A kind of music business quad that will combine office space, retail stores, and a small entertainment venue is officially set to open next month on Eighth Avenue South after an extensive building refurbishment by promoter Steve West, banker Brian Williams, and their partners.
“Our concept was quite simply a campus-type atmosphere for small music businesses where you’ve kind of got everything under one roof,” says West, who was most recently a partner in 328 Performance Hall.
Situated just north of Wedgewood Avenue at 1604 Eighth Ave. S., the building has four floors, each with 1,750 square feet of space. The basement consists of a performance room that can hold 100 people and will be used for private parties and industry showcases. An on-site, 32-track digital recording studio is wired to the performance room so that the shows can be recorded. The top two floors are office suites, and 70 percent is already leased. Meanwhile, the main floor is designed to hold an art or antique gallery.
“Our goal was to create a unique, creative environment” where “small businesses would feed off of each other and nurture each other,” says partner and SunTrust senior vice president Brian Williams. “A lot of people are becoming entrepreneurs either by their choice or by somebody else’s choice, so there’s a lot of people in similar situations. Steve obviously knows how to operate a performance venue, and I think that the room will develop a reputation that will sort of speak for itself over time. You’ll see a lot of the qualities that you see at the Bluebird or Douglas Corner, but it’s different. It has its own signature.”
For five years, West had been told that 328 would be demolished to make way for road construction south of downtown. Tired of the uncertainty and the long nights of concert promotion, he decided to begin investing in real estate to prepare for his eventual retirement. “I was looking for something that was old, cool, and architecturally interesting,” he says. His real estate agent, Trasbin Stoner, found the Eighth Avenue property, which was on the verge of condemnation.
“It was really just a home for pigeons,” Williams says. “The first time I came in here, I thought, first of all, I was going to get sick, and second of all, that I’d lost my mind because there is no way this thing could be turned around.”
West plays in a band called the Funky Cowboys with Williams, 39, and Roberta Ciuffo, TPAC’s senior vice president of education and outreach. While playing their annual Rock the Dock gig at Center Hill Lake last year, they all agreed, along with Williams’ wife, Music Row publicist Marion Williams, to form a limited liability corporation (LLC) and renovate the building, completed in 1906. “I liked the idea of having a place surrounding the things that we really love, that we feel passionately about in our work and in our play, and creating a place where other people can pursue the same as well,” Ciuffo says. “That’s basically the essence of why we found each other in the first place.”
Before Williams got involved, he talked to his bosses at SunTrust to make sure they had no problems with his role in the project. He removed himself from working on any of his partners’ accounts, and the LLC borrowed money from another bank. The group purchased the property in September 1999 for $150,000.
The building had no walls, plumbing, electricity, or stairs, and the partners won’t say how much they spent in renovations. “It would be safe to say more than we wanted to,” West says. The group hired architects Tom Anderson and Bill Tomlinson to design and renovate the building, and the duo loved the project so much that they too became partners. They’ve retained much of the original layout and feel of the building, which has brick walls, high ceilings, and beautiful hardwood floors on the main floor. Although it’s located next to Tokyo Sauna, it’s also just down the street from the antique district near Zanies, so the partners thought an art or antique gallery would make perfect sense for the street-level space. “The standing rule is not to make noise in the basement until 6 o’clock, after the retailers close,” West says, noting that the basement will never operate as a full-time nightclub.
“This isn’t going to be a typical Music Row type building, eithernot to say that in any kind of negative waybecause it has a different type of atmosphere,” Williams says. “The location is incredible: It’s one minute to get downtown, one minute to be on the interstate, one minute to Music Row.”
Williams says changes in this part of town have already begun to take place, as evidenced by the relocation of the W.O. Smith School of Music to the former Acuff Tire location on Eighth. “You can see how a lot of redevelopment is taking place,” West says. “This is kind of an area that is in transition. I like to think that we protected that a little bit by coming in here and fixing this up, as opposed to letting it keep going downhill like it was.”
West, too, is in a period of transition. In October, he sold his stock in 328 Performance Hall. “Since 1995, I’d been told that in 12 to 18 months the building was going to be torn down,” he says of 328. “We needed to make improvements, but we couldn’t really justify them if it was going to be torn down in time. Finally, in December of last year, they said it was going to be about three years until it happened, which was fine. But you know...I was just ready to get out of it. I was tired of dealing with the condemnation threats, and I wanted to spend more time with my kids too.”
West, who serves as chief manager of the Eighth Avenue project, will continue to dabble in entertainment, but he’ll be more inclined to produce shows rather than promote them; he’s already moved his production company, Go West Presents, into the new building. After this project is completed, the partners will look for another building to renovate. “The intent is to keep going,” West says.
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