'Nashvillians seem ... receptive to this city’s growth'

Former Seattle-based land-use pro Chris McCarty reinvents an iconic Music Row building

Chris McCarty is president of Nashville-based Square Mile Capital. Previously, McCarty lived with his family in Seattle, where he appraised and sold high-rise office buildings before moving into the business of rehabbing vintage residential structures in that city. McCarty has begun his efforts in Music City by focusing on the redevelopment of 50 MSW, the octagonal Music Row mid-rise formerly called United Artists Tower. Recently, NashvillePost.com Managing Editor William Williams met with McCarty for a chat.

You lived in Seattle, arguably one of the country’s most cosmopolitan cities. Now Nashville. Why? 

The decision to move to Nashville came down to being close to my parents, who live here, and having access to the Kennedy Center on Human Development at Vanderbilt, to address the special needs of our third child, who has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. My son’s eventual entry and continued enrollment at Currey Ingram Academy was the deciding factor in cementing our decision to stay in Nashville long term.

A time came in our lives in which it became less important to live in one of the United States’ top 10 coolest cities and more important to live in one of the top 10 cities in which to raise a family.

It would seem 50 MSW (formerly United Artists Tower) is a rather bold — and some would say risky — first project for you in this market. Any idea as to what you will spend to improve the building?

Certainly any project today carries a certain amount of risk. In the case of 50 MSW, it may seem risky from the outside looking in. But the reception we received early on from investors and potential tenants, as well as the enthusiasm displayed by the Music Row community, quickly solidified my belief that this is the right project at the right time.

With 16 years of experience in commercial real estate, including the completion of similar projects in Seattle, I was very comfortable pursuing 50 MSW as my first project in Nashville.

The redevelopment will entail a tenant improvement and core and shell build-out package that will cost in excess of $5 million, or between $80 and $95 per gross building square foot, and will bring the building back to its original status as an iconic fixture on Music Row.

When will you be finished with 50 MSW and what is your vision for the building?

My vision is to create a modern office building that will be recognized as a premier business address on Music Row. It is extremely rare to find nine floors of open and customizable space in the Music Row area, where repurposed houses are the primary option. I envision Class A space with Class B pricing — economically attractive to businesses across Middle Tennessee. I’m also excited that we are updating the building to modern LEED standards and pursuing a LEED Silver designation from the United States Green Building Council.

I hope to deliver our first occupancy this summer and reach stabilized occupancy six to 12 months afterwards. 

What is the building’s “role” within the greater Music Row area.

The building will serve as a hub of creative energy and talent for businesses on Music Row, ranging from music entertainment to health and technology start-ups. 50 MSW’s uniqueness and visibility make it a natural commercial and cultural gathering spot for the neighborhood.

I am currently in discussions with a cafe, which will be located on the first floor of the building and provide much-needed casual dining space in the area. I see the large outdoor terrace as a central location for meetings and events, such as album release parties and singer/songwriter showcases. My belief is that in a year’s time, this building will have enhanced the already vibrant activity taking place on Music Row.

The building has been entangled in lawsuits, red tape and physical problems. At one time, it even had a condo. What is its status now?

The physical problems stemmed from a fire in June of 2005 on the second floor. The damage was minimal and mostly smoke related. The building has been brought up to codes since then, so all of the mechanical systems have been updated including the installation of a fire sprinkler system throughout the entire building. The electrical and elevator equipment is updated, too. 

Currently the ninth floor does contain a small unoccupied condo, which we hope to acquire. But there are no lingering legal issues. We are ready to begin our upgrades and customized build-out of nine floors for our future tenants.

It is easier or more difficult to undertake development in Nashville or Seattle?

In terms of doing redevelopment projects, the challenges are probably the same from a permitting process. I would say that the entitlement process is more difficult and time consuming in Seattle based on the design review and public comment periods alone.

Nashvillians seem more open and receptive to this city’s growth and evolution. There is a palpable energy and excitement behind new developments and redevelopments in Nashville that you don’t always find in other cities. It’s refreshing and exciting for a developer to experience.

Being from Seattle/Bellevue, Wash., you personally witnessed significant growth in a part of the country that has experienced so much of its population gain since World War II. Comparatively, what is your take on Nashville’s long-term growth prospects?

I think that Nashville is successful and will continue to be so because it has so many pieces of the puzzle in place. The city’s low cost of living attracts established companies and families like mine looking to move into the area.  When you add in political leaders who are pro-business and in favor of strategically expanding the urban core, the prospects look bright. The area’s outstanding academic institutions and health care facilities, as well as a vibrant tourist economy, are really the icing on the cake. As a developer, I am excited about the future here in Nashville.

Most folks likely feel that the overwhelming majority of commercial buildings within Music Row are home to music industry oriented businesses. True or not? 

Music Row has changed considerably over the past decade as an ever-increasing number of non-music businesses now call it home.

I am currently in talks with businesses outside of the music industry about 50 MSW, and they are very excited about the building. They realize the great benefits of being just 15 minutes from downtown Nashville and within walking distance of West End Avenue, the Gulch, and Vanderbilt and Belmont Universities. 50 MSW is one of the few buildings in the area that presents a realistic and viable option for diverse businesses and institutions that are seeking all the conveniences Music Row has to offer.