Dirk Melton, an executive at the development company that gave rise to Nashville’s highest-profile urban neighborhood, identified one overriding reason why he’s now pursuing the firm’s first Williamson County project.

“It’s quality of life. Period. The end,” Melton said at the annual Outlook Williamson event in Franklin, hosted by Williamson Inc., the county’s combined chamber and economic development agency. “The pump is primed for great things to happen in this jurisdiction, and we’re excited about that.”

That factor, among others, is driving MarketStreet Enterprises — where Melton is development director — to expand into the region’s affluent suburban county for the first time in the firm’s 20-year existence. Steve Turner, whose father created the Dollar General Corp. (NYSE: DG) retail chain, tapped some of that wealth to lead the way turning a nondescript rail yard into the Gulch, Nashville’s highest-profile urban neighborhood. The company is run today by his son, Jay Turner.

Melton’s comments on a panel at the Outlook Williamson event are the first extended remarks MarketStreet has made about its newly announced project, which carries a nine-figure price tag. East Works District would surround the county’s largest office building with apartment complexes, hotels, retail restaurants and more office space — all of which would consume the swath of parking lots ringing that existing office building today.

East Works District is among a half-dozen or so developments either underway or proposed in Cool Springs that would all bring a more urban dynamic to the traditionally suburban corporate office hub. (Track that action and more on our Williamson Watch development map.)

“This is a big change from what we’ve seen before in this jurisdiction,” Melton said. “From our perspective, East Works District has to be unique and authentic to Cool Springs and Franklin. It may have some elements of the Gulch … but we’re not coming into this market with preconceived notions of what we’re going to provide and telling you what you’re going to enjoy.”

Melton cited the spiking cost of urban office rent as one reason Williamson County drew MarketStreet’s attention.

“Williamson County is really well-positioned to land significant corporate business over the next few years,” Melton said. “It’s true that a lot of the corporate headquarters … recently have chosen to go downtown. But there’s becoming a very palpable difference in rent per square foot, especially once you get parking involved. It’s probably a $15 per-square-foot difference. Then you have the Amazon effect and the companies following them.”

[The follow shows the location of the proposed East Works District project:]

Melton cited projections by the Nashville Metropolitan Planning Organization that the region’s population will grow by 1 million people by 2040. The current headcount is about 1.9 million residents. Melton said most of that population growth will occur outside the urban heart of the city.

“In my opinion, Cool Springs is the first and best place for that to occur,” Melton said. “Cool Springs and Franklin are really ripe for that right now. If you look at commuting patterns, the reverse commute [heading south on Interstate 65 to get to work] is almost equally as intense. People want to be close to their employees, and you have those quality-of-life factors.”

MarketStreet is seeking a zoning change to allow for the project to occur, something the city’s Municipal Planning Commission is scheduled to review next month.


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