Worship services have ended at Blakemore Primitive Baptist Church.
But the little brick-and-stone building — situated next to Fannie Mae Dees Park and across Blakemore Avenue from Vanderbilt University — will be spared.
Nashville-based entrepreneur Dan Cook is transforming the former religious structure into a meeting and special events space to be called The Ruby. Cook is radically overhauling the building’s exterior, preserving its interior and giving the overall property significant lighting and landscaping improvements.
The Ruby will offer a vastly different form and function than its predecessor and could soon rank among the Nashville-area’s most noteworthy adaptive reuse projects in decades, according to Sonny West, the zoning administrator with the Metro Codes Department and a 50-plus-year veteran of the department.
“That’s probably a safe statement,” West said in response to whether the project ranks in the top 5 percent of the most multifaceted adaptive reuse projects in Nashville history.
The Ruby also will represent the type of sustainable, mixed-use development progressives within the Hillsboro-West End Neighborhood Association support.
“[The project] will demonstrate what could be done with many of our historic structures when a healthy dose of ingenuity is applied,” said Josh Tillman, HWEN president.
Cook said Dragon Park LLC — the name a nod to Dees Park’s dragon theme — will soon submit construction documents, with a building permit expected by early June. Once financing is secured, construction will begin, with a completion slated for late 2010.
“Our design for the building will be much more interesting through reuse of the church,” explained Cook, who declined to offer a price tag for the project. “We could never have dreamed up something this innovative if it were a greenfield project.”
Already, Cook said Dragon Park LLC is looking for long-term lease agreements with users of repeat events such as weekly church services.
The Ruby represents a victory of sorts for the Blakemore Avenue segment spanning 21st Avenue and Natchez Trace. Years ago, various vintage buildings lined the south side of the now car-heavy street. The most recent to fall was The Blakemore, a handsome two-story historic apartment house that the former Educators Credit Union of Middle Tennessee (now Cornerstone Financial Credit Union) bulldozed in the late 1990s to make room for surface parking and a drive-thru ATM.
Similarly, old-school bungalows peppered Blakemore on either side of 26th Avenue South. Today, two non-descript multi-unit residential buildings and the painfully utilitarian Harris-Hillman School (H-H) pockmark the streets.
“With the homes gone, the church has lost its context,” Cook said. “The reuse will re-establish a context with its neighbors by integrating with the park. And we will work with H-H to integrate our landscaping and any future building H-H may undertake.”
Of note, The Ruby, Dees Park and Harris-Hillman are within the block home to Metro Government’s Martin Professional Development Center and Eakin Elementary School. The Ruby is the block’s only private property, and Cook has arranged with city officials to have Ruby users park in nearby surface lots after government usage hours.
“The reuse of the building as an event hall creates a unique blend of public and private space that the development of a residential, retail or office space never could,” HWEN’s Tillman said.
Cook said the park is a “wonderful urban green space” that will entice Ruby event users. Dragon Park LLC will link the main hall to the park with a long deck, two courtyards and extensive landscaping, which will require removing much of the asphalt from the building’s back.
The Ruby will not be LEED-certified, Cook said, but will nevertheless be environmentally friendly. Its green components include energy-efficient appliances, reclaimed materials usage, passive heating and cooling, natural lighting and a green roof.
“The general use of the building as an event hall for multiple purposes and not just for one (religious services) makes the building multi-use, and higher utilization makes for a greener building,” he said.
Cook said a distinctive element of the project involves taking a building with a masonry materials exterior and re-inventing it with a 21st century vibe of a white plaster exterior, while simultaneously retaining some historic interior elements
“The interior design will be contemporary, open and light-filled,” he said. “The original wood floors, long covered by carpeting, will be refinished. An office-style drop ceiling has been removed to reveal the vaulted wood ceiling and metal trusses.”
Nashville-based Polifilo, known for its 21st century design leanings, is handling the architectural work.
“We felt there was an opportunity to engage the city,” said Patrick Avice du Buisson, Polifilo’s founder. “To this end, we have designed a series of terraces beginning at the sidewalk along Blakemore Avenue and ascending up to the front entrance of the venue. There is a deck that extends along the eastern facade that looks out across the arboretum and leads to a south-facing patio for gatherings. New 15-foot tall doors will open onto these spaces so that anyone using the venue can enjoy these areas as supplement to the interior space.”
Avice du Buisson said traditionalists who will miss the brick-and-stone exterior must see the big picture.
“Good design is a matter of proportion, scale, material and restraint,” he said. “These tenets are much older than any architectural style. Our hope is that anyone that may not identify themselves with ‘modern aesthetics’ would still be able to appreciate our attempt to design along these precepts.”
Metro Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde, in whose District 18 the property sits, said Cook did a strong job of communicating with area businesses and residents.
“We are hoping that this creative re-use of a neglected building,” LaLonde said, “will contribute to the overall vitality of the neighborhood.”