It’s hard to see all the progress made in Thornwood, a mixed-use development at the corner of Neshoba and South Germantown roads that was approved as part of Germantown’s Smart Growth Zoning regulations. A four-story Hampton Inn & Suites and a 5,000-square-foot Bob Richards Jewelers store are completed and open in the coveted front spots along South Germantown. The 73-foot clock tower that chimes on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. is in the center of a roundabout, circled by freshly planted bushes and a fountain.
But it’s the construction going on now that will prove whether the Smart growth really is.
There’s a 251-unit apartment building under construction behind the hotel and work is continuing on a 71,500-square-foot, residential-retail building at Neshoba and South Germantown. The apartment design includes four studio units, 124 one-bedroom units, and 123 two-bedroom units. The rent ranges from $1,400 to $3,500 a month. They’re expected to be completed by the end of summer.
Newk’s Eatery will be the first restaurant to open there in the retail space, which is on street level. Twenty-five loft apartments will wrap around the building on the second floor. They range from 1,089 square feet to 2,075 square feet, with rents from $1,797 to $2,075.
Staks Pancake Kitchen initially agreed to open last year in the retail area, but after repeated construction delays caused by rain and a bitter winter, the restaurant went elsewhere. However, Spence Ray, executive vice president of sales and leasing for McNeill Commercial Real Estate, which leads the development, says three additional tenants signed leases and he’s in negotiation with a small grocery store.
One of those tenants is a new restaurant called Moondance, set to open at the end of summer, when construction is expected to be completed. Moondance, a nod to Van Morrison’s popular song, will feature live background music while customers dine. The 212-seat restaurant will feature food with a Southern flair, says Matt Williams, director of operations for Beale Street Blues Co. The company also operates B.B. King’s Blues Clubs, Lafayette’s Music Room, and Itta Bena. The other tenants are Bella Vita, gifts and interiors, and Itty Bitty Bella, a store for baby items. Ray is looking for three more restaurants to add to the mix.
All of the businesses and the apartments are part of a “live-work-play” design by Ray. The project has proximity to the Germantown Performing Arts Center, the Germantown Athletic Club, and the Germantown Library, as well as access to the Wolf River Greenway.
“Basically it’s trying to give people a way to live and work and eat and shop and carry on their life without necessarily having to get into an automobile all the time,” Ray says. “I looked at this project and thought is there any way you could live, own a dog, walk across the street, and eat dinner? I started looking at Germantown’s Smart Growth code to see if there was a way to get it to work on this piece of land,” he says. “The zoning code they wrote really focused on those things.”
Smart Growth is a national guideline for cities to promote denser, mixed-use, and pedestrian-friendly development. Thornwood is the first project to use the special zoning for a multi-residential development, says Cameron Ross, Germantown’s economic and community development director.
“This project is one of the most incredible things we’ve seen,” Ross says. “Some developments have a shelf life that’s pretty limited. What McNeill put in at Thornwood is timeless and it’s going to bring something to the community and bring it together.”
Bedroom communities typically appeal to families who work in major urban cities but want to leave the congestion, commerce, and crime behind.
“The things that were important to the suburbs, especially in the South, were low density, low height … they didn’t want seven-story buildings looking out over their homes … lots of landscape screening and staggered zoning,” Ray says.
In the mid-2000’s, Germantown, like other municipalities, recognized the need to be open to new ideas that would attract the next generation of citizens, namely the millennials, says Shawn Massey, a partner with The Shopping Center Group.
“It’s where the future is going for suburbs,” he says, pointing to other developments planned in Germantown and another in Lakeland. “People need choices whether they are empty-nesters, professionals, or millennials,” he says. “Not everyone wants to have a yard or house to maintain. There are people who grew up in the suburbs, who want to live in the suburbs, but they want a cool place to live.”
And it’s more than that, Ross says. The city faced a growth variance that the other suburbs didn’t have. The city is landlocked with no annex reserve. That left them looking inward to see how to make better use of the land in their city limits.
“Eighty-five percent of Germantown’s property is devoted to residential,” Ross says. “We have very limited land area — three square miles that we could focus. This mix (Thornwood) is a key residential/commercial strategy to add value to those miles.”
Ray and his design team spent about three years traveling around the country — and even to London — looking at best practices.
“There’s nothing we are doing that is new,” Ray says. “What we are doing is replicating communities that European settlers brought to America, but it wasn’t a European idea either. You see it in South America. You see it in Africa and in Asia. We’re replicating things that we believe are healthy.”
These are the touches Ray added to enhance the project: 378 reserved parking spaces for apartment tenants in an underground garage and another parking garage for the retail/residential building. Also, there will be a doorman at the apartments to announce guests and allow them up 24/7, three fenced dog areas for residents’ pets, a courtyard with an L-shaped swimming pool and areas for sports games such as bocce ball. The streets are tree-lined with extra-large sidewalks around the development so couples can pass side by side. There are benches and a switchback that leads to a pocket park with grass and benches for people and events.
McNeill also plans to add two brick-paved crosswalks across Neshoba so residents and customers can walk to the Germantown Civic Center.