Lessons in luxury

Adelicia developer talks high-end amenities, Nashville’s capacity for more projects

Ray Hensler moved to Nashville more than a decade ago and made his mark with the 18-story Adelicia condominium tower in Midtown, which opened in 2007. Now busy with an $80 million, 23-story tower rising in The Gulch, Hensler recently sat down with Post Editor Geert De Lombaerde to talk about luxury multifamily living in Nashville.

How involved are you in construction these days? How much are you on site?

Quite a bit, actually. As a high-rise project evolves throughout design and construction, what might start out as great plans can later be impacted by shifts in the structural, mechanical and electrical systems. You have to be vigilant throughout the process to make sure your original design intent is followed.

Columns sometime show up — or shift to the craziest places. Good ceiling and lighting details make all the difference but if you react to these things too late in the process, you either lose the opportunity to address it or it comes at a hefty price.

What are some of the things you learned from doing the Adelicia that you’ve been able to apply to this project?

Going with larger plans at the Adelicia and the bigger price points that followed seemed risky to some. But I’d seen the top end of other markets like Portland and Austin show a preference for larger open kitchens and living areas, as long as the location and amenities were first rate.

With the new tower, we’re going way beyond current market expectations with our fitness center and fifth-floor Sky Terrace, both of which will overlook The Gulch and downtown. As with the Adelicia, we’ll strive to create a sense of community that’s as appealing to professionals in their twenties as it might be to an empty-nester couple.

Have you been able to improve or tweak the process of creating that community feeling?

Tweak is a good word for it. We’ll have about 100 more units in our Gulch project so that creates a need for more places for residents to gather. The folks at Hawkins and Hastings have done a great job creating a bunch of gathering areas that lend themselves to spontaneous get-togethers or planned events. And I think the community table in our spacious fifth-floor resident kitchen overlooking both the pool and The Gulch will be every bit as popular as the early-morning coffee bar at the Adelicia.

The Adelicia defined the high end of the local condo market and you’re now looking to do the same with the apartment market. Do you think there’s room for another project like this in Nashville?

We obviously discussed this at length before getting started. I guess if we’d concluded there is room for two projects, we’d have tried to buy the rest of John Eakin’s property and built twin towers. Seriously, I don’t know. We’re targeting a very specific and very small niche within the multifamily space.

There are only a handful of comparable projects in the entire country outside of major metropolitan markets so it’s really a big deal that we were able to capitalize this deal and secure financing. It says a lot about Nashville and where we are as a city that a project like this can get done. I hope we end up with a half dozen luxury rental towers but I don’t think anyone will really know the depth of the market here until we get into lease up.

Is there a risk that we’ll overbuild again?

I think we’re in an upward spiral of sorts when it comes to building in the city versus what you see in the suburban model. In the suburbs, if three grocery centers build too close to each other, everybody suffers and it’s harder if not impossible to recover until a store closes.

With in-town mixed-use apartments and retail, you can overbuild but they all eventually fill up with people who want even more of the restaurants, retail and bars that were there in the first place. So there’s always risk of overbuilding, but if you do a good job and build near a critical mass of local-driven restaurants, retail and bars, there is much less risk.