From Eyesore to Asset:
TROUBLED CORNER GETS A FACELIFT
It is every neighborhood’s dream: get rid of that creepy eyesore down the street, and transform it into something attractive and functional. If you can meet your friends there for a microbrew, even better.
!at vision will soon turn reality at East Nashville’s newest redevelopment. !e $1.6 million project, currently coined “701 Porter” is perched at the intersection of three neighborhoods — Lockeland Springs, Eastwood Neighbors and Rolling Acres. Construction crews have spent the last two years turning a dilapidated nursing home into new local businesses and housing for an underserved community.
Many Nashvillians are already familiar with this part of East Nashville, even if they don’t know what to call it (see sidebar, “What’s In A Name?”). Whether it’s a margarita at Rosepepper Cantina, gourmet macaroni and cheese at Eastland Café, or a latte from Ugly Mugs or Portland Brew, more and more diners from other zip codes are drawn to the Eastland Avenue corridor. With the recent addition of restaurants Silly Goose and Wild Cow Vegetarian… could 701 Porter catapult the area into Five Points status?
Packed tight with storefronts, 701 Porter emerges from the three-way stop at Porter Road and Eastland Avenue as a local take on the traditional strip mall. Comprised of eight businesses — most of which are a modest 275 square feet — the brick building’s contemporary design by architect John TeSelle features a modern metal and wood facade. What you can’t see from the sidewalk: renovations inside to build 30 eco-friendly, a"ordable apartments for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Long-time 37206 residents know the address as !e Cornelia House. !e nursing home was #ned and cited by the Tennessee Department of Health in 2006, and eventually shut down. !e building found its fairy godmother in one of the state’s richest men, nursing home operator Forrest Preston. Preston bought and donated !e Cornelia House to Nashville non-pro#t Urban Housing Solutions in 2008. Now the transition from neighborhood embarrassment to local hotspot is nearly complete.
“It’s worked out far better than I’ve ever anticipated,” said District 7 Councilmember Erik Cole. “It creates a sense of ‘place.’ I see that intersection as a signature gateway, not just into my district, but into other parts of East Nashville. Hopefully it will bring people from across town.”
But back to the beer: the success of the project may hinge on the popularity of anchor tenant, Cooper’s On Porter. !e new restaurant and pub is the brainchild of local chef Cooper Brunk, o"ering a place to hang out even after surrounding restaurants have called it a night. A native Nashvillian, Brunk attended culinary school in Denver, then moved back to work in the local restaurant industry #ve years ago. He hopes to open in mid-October.
“We’ve got some really nice, fresh, inventive entrees that could be done in #ne dining, but we’ve scaled back and kept everything under $20,” Brunk said. !e menu will also include familiar appetizers and bar food, as well as dishes that change seasonally and a Saturday brunch — all with value in mind. “When people leave, I want them to feel that every penny was worth it.”
When it opens, customers will be able to cozy up in U-shaped, highbacked booths and admire the alligator print vinyl wall covering, or head to the 26-foot long bar and order one of the 24 American microbrews on tap, or a glass of wine. Occupying the large corner spot at 701 Porter, Cooper’s will feature two dining rooms — enough space to hold about 80 people. A new wrap-around deck outside will be able to serve another 40-50 people.
“We want to be known as a restaurant with an emphasis on beer,” Brunk said. “It’s a place we want people to come and be comfortable, not stu"y or pretentious in any way.”
Families have been drawn to the 701 Porter building since Montessori East, the #rst tenant, opened a preschool and kindergarten in 2009. Now Nashville Guitar Repair, Made Boutique, Massage East, Sloss Fine Woodworking, BMerin Salon and Melted Memory Art Gallery and Studio have all signed on to the project. !e Almond Tree Bakery will occupy one of the larger spaces, serving up special occasion cakes and cupcakes made to order.
For customers near or far, getting there won’t be a problem. Sidewalks and crosswalks, 60 parking spots, and an MTA bus stop right in front are all part of the master plan to draw people in.
“What’s tied into it, is the walkability and driveability,” said Cole. His work with the city and neighborhood associations to get two added stop signs installed on Porter Road and Eastland Avenue paid o" earlier this year. Stroller-pushing moms, joggers, and sleepy co"eeseekers are no longer forced to anxiously run across the road during a quick break in tra$c. Cole calls the all-way stop “a small victory for us, as a neighborhood.”
Cole’s neighborhood is about to grow. !e #rst phase of onebedroom apartments that make up the remainder of the building should be ready for deaf and hard of hearing occupants by December 1.
Urban Housing Solutions sought the help of a deaf and hard of hearing advocacy group for input on the design. “It’s really uncharted territory in Tennessee,” said Brent Elrod, Asset Manager for Urban Housing Solutions.
Each unit will feature visual-based technology to assist deaf and hard of hearing adult tenants. Strobe lights built into smoke detectors and #re alarms can alert residents to potential emergencies. A video entry system is connected to the main building entry to serve as a visual doorbell.
“!e technology is really important,“ Elrod said. “But what’s also really important is the sense of community.”
A common living room space, that Elrod hails as “heart and soul of the project,” is designed as a place for residents to gather and socialize or bring friends and family. It will include a large kitchenette, a dining area, and a living area, all to help foster connections between residents and build a sense of community.
Being eco-friendly was a priority for builders, who were tasked with updating the 30-year-old building on a budget. !e project is funded largely through a construction loan from non-pro#t lender !e Housing Fund, which specializes in revitalization projects, and city and state grants.
“All the walls we could save, we saved. All the windows we could save, we saved,” Elrod said. “We just tried to reuse what we could, but also making modi#cations to the interior and lighting to cut down on the energy load.” Green features like formaldehyde-free cabinets, recycledcontent carpet, and low-emission paint are included throughout. Incorporating environmentally friendly features also helps Urban Housing Solutions keep the cost down for renters. In Elrod’s words, “Rent can be low, but if the total cost to live in a place is high, it’s una"ordable.”
Monthly rent for the #rst 20 one-bedroom apartments will average around $500. According to 701Porter.com, the price point meets a"ordable standards for people earning at or below 50 percent of the area median income.
Some local residents may turn skittish at the thought of “a"ordable” housing so close to home. However, studies from the National Association of Realtors indicate that low-income housing has no long-term negative impact on surrounding home values.
!e building isn’t the only part of 701 Porter that could get a facelift. A ravine behind it has grown into a jungle of trees, weeds, and trash. Developers plan to clean up the property, and are exploring the possibility of opening it as green space or adding a walking trail.
Commander Robert Nash of Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s East Precinct expects the entire project to have a positive e"ect on the neighborhood.
“At the moment, we would not anticipate any changes in patrols,” Nash said via e-mail. “Vacant buildings are much more vulnerable to vandalism, trespassing, thefts and the like. Good development is generally a positive factor for crime prevention.”