The Next Big Thing 

Developers eye Eighth Avenue/Franklin Pike. Will Melrose Lanes survive?

Developers eye Eighth Avenue/Franklin Pike. Will Melrose Lanes survive?

The Eighth Avenue area is apparently the new frontier and, by far, the most visible and talked about piece of real estate there is The Melrose, the strip center at 2600 Franklin Pike that was built in 1941, anchored at the north end by a long-closed movie theater and the south end by the enduringly popular Melrose Lanes.

Now, this Nashville institution may well bite the dust, as Scene Three Inc. and Boston English Properties have joined forces to develop the Franklin Pike property.

"We never thought much about it until a couple of years ago," says Marc Ball, CEO of Scene Three, which bought the 2.4-acre strip of land in 1993 (after it had been leasing the theater for video production for about 20 years) for $1.75 million. He says that's when an out-of-town development company began making inquiries about the property, but ended up "going in another direction." While all parties—including Scene Three founder Kitty Moon and developer Rick English—assert that nothing has been signed yet and no plans are set in stone, sources say negotiations are under way with Starbucks for a store at the south end of the strip. That was a disappointment to Bob Bernstein (Bongo Java, Fido, BJRC), who thought he had a deal for his fourth Nashville coffee house in the lobby of the theater, but recently heard that David had lost to Goliath.

Meanwhile, The Sutler, one of Nashville's longest-tenured live music venues—it sits dead center of the strip and first opened in 1975—apparently has been offered a space in a proposed out-building to be constructed behind the theater, but negotiations are in the very early stages.

And looming large in what is now an unused back parking lot are plans for a new 4,000-square-foot building that will house Judge Beans BBQ, the immensely popular Texas barbecue joint and roadhouse that has outgrown its fairgrounds area lot and angered its neighbors, thanks to concerns about parking, traffic and noise from the live music that packs the house Thursday through Sunday nights. "We'd be right up against the interstate," says owner Aubrey Bean. "We can be as loud as we want to be, and as big as we need to be. The location is everything we could ask for. It's the perfect place for us."

Odell Wiley, who has worked for Melrose Lanes since 1973 and purchased the business last July, says the demise of the two-story, 30-lane landmark bowling alley has been talked about for 20 years, but thus far he has not been given an eviction notice. Sources say, however, that there are plans to raze the Melrose Lanes end of the building and rebuild for office and retail spaces in an architectural style consistent with the original building, the northern half of which will remain intact but renovated. Among the potential tenants is a contemporary chef-owned restaurant.

In the last three years, an eight-block strip of what was once known as 12th Avenue South has morphed into what is now called 12South, the hip name for both the linear commercial core and the residential neighborhood of arterial streets on either side of it. Where there once were broken sidewalks, weeded empty lots, malfunctioning streetlamps, cosmetically challenged storefronts, dilapidated buildings and three forms of vice—drugs, sex and gambling—there are now restaurants, wine bars, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, vintage stores, indoor and outdoor furnishing stores, yoga studios, gourmet markets and garden centers on a newly paved, lit and landscaped strip of urban gentrification. And there is more in the works, though as residential and commercial neighbors know, available buildings and lots are becoming scarce.

For a while now, that fact has been cause for speculation among the owners and patrons of those businesses: what next? As skyrocketing home prices first spread from Belmont to 12th Avenue South, and now from 12th to 10th, all eyes have turned east, with the general consensus that Eighth Avenue is the new 12th.

Apparently, it's not only barflies and casual development watchers who think so. Since a citywide crackdown three years ago shuttered the once populous massage parlors that littered the neighborhood, the four-lane thoroughfare that feeds Brentwood, Green Hills and Forrest Hills into and out of downtown has been getting a second look from entrepreneurs and investors like the Scene Three/Boston English Properties partnership. And now, commercial developers not only have their eye on Eighth but—following the lead of tenured property owners and leasers like Thoroughbred Motors, Temptation Gallery and Merridian Home Furnishings—are committing the cash that could make this gritty stretch of Franklin Pike the next big thing. Associated Salvage moved from downtown Nashville to the former Goodwill building at Eighth and Kirkwood; a health clinic is being constructed on the hill immediately adjacent to the Melrose Kroger; and a 1.45-acre piece of commercially zoned property at the bottom of the hill is being offered by Bill Hawkins for $785,000.

Could a beer garden be far behind?

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