Germantown residents and visitors could see major changes in some of the city’s biggest developments in 2019 as new restaurants and retail options open and stalled construction resumes.
City economic development director Cameron Ross said Germantown has been focused on getting several large, mixed-use developments ready for businesses, and in some cases, people to move in. He described the mixed-use developments as “economy shaping through placemaking,” focusing development on key centers for retail and commercial outlets and creating centers of commerce that also serve as community centers.
“It goes beyond the simple clustering of tax bases and focuses more on those less tangible kinds of things but that really add vibrancy to the community,” he said.
The mixed-use developments also provide a more diversified revenue stream for the city, combining sales tax, property tax and hotel and motel taxes, he said.
Spence Ray, vice president of McNeill Commercial Real Estate, the developer of Thornwood, said he was excited about recent developments at the mixed-use project, which has been in the works for about five years. He said seeing apartments leased and tenants moving into retail spaces was like “giving birth to a big blue whale” or another animal with a long gestation period.
“In the next 60 days not only will people be living over there, but some of the restaurants and retailers will be open,” he said.
Ross said Thornwood, at Exeter and Neshoba roads, just off South Germantown Road,was a new concept of development for the city and would serve as a strong business anchor for that end of town.
“I think words can’t describe how much the city is looking forward to this,” he said.
Visitors to the Thornwood development will see several new eateries and retail options open in the next few months. They also might run into the first few residents, who started moving in this month.
Newk’s Eatery, a chain of cafe-style restaurants offering soups, salads, pizzas and prepared foods for takeout, will open in mid-January. Moondance is slated to open in March and offer fine dining to Germantown residents, and Zin, which will offer sushi and Japanese cuisine, recently signed a lease. Bella Vita and Buff City Soap will open to shoppers in February and March, respectively, Ray said.
There are 25 generously-sized loft apartments above the retail spaces, a mix of one and two-bedroom units. In another part of the property, The Residences offers 251 slightly smaller one- and two-bedroom apartments with communal spaces including pickleball courts and a pool. Twenty percent of those units have been leased, and the first resident moved in Jan. 3, Ray said.
While Germantown has had a sometimes contentious public debate in recent years about how much development is good for the city and whether more apartments should be constructed, Ray said the response from people who have seen the apartments has been “incredibly positive.”
He said he hopes people will see Thornwood as a healthy and welcomed addition to
Germantown and believes the completed project will speak for itself. The Hampton Inn and Bob Richards Jewelers have been open for a year, and the development’s signature 73-foot tall clock tower has been completed for almost three years.
The 17-acre development was planned as a walkable, urban community with shops, restaurants, three dog parks, apartments and hotels that developers hoped would mimic the vibe of Cooper-Young or Overton Square in Memphis but with the architectural feel of Savannah, Georgia, or Charleston, South Carolina.
Ray said the development was intentionally planned with wide sidewalks, lots of benches and an outdoor music area to encourage residents and visitors to get outside, walk around and spend time at the development with family and friends.
“We really hope it will allow the people who are living there and coming to eat and shop to not just walk from their car to the restaurant and back to the car,” he said. “They can eat and shop and stay in the development and congregate.”
Two Hilton-brand hotels remain under construction in the mixed-use development TraVure. The Hilton Garden Inn and Home2 Suites comprise the third of four phases of this 10-acre project south of Poplar Avenue.
The development was given final approval in November 2016, but a contractor switch this fall, when local builder Montgomery Martin Contractors was swapped in for an Ohio-based firm, temporarily stymied the project. Ross said the city anticipated work would be picking back up in the coming weeks.
A representative of Montgomery Martin declined to comment on the project and directed questions to the developer. Desai Hotel Group President Sunny Desai, the developer behind the two hotels, said the project was moving forward but that he did not have any additional updates.
Ray Gill of Gill Properties, which is developing the rest of the project, said TraVure was designed to be a walkable, urban and user-friendly place, where people can leave their car in a covered garage — cool in the summer and away from the elements in the winter — and walk the rest of their visit, whether that’s to their office, a dinner date, some retail therapy or all three.
In early discussions, the development drew strong opposition from neighbors, particularly the gated Nottoway community, where residents expressed concerns about potential issues like light emanating from the development’s parking garage.
Gill said the parking garage, which can hold 476 vehicles, will make visiting the complex more convenient for shoppers and workers.
“The whole idea was to have retail, office and hospitality on one site,” he said. “You can park your car and walk and stay all day.”
The TraVure project, part of the suburb’s “Western Gateway Small Area Plan” to build up the western edge of Germantown, also boasts office space — Mid-America Apartments and First Bank have already moved in with J.P. Morgan soon to follow — and the last phase of building will result in a two-story development with additional office space and retail space.
Ross said the city had approved several steps to clear the way for the final phase of the project, which will include retail and office space. Construction plans and development agreements still need the final thumbs up.
Another component of the city’s “western gateway,” Carrefour is still in the early stages of development, according to Henry Cannon, president of Cannon, Austin & Cannon, Carrefour’s owner.
Plans were presented to the city for the mixed-use developmentat the shopping center bordered by Poplar Avenue, Poplar Pike and Kirby Parkway in November and included office space, retail space, hotels and restaurants. The board of mayor and aldermen approved the development 3-1, with Alderman Dean Massey voting against the project and former Alderman John Barzizza abstaining.
While the plans were approved without any residential component, representatives of the developer said apartments remain on the table for Carrefour. Germantown currently has a moratorium on the construction of any new apartments, which will expire in July. A report about the potential impact of apartments on the city is expected to be released by the city in April.
The project will have to come back before the city in future months and years as phases of construction progress, and developers said modifications to the project could be brought back to the city at a later date.
Cannon said the project currently had no residential element, and he had to work with what the current regulations are. But he said if the city’s position on apartments — or development of any other type — changed in the future, plans for the development could change to reflect that.
“Depending on where we are at the time we commence construction or the planning, we would look at that,” he said.
Cannon said he wanted to have 60 percent of the office space in the project leased before moving forward with construction, but said Germantown residents could see some movement on the project later this year.
“My hope would be in the next six to eight months we would have something,” he said.
To be determined
Two development question marks currently loom over the city with the Cordova Triangle property and Germantown Country Club.
The country club’s owners announced last week that the property would be closing at the end of February. However, what happens next remains to be seen. The property will go up for sale, but what becomes of the property will depend on who purchases it. It is currently zoned as residential, so if a future owner does not want to continue it as some kind of golf venue, single-family homes would be the only type of development allowed under the current zoning plan. Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo last week said he would not support apartments or any other type of multi-family housing on the golf course property.
On Wednesday, officials announced the city would “explore the possibility” of purchasing the country club and turning the property into a city park.