Q&A: Why This Developer Remains Bullish On East Bank Nashville.

Station East is an 18-acre mixed-use district that will replace the former TA Travel Center in the East Bank. Developed by Massachusetts-based The RMR Group, the new neighborhood aims to connect with Nashville’s rich culture by providing options and opportunities for locals and visitors alike. The developer looks to weave itself into the fabric of the East Bank, building on momentum of the new Titans Stadium, the city’s Imagine East Bank Plan, and River North. The project was publicly revealed in November 2022 and is located at 111 N 1st Street.

Designed by Hastings Architects (rendering credits) the development will transform the former truck stop into a mix of uses which includes office, hotel, & residential towers activated by more than 225,000 SF of street level retail. The project aims to take full advantage of its prime frontage along Interstate 24, James Robertson Parkway, and the future East Bank Blvd.

“As the geographic center of the East Bank, Station East is poised to be an epicenter of activity and set the tone for future adjacent development. The urban design will establish a vital connection along the East Bank and to the neighboring East Nashville community. A 2.88-acre public park is the focal point of the urban design and will promote connectivity throughout this vibrant neighborhood.”—William Hastings, HASTINGS Principal

Station East offers multi-level activation within its pedestrian experience. The streetscape is comprised of wide pervious walking surfaces, ample landscaping and green spaces, as well as facade articulation and setbacks. The attention to detail offers the flexibility for pop-up retail and dining experiences, pedestrian pathways, and interactive cultural activities.

The outdoor experience extends vertically as well through the development’s mix of uses and proposes 180,000 SF of terraces and outdoor spaces. This was achieved through activating the space within building setbacks, monumental stairs ascending along the buildings facade, higher level terraces, and rooftop decks spread throughout the upcoming mixed use district.

This dynamic approach will help with setting the tone for the larger transformation of the East Bank and create a natural link between East Nashville and Downtown.

Service Properties Trust, a publicly traded Real Estate Investment Trust managed by The RMR Group, has owned the Station East property for several decades. The previous tenant, TravelCenters of America, was also affiliated with The RMR Group up until its acquisition by bp in May 2023. The Developer has been keeping an eye on the Nashville market and about 5 years ago started evaluating in earnest what the 18- acre site could accommodate . With the understanding that the highest and best use was no longer a truck stop, the developer assembled a project team and began putting together a master plan for an urban-scaled mixed-use development.

“We were getting offers to purchase it for the past 5-10 years from “big box” store type users, which we believe did not accurately reflect the site’s future value. As we watched what was happening in Nashville, and on the East Bank specifically, we understood that the market was getting to a point where we could really do something special and at a much larger scale.”—Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group

CityNowNext met with Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group, to get more insight into the site evaluation, development and design approach as well as what how they foresaw this opportunity be part of a new riverfront neighborhood. Here’s what he had to say:

What went into the decision to select and develop this site?

– CityNowNext

“We remain bullish on Nashville. When we started to see the momentum in Nashville start to turn to the East Bank, we engaged Hastings Architecture and shifted our focus into putting the master plan together. The overarching design intent for Station East was that we didn’t want this to feel like a standalone development project, we want it to feel like an organic, urban neighborhood. So you’re going to have activated streetscapes, a park component, and different scales and sizes of buildings with different mixes to keep it active at different times of day.

Between the Titans stadium and the redevelopment of the surrounding land, Oracle, River North, and our site, the East Bank is going to be radically transformed over the upcoming years. We will be successful if we’re just one part of a new urban district that extends over the entirety of the East Bank. Although our site is a purely private sector development, I think we’re all going to benefit from the Metro’s masterplan components that the Titans land is tied to in terms of open space and affordability and TPAC and transit. All of these are things that make for a great and dynamic urban environment. ”

– Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group

As a private land owner, can you share a little about how the City’s Imagine East Bank plan influences your development strategy?

– CityNowNext

“We’ve rarely developed in markets where we dealt with regulators who are as thoughtful and intentional as Metro. We have had a really great experience with Metro thus far. Metro came out with what I would consider a very ambitious vision plan for the East Bank, one that had a lot of input from the community and stakeholders, including us. Since then we have been putting a lot of time and resources into making sure that our contribution to the future of the East Bank will be consistent with the Imagine East Bank vision.

