Originally published September 6, 2016 by Linda Bryant | NashvillePost
South Nashville street sees industrial buildings transition to creative spaces
It’s a common narrative for a growing business. Start your company’s operations in an affordable area, even if it’s a bit sketchy. When you’ve grown beyond the startup phase and are stable, relocate to classier digs that suggest you’re moving up in the world.
Reverse that business blueprint and you’ve assumed the mindset of Steve Proctor.
In 2015, the Edgenet CEO moved the software-asa-service company from the buttoned-up and businesslike Maryland Farms in Brentwood to a 10,000-square-foot former industrial space located on Sidco Drive in South Nashville.
“The move made all kinds of sense to me,” Proctor says. “Maryland Farms is the second-largest business park in the Southeast, and it’s a nice place. If you want to buy a Land Rover, you can do it right there in Maryland Farms.
“[In contrast], Sidco is a little grittier and, therefore, more authentic,” Proctor adds. “Somehow, it fits our identity as a company more closely.”
Edgenet’s new home, Proctor points out, is no downgrade. Instead, it’s more like an image change and a statement to employees, particularly millennials.
Indeed, the Edgenet headquarters space has been designed with creative elements such as a meditation area, a yoga room, a floating staircase and a soon-to-be-completed rooftop deck at which a weekly songwriters’ night will be held.
“We want to be close to talent,” Proctor says. “A lot of our young employees live in the Berry Hill, Woodbine or Melrose areas. It’s very convenient for them. Even if you live in East Nashville or Germantown, commuting here is a good compromise. A lot of people, especially young people, just don’t want to commute to Brentwood or Cool Springs.”
Edgenet is not alone in its attraction to Sidco.
In recent years, a hodgepodge of businesses have taken space within the street’s warehouses and light industrial facilities, including walk-in furniture and design companies such as Merridian, Nadeau and Peacock Alley; Black Abbey Brewery, a micro-brewery with a taproom located in the former Southern Book Binding building; Wholly Chow restaurant; and C3 Consulting, a management consulting firm.
Underway is a conversion of a warehouse, to be called the Oak Barrel Building and to offer office and restaurant spaces.
C3 Consulting was an “early adopter” of the Sidco Drive scene, says CEO Beth Chase. The company moved from Maryland Farms to the Oaks Business Center on Sidco in 2011 and is completing a $2.2 million renovation in a nearby building. The new home will offer about double the office space C3 currently occupies and will continue the “chic industrial” workplace design the company created when it relocated to Sidco.
“We’re growing and did need to expand our space,” Chase says. “But we didn’t want to move out of the area. Its development has been so interesting, and I believe it will continue to surprise us.”
Named for an acronym for Southern Industrial Development Co., Sidco Drive and its surrounding streets long were known for their light industrial vibe. These days, people struggle with an apt descriptor. It’s been called Nashville’s “Design District” by some, but that moniker doesn’t factor in the rise of companies such as Edgenet and C3.
“I would describe the neighborhood now as eclectic,” says Thomas Gibson, president of development company Oman-Gibson Associates, which operates from nearby Foster Creighton Drive. “There are a number of [distinctive] small businesses — medical sector tenants, home decor businesses and creative-class users.”
Proctor believes Sidco’s newer arrivals share two important characteristics: innovation and creativity.
“A lot of people want to crown the street as a tech hub, but it’s bigger than that,” he says. “It does have an industrial feel, but it’s also creative. A lot [of the companies] are just plain smart, too. I’d bet you that the number of people listening to NPR is very high here.
“C3 is a smart person’s company,” Proctor adds. “Wholly Chow is just a smart restaurant. They have the most [innovative] menu. They saw the potential of the street.”
Gibson, who has watched Sidco Drive’s slow transformation for 30 years, thinks the street has yet to peak.
“When I moved to Nashville in 1986, Sidco was a desirable area for industrial tenants due to its centrality and access,” he says. “There were pivotal events that became game changers from an historical perspective: the completion of the Armory Drive interchange and Vanderbilt University Medical Center relocating non-acute care functions to One Hundred Oaks. The neighborhood was always solid. But currently, demand exceeds supply. It is continuing to evolve.”
Robby Davis, vice president of the Nashville office of Cushman & Wakefield, agrees that VUMC’s leasing of 436,000 square feet of office space near Sidco started a domino effect of new businesses migrating to the street and the general area and converting previously industrial spaces to office or retail.
“I definitely think the conversion trend will continue,” he says. “It’s happening all over the country. Old warehouses and other industrial buildings in close proximity to the urban core are being converted to creative office space. In fact, there are currently two or three warehouses under contract on Sidco [with conversions planned]. Creative space in Nashville is hard to come by, as most of the buildings considered to be creative office are fully leased.”
Commercial broker Dwaine Anderson of The Anderson Co. believes warehouse conversions will continue throughout the market.
“Companies want easy access for their employees, and they want parking,” Anderson says. “Parking is the driving space for office space in Nashville, and Sidco has more of it.
“People who’ve been drawn to West End Avenue or 21st Avenue are now feeling drawn to Sidco Drive,” he adds.
As noted, the headache-free access to the interstate via Armory Drive is “phenomenal,” Proctor says.
“In Maryland Farms, if I got caught in traffic at the wrong time of day, I was late to meetings all the time. Now I can drive home in 12 minutes.”
As to Sidco’s near future, SVN, partner and co-managing director with SVN of the Nashville office of SVN, foresees Sidco “being almost exclusively office and retail in five years with very little industrial uses remaining.”
Creed, Snipes and some unidentified investors plan to close in October on the acquisition of a Sidco warehouse and convert it.
“We expect to add around 150 to 200 people to Sidco with the Oak Barrel Building conversion,” Creed says, “which will help more restaurants and bars find the area attractive.”