Downtown hotel project developers get a mulligan

Friday, March 14, 2008 at 1:20am

Late yesterday, developers seeking to build a hotel along Lower Broadway took a step toward making the project a reality, a smaller one than originally proposed.

That’s apparently because Denver-based Sage Hospitality Resources is seeking a bit of a do-over, a mulligan. It filed an amendment to the special plan zoning the company fought so hard to get early last year with Arkansas-based developer The Barber Group.

The revision Sage seeks would reduce the size of the structure both in height and footprint while eliminating the condominiums and increasing the number of hotel rooms. Barber is no longer involved with the project.

Earl Swensson & Associates is redesigning the hotel along with Hawkins Partners. The building will be four stories shorter than originally proposed, 16 instead of 20 stories, and contain around 475 rooms.

“We spent a lot of time looking at how it would affect the streetscape,” said David Minnigan, lead architect on the project. “We believe it’s going to be less massive.”

The project had struggled for approval because of its size. Metro planning officials, the Metro Historical Commission and some downtown merchants thought the project was too massive for Lower Broad.

Despite the opposition, the project received the zoning. Then, the housing market turned downward nationally. Credit troubles tightened lending in general but particularly for residential development.

As a result, Sage took over the project and brought in local architects and planners.

“We’ve been working with Metro staff to get to this point,” Minnigan said. “We think it’s going to be much more palatable to the community.”

Kim Hawkins, a principal in Hawkins Partners, added, “Everybody has been a part of the process this time.”

The redesign hasn’t been completed yet. There is a question of whether the project is still a Westin. For zoning purposes the project is dubbed “Broadway Hotel.”

“Our first choice is a Westin,” said Michael Coolidge, senior vice president of development with Sage. “We think it is a perfect match for Nashville.”

Coolidge said Sage wanted the flexibility in the zoning in case the hotel isn’t a Westin.

Another question is money. Nashville’s downtown hotel market is strong and would seem to be strong enough to help a developer make the case for a construction loan.

Observers have said for months that the tight credit market could keep even good projects in good markets from getting loans.

Coolidge said there is capital out there for good, well-located properties.

“The markets are evolving, that’s for sure,” he said.

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