Developers have flocked to 51st Avenue to bring restaurants, retail and residences to the fast-growing corridor.
On a warm Saturday morning in March, joggers and young couples with strollers made their way down 51st Avenue North, bypassing construction sites and new restaurants advertising weekend brunch.
The scene was far different just a few years ago, when the main thoroughfare in The Nations neighborhood lacked much activity aside from industrial uses like auto body shops and lumberyards.
Some of those longtime industrial users still dot the street, but so do about a dozen newcomers, including restaurants, retail stores, apartment buildings and “coming soon” signs.
The nine-block stretch of 51st Avenue North between Charlotte Avenue and Centennial Boulevard is a symbol of the rapid development sweeping Nashville neighborhoods as old homes get demolished for new builds and businesses move in to offer residents amenities.
In the last few years, 51st Avenue North has welcomed caterer and grab-and-go market Tinwings, women’s clothing boutique The Mill, bridal shop Willow Bride, restaurant/bar House: A Social Eatery, high-end restaurant Fifty First Kitchen & Bar, neighborhood hang The Nations Bar & Grill, retail store Fashionable and chef-driven restaurant Nicky’s Coal Fired.
Right nearby is Fat Bottom Brewing Co., dive bar The Centennial, Centennial Cafe, craft beer bar The Old Gas Station and Three Corners Coffee. More businesses are on the way, including Corner Pub and 51N Taproom.
It was in large part the affordable real estate prices that drew Lee Ann Merrick to 51st Avenue two and a half years ago to open Tinwings, but she initially feared she might not get enough business in that location.
“To be quite honest, I thought it would five to 10 years before the neighborhood would be able to support what we were doing,” Merrick said. “I was quite frankly concerned our customers wouldn’t come over here. I didn’t feel comfortable being here myself unless the store was closed. (Six months later), it was already different.”
Today, Tinwings is thriving with support from the neighborhood. She wants to start opening for business on Saturdays because she sees people walking their dogs, pushing strollers and groups of tourists that have rented nearby Airbnbs.
“When I’m here on Saturdays cooking or doing paperwork, people are coming up and pulling on the door. They’re ready and they’re here and more are coming,” Merrick said.
Nashville’s hot street
New residents have poured into The Nations, where Roberts estimated some 5,000 homes have been built in the last six years.
Drive the streets surrounding 51st Avenue and you’ll see rows of “tall and skinny” houses attracting young professionals and families who are drawn to the neighborhood’s proximity to the interstate and downtown. Developers are replacing old homes with multiple houses on one lot and home prices have jumped into the $400,000 range for a three-bedroom new build.
Gentrification concerns Roberts, who said many longtime residents are being displaced by rising home values and property taxes. She’s working to educate people about property tax assistance programs ahead of April’s long-awaited property reappraisal.
“At the end of the day, if these longtime residents do sell or are forced to sell, they have nowhere to go,” Roberts said. “Their whole life has been in this one neighborhood. I constantly hear, ‘I used to know everyone on my street and now I don’t know anybody.’”
Chuck Cinelli, owner of pioneering Coco’s Italian Market on 51st Avenue, echoed Roberts concerns and said many of his employees can no longer afford to live in The Nations or even Davidson County.
“Some employees used to be able to bike and walk to work and they can’t do that anymore. They’re living further away or they have to have roommates,” Cinelli said.
Drawn to the changing demographics, commercial developers have flocked to 51st Avenue to bring amenities such as restaurants and retail.
Developer Nathan Lyons of Vintage South Development is in the process of revitalizing the former Belle Meade Hosiery Mill at the corner of 51st and Centennial in a four-phase project that will bring a mix of retail, restaurants, creative users and office space to the site. The first announced tenants include Nicky’s Coal Fired, Fashionable and Office Evolution.