Story & Photography by Tony Centonze
"The heart of a city is its downtown, and I think we are seeing this community finally embrace ours.” - Allen Moser
As the city of Clarksville, Montgomery County, and the entire Middle-Tennessee region continue to grow at an unprecedented pace, we are hearing from multiple sources, of a long-overdue revitalization of our city's downtown.
Perennial downtown favorites like Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, Mildred & Mable's, and Couture Crush have in recent years been joined by & Vinyl, Hot Pita, Hey Noli, Golly G's at Downtown Commons, and others.
As Clarksville and Montgomery County continue to grow, downtown itself seems to finally be gaining traction. One recent article estimated that Montgomery County can expect to add as many as 90,000 new residents over the course of the next 20 years. Rapid growth brings changes, good and bad, to a community. Managing that growth will be essential to a positive outcome.
100 Days after the recent Mayoral election, the City of Clarksville issued a statement which read in part: “Keeping faith with a key campaign promise, Mayor Pitts has dramatically changed the tone of intergovernmental communication and coordination, especially with Montgomery County Government.”
This sense of cooperation comes to our city at the perfect time. Economic Development Council CEO Jeff Truitt estimates that since the initial ground breaking at Downtown Commons, between $15 million and $16 million in property transfers have taken place just in the downtown area.
Information from Two Rivers Company shows that since July of 2016, there have been more than 100 property transfers in the Central Business District. That represents a tremendous investment in our downtown, and leaders in the local business community, as well as elected officials, have definitely taken notice.
Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett recently unveiled plans for a $105 million multi-purpose event center. Durrett said these particular plans have been in the works for about three years. Insiders know, proposals for this type of facility have been talked about for the last two decades. Is now the time?
It seems, that finally, all the necessary pieces for a broad downtown revitalization are in place. In the month of May, Mayor Durrett called for a meeting to discuss his proposed project. Durrett says the cost of the event center would be funded from multiple sources, including tenant fees, seat-user fees, facility naming rights, and tax revenue stimulated by the facility itself. So, how much additional growth would it create? How many more people would be visiting downtown?
“We (Economic Development Council) are the umbrella that encompasses the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Industrial Development Board, and the Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce, EDC CEO Jeff Truitt said. “We have a lot of people working to support our existing businesses, as well as to bring new businesses and visitors to the community.”
Truitt referred to some of the larger community's recent accomplishments. “We've welcomed Hankook, LG, and Google over the last six or seven years,” he said. “Any community in the United States would be happy to get even one of those businesses. So this has been an amazing time for us. Our whole region has done well.”
Many leaders will tell you that Tennessee's tax structure, which contrasts starkly to states like Illinois and California, is contributing greatly to our current business and population growth. “Tennessee is very friendly, and we are unbelievably geographically blessed,” Truitt said. “We are within a day's drive of about 76% of America's population. That plays a big role when it comes to the distribution of products and goods.
“Our cost of living is also pretty amazing. Your dollar goes a long way in Clarskville. And, we have an incredible school system. Those are two major factors for people relocating here. We've demonstrated great teamwork in going after these big companies. But, also a lot of effort has gone into bringing in new retail and residential.”
Truitt went on to talk about the need to elevate rent rates, so as to keep up with the cost of construction. Construction costs in Clarksville and Nashville are similar, but the rental income disparity is dramatic. This brings us back to downtown.
“Millions of dollars in property has changed hands since the Downtown Commons groundbreaking, and the establishment of a Tax Increment Financing district. Now those properties are in transition, whether it be new construction or rehabilitation.
“I'm hopeful that in May, the County Commission will vote to purchase the property so that project can move forward. It's a great project that will continue to be a catalyst for downtown. When Mayor Durrett broke ground on Downtown Commons, he said, 'this is not about a moment, it's about a movement'. Its impact has been a great step forward.”
So, what does downtown need most? “Downtown needs a residential component,” Truitt said. “It needs a mixed-use residential component, then the rest will follow. Maybe we can get a small food store, where people can buy necessities. We also need some upper-end condominiums, and rooftop type developments. These things will help us reach that next stage of growth.
“Downtown has some great anchors; Strawberry Alley Ale Works, Blackhorse Brewery, Edwards the kinds of things we need downtown, and we need to continue to grow that segment.”
Allen Moser, a local real estate investor, is very much in sync with Truitt's thinking. “I've got four buildings downtown,” Moser said. “Two are complete, two are still in progress.”
Moser has recently purchased and re-purposed 106 2nd St, and 120 Franklin St. He is striving to develop a mix of retail, restaurant and residential space, and he says there is already a demand.
“I think downtown is positioned to see more rapid appreciation than the rest of the market,” Moser said. “I've had a lot of money in multi-family projects, and there is a lot of national interest in that segment, which has helped set the market. But, I think I can get a better return on my money, downtown, and ride the wave of downtown revitalization that is finally happening in Clarksville. It's already happened in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, even Franklin.”
Moser says, historically, Clarksville property trends have followed California by 30 - 40 years, and Nashville by about 15 years. Smaller communities are poised to move a little quicker.
“The revitalization that we see now is what we saw in Knoxville in the early 2,000's,” Moser said. “So, when I look at where Knoxville is today, I get really excited about Clarksville's future.”
He went on to say that the projected 90,000 new residents over the next 20 years is only slightly higher than our historic growth. “That's only about 1-½ times higher than what we have done over the last ten years,”Moser said. “The census year that's coming up will give us a better read on the last ten years. I'm excited that there's a lot going on downtown.
“127 Franklin St. is an example of what I want to see downtown. Copper Petal has moved in, and they are doing really well. I adapted the parking at the rear of that building, it's now being used by Roux, as downtown's first (current era) outdoor patio. I'm also looking at putting a 1-bedroom, 1-1/2 bathroom apartment on the second floor.”
Moser says there is more commercial than residential space available downtown. He sees high demand for both. “There is a lot of demand,” Moser said. “I also bought the former Woolworth's building, and I'm turning that into an indoor mall, similar to the Nashville Arcade. It's like a turn-of-the-century (19th century) mall. There will be various store fronts, separated by a 10-foot wide walkway that connects the Franklin St. restaurant/retail corridor with the parking garage on Commerce St. I hope to have a barber shop, a convenience store, and maybe an art gallery there.”
Moser went on to say that, without Montgomery County's multi-million dollar investment in downtown Commons, and Tom Cunningham's substantial investment in Strawberry Alley Ale Works, downtown would not have shifted like it has.
“I feel like downtown has hit a tipping point, and it's really moving forward,” Moser said. “I'm happy to be a small part of it. It takes a community to embrace these ideas and keep this momentum going. Our city needs a heart, and downtown is the natural heart of the city. The heart of a city is its downtown, and I think we are seeing this community finally embrace ours.”
Many events are on the schedule this year that will benefit the Two Rivers Company, a non-profit organization focused on enhancing Clarksville, Tennessee's downtown and river district area. Information can be found at www.tworiverscompany.com.
CDE just announced a summer concert series for 2019, Mic Check Mondays. And, Downtown Commons just kicked off its summer concert series Downtown @ Sundown. The 2019 lineup will feature concerts every 1st and 3rd Friday, May to October. For a complete schedule, go to www.downtowncommons.org.