façade of the hotel might look like as well as an aerial view of development plans between the two city blocks by draftsman Ben Johnson.
Heller showed an artist rendering of the boutique hotel's possible façade in downtown Franklin.
Aerial view of preliminary plans for the possible boutique hotel
Heller and Franks envision an upscale development that captures Franklin’s rich historical character and the ambience of downtown, while also looking ahead to future growth.
“Franklin is uniquely positioned as a town on the cusp of an even greater town,” Heller said. “Middle Tennessee is growing rapidly, and Franklin is at the geographic center and could become the historical center of Middle Tennessee.”
“There is not as much preservation in other parts of Tennessee,” Heller said, “whereas, Franklin has done a brilliant job.”
Heller compared their vision to high-end boutique hotels found in Charleston, SC, which offer a luxury feel with character and rooms that cost $350 to $500 a night.
“We want a hotel that will stand out, a place that people will recognize and want to visit,” Heller said. He quoted a recent colleague by saying, “We want the hotel to be an instant legend.”
The construction of a river walk – with trails, benches and an overlook – along the property in downtown that could eventually connect some historical sites such as Carnton Plantation and Fort Granger, especially appealed to audience members.
Heller cited the vibrancy of towns around the nation with river walks.
“We’ve been talking about a river walk since the 1970s,” said Mary Pearce, executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County. “Speaking up about the river walk shows how much they care about helping Franklin be all that it can be. What we do for tourists, makes our town better.”
Harpeth Associates, LLC could select the team players for the project including an architect, developer and contractors by the first of September, while construction could begin by Fall 2014, lasting for about two years. “It would be about three years before we have our first guest,” Heller said.
“I am confident in the strategy and the financing,” Heller said. “I’m not as confident about the architecture component.” However, Harpeth Associates, LLC has hired Heather Cass of Washington, D.C. to be the architectural consultant to aid in the process of selecting an architecture firm.
Also, certain aspects of the project are still required to go through the city of Franklin for approval such as parking and other ordinances.
One audience member said that the only unfavorable thing about the project is the possibility that taxpayers would absorb the costs of a parking garage that would accommodate mostly hotel and retail space.
“We want to conduct the project in a way that minimizes costs to taxpayers,” Heller said. “Franklin loves their free parking, but it’s not like that in most major cities.”
Heller said that he would work with the city and try to meet expectations. The parking garage would cost about $8-10 million, or about $15,000 per parking space.
Other concerns from the audience when given a chance to ask questions consisted of increased traffic flow – which Heller said that a study would be conducted and types of retail offered.
An audience member emphasized that small businesses have built downtown Franklin and hope that it continues. Heller said that they would treat retail in the most sensitive way possible. “The more the concentration of retail, the better for everyone,” he said.
Heller reminded the crowd that the project is a risky one, and it’s possible that it won’t go forward. He reminded the crowd a few times that “we are owners and investors, not developers.”
“If we can’t reach our standard, we will transfer the land to someone with a different vision,” 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: 7/17/2013