Selling North Nashville

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 at 1:00am

When the reinvention of North Nashville began about eight years ago, many locals expressed skepticism. They raised their collective eyebrows as Germantown Partners LLC, Lawrence Brothers LLC and The Home Co., among others, undertook new residential construction in the long-depressed north side enclaves of Hope Gardens, Germantown and Salemtown.

But that effort - now successful after luring middle-class blacks and whites - is child's play compared to E.J. Boyson's undertaking.

Boyson is offering for sale a tidy house at 1927 14th Ave. N. in the heart of North Nashville's Buena Vista.

In 1998, the Nashville businessman and developer built the home, using a loan from the good folks at Capital Bank & Trust, to capitalize on the city's then-burgeoning urban residential infill movement. And 1927 seemingly would make a fine residence for a single person, young couple or retirees.

Boasting numerous nice features, the approximately 1,200-square-foot house is listed for $79,900 - the equivalent of about $66.58 per square foot. Hypothetically airlifted and plopped down into Germantown - no more than one mile south - 1927 would elicit great interest from "urban pioneers" looking to live within strolling distance of the Farmers Market and Bicentennial Mall. The asking price in G-Town would hover around the $175-per-foot range.

But homes in this part of Buena Vista - no matter how nice and new - don't carry star quality. Bluntly, the portion of Buena Vista north of the Interstate 40/65 interchange has its share of run-down properties, crime and perception problems. The area is home to a predominantly poor and working class black population. As such, Buena Vista and Whites Moving Into the Inner City (called "gentrification" by the politically correct) are about as synonymous as Belle Meade and poverty.

Cleary, that 15-block separation between Germantown and 1927 14th Ave. N. may as well be 15,000 blocks - with a fire pit anchoring the mid-point.

So, despite its quality construction and relative proximity to all that is appealing within the fast-changing central core of urban Nashville, little 1927 can't find a buyer. It has languished unsold. A long time. Seven years.

Of note, the home is manufactured, having been built entirely in a Bean Station, Tenn., factory under the federal building code administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Because of the HUD component, a would-be buyer could qualify for various federal loan programs.

"I had no luck selling it originally, so I rented it - and that was not easy," says Boyson, a financial consultant with Smith Barney.

Soon thereafter, in August of last year, the renter quietly moved out in the middle of the night, and Boyson has had no luck selling it since.

"All kinds of financing options are available," he says. "And I bet if I did not say, you would not know it is a manufactured home."

A cynic might scoff at Boyson, calling him foolish to build where he did. To do so would be misguided.

Indeed, Boyson cares about Nashville. In 2002, he unveiled on Seifried Street an apartment structure called The Millennium. Only four blocks from 1927, the building's units have stayed rented. Of course, it's typically easier to find renters than buyers in less affluent neighborhoods.

"The goal was to build Millennium in the poorest part of the city," Boyson says, adding that the average annual income for residents of the area is under $9,000.

Don Battle, Battle Realty broker and a veteran of the North Nashville real estate scene, says Boyson should be commended for constructing 1927.

"You've got selected lots that have new houses and houses that have been remodeled," Battle says of the stretch of 14th Avenue North. "But the entire block is not complementing the individuals who have invested. Mr. Boyson has put a nice home on the lot, but until you get more [quality properties] like in Germantown and Salemtown, the street will not complement his work."

And how long might it take for this part of North Nashville to flourish? Battle estimates about five years.

Boyson remains hopeful, chuckling when he says, "You almost go bankrupt waiting."

"It takes a while to change perception," he says. "But no question I'm optimistic. Once you get the ball rolling on revitalization, it ends up working."

William Williams writes about Nashville's man-made environment. He can be contacted at wwilliams@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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