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VOL. 42 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 10, 2018

Green Hills is cooking, but don’t call it ‘trendy’

BY Vince Troia

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True Food, which was such a hit with Oprah Winfrey that she invested in the company, is one of several new restaurants opening in and around the 18-story Vertis Green Hills mixed-use development.

-- The Ledger

Much is being made about the massive 18-story mixed-use development under construction along Hillsboro Pike in Green Hills, with its 300-plus luxury apartments and Oprah Winfrey-connected concept restaurant, and how it is changing the face of the community and worsening traffic woes.

However, it’s also possible that the $125 million Vertis Green Hills at 4000 Hillsboro Pike is a project that mirrors the vision – “To unify neighborhood stakeholders; to create beautiful, functional spaces; to build a better Green Hills for all.” – set by the Alliance for Green Hills, the nonprofit established three years ago to advocate for change in Green Hills.

Vertis, a block south of the Mall at Green Hills and a block north of the Hill Center shopping district, plans to have more than 80,000 square feet of retail and office space, including dental and pediatrics offices, spas and upscale ground-floor restaurant tenants. Those amenities, plus health and fitness options, along with the luxury apartments, are not new to Green Hills.

“We have worked to create a walkable community for years and we are doing that for those who live in the heart of Green Hills,” says Ed Cole, president of the Alliance for Green Hills. He realizes there is the perception that the large development at the corner of Richard Jones Road might lead long-time residents to believe things could get worse before they get better, but he disagrees.

“A few nice restaurants won’t make it any worse,” he points out.

It’s the “nice” restaurants that have been getting the most attention, notably True Food Kitchen, the Arizona-based chain that now has Winfrey as a Green Hills investor.

Launched in 2008 by Dr. Andrew Weil and Phoenix restaurateur Sam Fox with a menu that uses Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid as a guide, the Green Hills location – with an anticipated opening in October – would be the chain’s 24th.

Menu options on the summer menu include organic Tuscan kale salad; ancient grains bowl with miso-glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snow pea, grilled Portobello, avocado and hemp seed; fennel chicken sausage pizza; and Moroccan chicken.

Shake Shack will have its long-anticipated opening this month at the entrance to the Hill Center on Hillsboro Road. In addition to its regular fare, the popular chain will feature menu items unique to Nashville.

-- Leigh Singleton | The Ledger

Winfrey, according to CNBC, was so impressed with the fare after dining at a True Food Kitchen that she wanted to be part of the chain.

“I love bringing people together over a good meal,” Winfrey said in a release announcing her Green Hills involvement. “When I first dined at True Food Kitchen, I was so impressed with the team’s passion for healthy eating and, of course, the delicious food, that I knew I wanted to be part of the company’s future.”

Other restaurants occupying the ground floor of Vertis are Char, which will boast a piano bar, Mediterranean restaurant Santo and Brixx Wood Fired Pizza.

Cole acknowledges the restaurant scene has exploded in Nashville in the last decade, and that there are trends now in the city in which people want to live where they can shop or eat and not have to drive – trends that are on view in The Gulch, Germantown, 12South and other neighborhoods.

Green Hills, he adds, has always lived by that concept. But restaurant growth there “has been modest,” Cole says. Much is being made of True Food Kitchen and Char, he adds, but the truth is they aren’t being built for visitors to Green Hills.

“There is nothing to suggest we are competing” with those culinary-driven communities, he points out.

“We are not looking to promote Green Hills for outside investments. We are not trendy,” Cole says. “There’s a uniqueness to Green Hills and these new additions are in balance with our community goals.”

Other modest culinary items include the relocation of Green Hills Grille, the opening of a Shake Shack at the entrance of Hill Center, and the opening of Etc., 3790 Bedford Ave., by renowned chef Deb Paquette’s new restaurant.

Green Hills has gone through several generations, from boomers to millennials – older folks wanted easy access to shopping, medical appointments, the library and it got done, Cole says. Now, millennial demographics suggest they want to live, shop and work in close proximity, and are drawn to more affluent attractions, and Vertis is taking care of that.

Balancing supply and demand over the years may be oversimplifying Green Hills’ economic development sustainability, but if not for the area’s high-income populace things might look different along Hillsboro Pike these days.

Vertis Green Hills includes 85,500 square feet of office space and 310 residential units. Restaurants include True Food Kitchen, Char, Santo and Brixx Wood Fired Pizza.

-- Vincent Troia | The Ledger

The 37215 Zip code, which includes Green Hills and Forest Hills, is the most expensive in Tennessee, according to personal finance resource GoBankingRates.com. For 2017, GoBankingRates cites $106,108 as the minimum income level required to live in that Zip.

Affluence keeps Green Hills businesses prospering, but influence is what might be lacking, especially when it comes to the community’s significant infrastructure issue – traffic.

“Green Hills is a traffic nightmare, but I don’t think the 4000 Hillsboro project adds to that situation,” Cole says, adding that getting people in and out of Green Hills efficiently was a top priority for the Alliance and the community.

“It’s not another speed bump, though I can see how people might see it that way. The only major speed bump we have to deal with is traffic gridlock.”

Nearly 30,000 vehicles travel through Green Hills on Hillsboro Pike daily, according to Metro Planning Department estimates.

Metro Nashville’s failed $5.2 billion mass transit investment plan – ‘Let’s Move Nashville’ would have created a central transit hub, extended bus service hours, established faster high-capacity bus lines and improved options for seniors.

“Growth without good planning means gridlock,” then-Mayor Megan Barry said before the election. “We need better transportation alternatives to protect our quality of life and make it easier to get around.”

Growth even with planning has meant gridlock for Green Hills. In the meantime, officials there continue to work to remedy congestion in other ways.

Recently, a $5 million land sale will allow a CVS drug store to relocate and a project to connect Glen Echo and Crestmoor roads to begin. The two streets connect with Hillsboro at T-intersections just 200 feet apart, creating a traffic snarl.

“It’s a significant milestone,” says Russ Pulley, who represents a huge portion of Green Hills as District 25 Metro councilman. “I have been working on this since I first took office.”

While this improvement is months away from completion and Vertis is opening this fall, it will reduce the number of traffic lights on the heavily traveled Hillsboro Pike. When some residents say the plan would not relieve congestion, Pulley counters the goal was “to get traffic moving efficiently,” and says he believes it would be met.

The Glen Echo-Crestmoor project highlights one of Green Hills most notorious inherited problems. Instead of a traditional grid, many streets bend and empty back to Hillsboro at odd angles, with few intersections leading drivers out of the area.

Bandywood Drive is home to many shops and restaurants, not to mention a supermarket, but has no intersections. Even a plan to build a pedestrian accessway to Hill Center from Bandywood has been hampered by the location of an NES substation.

There is no mention of traffic on the Vertis website, perhaps since vehicles don’t have to be residents’ primary mode of transportation. Residents there are just steps from banks, grocery stores, salons, gyms and eateries of all varieties.

“Welcome to Nashville living,” touts Vertis. “Vertis Green Hills is your next residential community, providing an exceptional living experience with multiple styles of apartments and luxury community amenities. Restaurants like True Food Kitchen and Char will become fast favorites for their cuisine and convenience. Vertis’ multiple offerings and urban architecture will make you feel like you’re within a smaller city in Nashville.”

Traffic and restaurants. Some might say that’s the Nashville experience in a nutshell.

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