As Nashville lures a steady stream of major new companies downtown, Franklin – the region’s historically most popular office destination – is remaking its workplaces to keep up with the competition.
Three sprawling new developments that together represent an almost $1 billion investment are coming to market now in Franklin’s Cool Springs business district, 15 miles south of downtown.
Developers are carefully curating amenities and design layouts to appeal to millennial workers, who will make up half of the global workforce by 2020.
“We’re rethinking the suburban model,” said David Wells, president of Hall Emery Commercial Real Estate. “A focus on the millennial and the younger workforce (has) been a huge trend, which is part of the reason downtown has become such a hot market because of all the things that are around there and all the excitement and energy that accompany that.”
Franklin began establishing itself as a major office hub in the southeastern U.S. in the 1990s, with the addition of Ford Motor Credit and Primus Financial.
When Nissan moved from Los Angeles to Cool Springs in 2008, it cemented the market.
“Talent is driven to our community because of our school system, and talent drives companies,” said Matt Largen, president of Williamson Inc., the county’s chamber of commerce. “Nissan coming was a watershed moment because it was a company moving from the West Coast to what people view as flyover country. It sent a message.”
But feverish development in Nashville in recent years, combined with the millennial generation’s focus on living and working in urban areas, has drawn unprecedented attention to downtown’s office market.
Walking trails, gyms, lounges
While Amazon, AllianceBernstein and EY get ready to move into their downtown Nashville offices, Hall Emery is building out a 71-acre Franklin Park campus off Interstate 65 in Cool Springs.
Ultimately, Hall Emery plans to spend more than $500 million on the mixed-use development. The investment is already paying off with near-fully leased buildings.
Several Fortune 500 companies – UBS financial services, Schneider Electric and HCA Healthcare – have moved in to two new glass-curtain wall office buildings on the site.
Roads wind past walking trails, a lake, patio seating and an outdoor amphitheater.
Both office buildings have gyms with locker rooms. Tenants can also use shared lounge areas, meeting and training rooms, and Fooda restaurant popups at lunch.
Courtney Ignaffo, who works at Acadia Healthcare in Franklin Park, said her favorite aspect of the building is the connection to outdoor open spaces.
“I do appreciate that it’s open and walkable for breaks to get out of the office,” Ignaffo said. “There’s a gym that takes you out to the courtyard.”
Wells said the development team is carefully listening to feedback from the first two buildings to design the third one. They plan to develop a terrace on the top floor next to a cafe and communal conference room to help entice employees to the amenities. The floor will also have space for small company offices.
“We need to intrigue the market,” Wells said. “The light bulb moment for us was to create a space everyone can use. So we put the cafe up top next to the terrace.”
Bring your dog to work
In eye shot of Franklin Park, workers are moving into another new glass-curtain walled office building near the intersection of McEwen Drive and Carothers Parkway in Cool Springs.
Mars Petcare, whose brands include Pedigree, Whiskas and Wild Frontier, built the new $96 million headquarters to modernize its work spaces. The offices incorporate popular coworking-style common areas designed to foster collaboration.
A dog park and indoor doggy daycare allow workers to bring their dogs to work.
“It is important to us that our purpose is evident as soon as you step foot on the campus,” said company spokeswoman Lisa H. Campbell. “Every aspect of the workplace has been designed specifically with our associates and their pets in mind.”
The millennial generation, now roughly ages 23 to 38, has led a shift in office culture from a rigid focus on times and places where work is done to a more flexible schedule, according to published PwC research.
“Millennials have a greater expectation to be supported and appreciated in return for their contributions, and to be part of a cohesive team,” according to PwC’s “NextGen: A Global Generational Study.” “Millennials value work/life balance, and the majority of them are unwilling to commit to making their work lives an exclusive priority.”
Adding ‘vibrancy’ to the suburbs
A few blocks from Mars Petcare, an office building under construction is set to be the first portion of a 45-acre, $270 million mixed-use district called McEwen Northside to open in the winter.
Ten acres of the development are reserved for a large central lawn, two lakes, walking areas and other open space. Retail shops and restaurants will line the streets, amid office buildings, apartments and a SpringHill Suites hotel that will open next spring.
“We’re bringing an urban mixed-use environment to the suburbs to bring vibrancy,” said Phil Fawcett, chief manager of developer Boyle Investment Co. “Our goal is that it will change the character of Cool Springs.”
This is the second mixed-use project in Cool Springs from Boyle, which is developing the site with Northwood Raven. Last year, it opened apartments, offices, hotels and retail shops at the 60-acre Meridian development.
“Now we’re doing something even more urban, and making it walkable with retail on the ground floor,” Fawcett said. “We’re really being thoughtful about what goes next to what. Every use creates a little bit of tension. We’re doing anything we can do to bring people together.”
Developers believe that Cool Springs will continue to grow as millennials get older, get married and buy homes in Williamson County, which has one of the region’s highest performing school systems.
“Thirty years ago, when they broke ground on the CoolSprings Galleria, there was nothing down there. It was horse pastures,” said Colliers Nashville CEO Janet Miller. “That’s hard to grasp when you see it today.”
“It’s truly been one of the southeast’s booming development markets,” she said. “Cool Springs and Williamson County will always have an incredibly robust office environment because of the quality of schools.”