Overall, I think Metro is being extremely thoughtful and intentional about how they ‘re going about executing that vision as there are multiple layers of people, stakeholders, governments, and funding sources that are going to be needed to build out the infrastructure to support the vision. It’s important, at least to me, for people to understand that City is trying to get this right. They are putting resources to work and are working with the stakeholders to facilitate their plan, but it’s going to take some time, because it’s a very complex endeavor”.

– Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group

What other elements of the East Bank gets you excited?

– CityNowNext

“I think one of the biggest stories of the East Bank is how do we for the first time, take advantage of one of the best natural resources in the city which is its riverfront. I would say they’ve done a decent job on the other side of the river regarding connecting downtown to the water with parks and planning. However, on the East Bank, the entirety of that riverfront is underused and this is a huge opportunity to activate the riverfront and, in so doing, enhance its resiliency so we can prevent the type of flooding that this area has experienced over the years.”

– Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group

What predecessors need to happen before we see shovels in the ground; are current market conditions influencing that timeline?

– CityNowNext

“We already own the land so we can really be totally flexible in terms of our timing and ambitions for what we’re delivering to the market. The reason all these plans are so well positioned is there’s no other city that has this kind of opportunity. We look around every city in the country where we have projects and there’s nothing like the hundreds of waterfront acres teed up and ready to go that Nashville has on the East Bank.

Therefore, the challenge is going to be how we get the infrastructure in place over there that can support what we all want to see happen do. As it stands today the road network, the utilities, and the riverfront can’t accommodate what everybody is planning on doing. Specifically for us, there are critical infrastructure decisions such as the barrier created by the elevated James Robertson Parkway, the construction of East Bank Blvd (along with its BRT line), and whether there are opportunities for additional north-south connectivity through the rail tracks. So the bulk of our effort right now is working with Metro and the State to understand how those infrastructure pieces are going to be put together, how they are funded, and their timing. That will basically dictate how we time our project.”

– Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group

Are you targeting any particular attraction or anchor for the development?

– CityNowNext

“We don’t believe that one thing should be the center of gravity; the nice thing about building out something at this scale is that there’s going to be room for almost everything. From a daytime perspective we envision it could be a great for a corporate campus for some large office users. In addition, we have smaller scale creative office as well that could accommodate co-working spaces or smaller suites. From a retail standpoint, we’ve got 225,000 square feet of highly activated, ground level storefronts. While we’d love to have some national anchors for some of that space, I think for us to get the foot traffic we’re going to want to also see a critical mass of local businesses so the area will feel like an authentic and organic Nashville neighborhood.

So we’re working to curate the retail experience to generate the degree of activation we’re showing in our renderings. We want to give people a reason to come here, stay here, and spend time at those places. If we do that right, we’ll be successful, the tenants will be successful, and the public will get a benefit out of it; so that’s the goal. So ultimately, we’ll engage with the market for both big and small tenants but I don’t think this is a situation where if we don’t get a particular a big operator we can’t be successful.”

– Jesse Abair, VP of Development for The RMR Group

When asked if the renderings we see today remain representative of the development’s scale or if market conditions will impact it, Abair added,

“I think Hastings knocked it out of the park in terms of the design and the scale. We believe that market conditions support the current master plan and that’s how we plan on proceeding.”

The developer continues to assess the market and its strategy. To that point, the developer shared that building uses suggested in the current masterplan are subject to change, as there are a couple of years before work begins. The project phasing will depend on which asset classes are in demand at that particular time (e.g., it is possible that some of the proposed office towers could be transitioned to a later phase). As it relates to overall East Bank infrastructure required by the city, Abair concluded,

“We’re proceeding with the understanding that Metro is focused on implementing the infrastructure improvements identified in the Imagine East Bank vision plan and we’re working with them to bring that vision to fruition as expeditiously as possible”.

For information on leasing opportunities at Station East, check out their website using the link (here).