When Charles Carlisle and the principals at Nashville-based Bristol Development Group came to Louisville in 2013 to begin building Veranda, the new apartments that opened Thursday at Norton Commons, they also spent some time looking around downtown. They liked what they saw.
The group, which tends to invest in both planned New Urbanist communities such as Norton Commons and urban infill in urban cores, moved quickly on a parcel at the corner of Main and Clay streets in Butchertown. Later this year, the group will break ground on Main and Clay, a 260-unit, seven-story mixed-use condo and apartment complex on the eastern edge of downtown.
Carlisle spoke with IL on a range of issues recently, from what he sees in Louisville to his company’s work history in Nashville — where it’s been at the leading edge of that city’s recent boom, from the trendy 1700 Midtown just outside downtown to the anchoring ICON in the Gulch and the nearby Velocity, home to some of the most recent retail in that trending Nashville district. They were the first post-recession developer in Music City to bet on the resurgence of a strong rental and condo market, to be led by young professionals, and that bet has paid off handsomely.
With that city on fire and well past the point of looking back, Carlisle has his eye on other second-tier markets — including Louisville.
“We’re very careful about where we do things in Nashville because there is so much development going on,” he said. “We spend more time looking at markets that have only now started to recognize the need for and market demand for urban housing.”
Here are more excerpts from our conversation:
Betting on urban Nashville: “Some people thought we were crazy for the rents we were forecasting we would get — that we needed in order to make the math work for the financing. But when they opened, we were able to get those rental rates that were needed. And other developers saw that and started to move in because Nashville’s job growth came back with a vengeance after the downturn. So people saw it as a market with more vitality than some of the markets that languished longer.”
About Nashville’s future growth: “My biggest concern is long-term transportation planning. We’re well behind the curve here on planning for mass transit of any kind. It’s a high-class worry when you get to that point, but what I hope Nashville never turns into is the Atlanta of the ’80s and ’90s, where traffic congestion was legendary.”
Playing the comparison game: “I think there’s some very strong comparisons (between Louisville and Nashville). To me, Louisville has a very attractive, compelling downtown. It’s got great employment sources downtown — not only the traditional law firms and government. You’ve got Humana, Brown-Forman, all the hospitals that are so close to downtown as well. And really neat neighborhoods around it.
“I think both cities have intelligent and progressive governments. That’s incredibly important. And quality of life.”
Why Louisville: “We like second-tier markets, like Nashville, Louisville, Orlando, Jacksonville, Birmingham. We like to try to, to some extent, be where other people aren’t. The way I put it sometimes, I’d rather take a risk by developing one of the first urban communities in Louisville than the 26th in Nashville.”
How and why we can grow: “What I believe is that we’ll see a lot of growth of urban housing and urban mixed-use projects — which, to me, allows neighborhoods like NuLu and Butchertown to thrive.
“There’s a lot of potential in Portland, but that’s long-term. Gill Holland is very committed to bringing that neighborhood back. Given his success at NuLu, I think it can pay long-term dividends.
“Quality of life in Louisville is good. There are a lot of things about urban Louisville that will appeal to young professionals. You’ve got the employment base there that would want to attract those kinds of people. There’s the makings of incubators for new businesses and things there.
“And so it may not ever become Nashville, per se. There’s some differences that you can’t match exactly. But I think if you’d made that same comparison 15 years ago between Nashville and Atlanta, you would’ve said, ‘Well, Nashville just doesn’t have that.’ I can tell a difference just in seven years of living here, just in the enthusiasm of young people who come and live here. It’s happened here relatively recently and is ongoing, but it’s not something Louisville isn’t capable of doing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing there.”