Franklin, Cool Springs becomes hub for mixed-use construction

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With more than 1 million square feet of office, retail and residential space under construction or planned in Franklin and Cool Springs over the next few years, it comes as no surprise for residents to see construction along major corridors these days. However, behind the cranes and steel beams is a growing trend.

Several mixed-use developments—projects featuring a combination of uses, such as office, residential and retail—have been established in the area recently with plans for more coming online.

“I think a major catalyst that helps that along is Envision Franklin—that’s our long-range planning document,” said Amy Diaz-Barriga, current planning supervisor for the city of Franklin. “We’ve always had one as a city, but we did an update to it in 2017. And part of that was to really promote the idea that you should mix living and working and playing all in the same area. It’s a trend all over the country, but we hadn’t seen it here.”

Projects including McEwen Northside, Mallory Green and Harpeth Square have all began development in just the past couple of years and are already under construction, with some tenants already moved in or expected to open as early as this summer. Others, such as East Works District, are still in the early phases of planning.

As part of the city’s Zone Franklin project, a draft of which was released in late May, the city is working to imagine how parts of the city, including Cool Springs, will look as more developers come into the area.

“You can’t expect Cool Springs to be downtown [Franklin],” Ward 1 Alderperson Beverly Berger said. “The culture of that [area]is going to be the new, younger, hipper place to be in Cool Springs. Some people want to be downtown, too, because that’s cool as well. Even though it’s very historic, it’s got a lot of character. But we need to bring more character to Cool Springs. We have good things in the space.”

The next open house for residents to provide input will be held Aug. 15, and the Zone Franklin plan is ultimately expected to be adopted in early 2020, according to a May 29 release from the city.

Meeting demand

As residential growth continues in the area, developers said these mixed-use projects are in response to changing market demands.

“I think we’re beginning to see the demographics begin to change,” said Phil Fawcett, managing partner for Boyle, the company developing McEwen Northside. “We’re seeing an increase in empty nesters. We’re seeing an increase in young professionals, which we’re responding to and changing the character of what we’re delivering.”

A common theme of mixed-use projects in the area features retail, office space and restaurants along the ground floor with residential units on the upper floors and hotels or other uses close nearby.

“[Mixed-use is] the trend across the country; there’s always a market segment that wants to live out[side the city]and they want more land there. They’re fine not being connected,” said Steve Bacon, chief operating officer for Harpeth Associates, the developer of Harpeth Square. “But there’s a big part of the segment that think it’s kind of cool that they can get out of the house, or wherever they’re living at a condo or apartment, and walk to somewhere to eat, walk to an event and not have to use the car.”

More than 700 apartment homes are slated for the Cool Springs area, according to site plans, which is expected to add to area growth. In a 2019 survey released in May, 38% of surveyed residents said growth and development were the biggest challenge facing the city, which was the No. 1 response. However, Berger said the development is appropriate for the area.

“What people don’t understand is Cool Springs was designed originally to hold a lot of density to be around the interstate, [for]future apartments, to put future workspaces, like corporations [and]bigger buildings,” she said.

While growth is a concern for residents, Diaz-Barriga said new development does not necessarily mean constructing a new building on previously undeveloped land. East Works District, located on the site of The Carothers Building on Carothers Parkway, has submitted plans to create more buildings and uses in and around the existing development.

“You can always redevelop sites, and I think we might see that trend coming forward,” Diaz-Barriga said. Especially in that I-65 corridor, where there’s lots and lots of parking lots, I think the trend will be that the parking lots will turn into parking structures, which frees up a lot of land to do these developments.”

Many of the mixed-use centers coming to the area are in line with development standards for the city of Franklin, Diaz-Barriga said. She said when the city’s planning department sees plans for a new mixed-use development, staffers are looking for integration of varying uses throughout the center.

“When a developer comes with one of these mixed-use centers, I think one of our goals is to see that is truly a mix of uses,” Diaz-Barriga said. “There’s a mix horizontally and vertically, not just a building with some apartments next to an office building next to a shopping center.”

Making connections

City officials and developers say one large advantage to mixed-use centers is their ability to provide more connectivity in the area, either by creating more walkable areas surrounding the development or by tying into existing infrastructure and transit.

Berger said older developments in the area do not necessarily provide the connections to surrounding residences and workplaces that the city would like to see.

“Now we’re finding out that these standalone office parks are really not a good thing, because you’re relying upon your car to get in and out all the time,” she said. “So, when you’re doing that you’re putting more traffic on the roads during the day. But we can improve the uses and keep people from having the need to get in their car and go out all the time during 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Site plans for developments such as Mallory Green and McEwen Northside include sidewalks and trails to connect them to other areas near McEwen Drive and Mallory Lane to allow residents or employees to walk to restaurants, shopping and grocery stores. Additionally, Harpeth Square will tie into the existing sidewalks in downtown Franklin.

“I think that’s good for the street life, and that’s good for the restaurants that are down there,” Bacon said. “It adds to the vibrancy of the community. You want a walkable, connected community, but you got to give them reasons to want to walk and connect.”

Additionally, because several of the new developments are zoned along I-65 in Cool Springs, new residents and employees will have access to public transit, as they are close to the Franklin Transit Authority’s Blue Line routes, which spans from I-65 near the Williamson Medical Center and the CoolSprings Galleria to downtown Franklin. Diaz-Barriga and Berger said they are hopeful connections like these could help take cars off the road, improving area traffic.

“One [thing]I personally hope to see come out of this rise in centers is that it might spur some additional alternative transportation trends,” Diaz-Barriga said. “As things get denser and folks need to move not so far to get to all their different places, perhaps transit becomes more of a reality for Franklin. I think that would be great.”

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Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.
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