High-profile law firm signs lease at $540M development

High-profile law firm signs lease at $540M development

Nashville Business Journal
By Adam Sichko
October 7, 2019

One of Nashville's largest law firms is moving out of downtown and heading to top-level space in a Midtown development's office tower.

Officials with Baker Donelson have signed a long-term lease for the 21-story tower under construction in the Broadwest development, at
1600 West End Ave. The law firm's 200 employees will occupy about 70,000 square feet, spread over the tower's top-three floors.

The news is significant for several reasons:

Baker Donelson employs 100 attorneys, making it the region's fourth largest law firm. For two decades, the firm has been located at 211 Commerce St., just a block from the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway's tourist district. The firm's name brands the building, which is often seen from aerial shots taken during Titans or Predators games, or other large downtown events.

The law firm is the first anchor tenant to sign on to the Broadwest mixed-use development, which Alabama-based Propst Development LLC is creating at the former site of the long-planned West End Summit project. Propst started construction on the two-tower development without tenants, funding the work itself through a family fortune made in generic drugs. At 510,000 square feet, the Broadest office tower will be Nashville's largest multi-tenant office building in a dozen years. The development is one of the biggest active construction projects in Nashville.

Baker Donelson's move is the highest-profile departure of a longtime downtown office tenant — and could signal more to come, as traffic congestion worsens and the heart of downtown becomes all the more centered around the city's record waves of tourists (and their pedal taverns).

"As much as Nashville is growing and as fast as Nashville is growing, it's nice to make a splash in a very nice new space that is going to allow us to show off to our clients that we are one of the top firms in the city and we’re now in office space that is consistent with that," said Brigid Carpenter, managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. "As a bonus, you don’t have to fight all of downtown just to get to us."

In an interview on Monday, Carpenter said leaving downtown will make clients happy and boost employee morale. Broadwest is a quarter-mile from the downtown interstate loop.

"Location, obviously, was a huge factor. It's very convenient to downtown and basically what I would consider the expanded downtown, these days," Carpenter said. Employees will still have easy access to downtown, where state and federal courts are located, she said. She noted that the new office will be a half-mile from the Whole Foods opening in a few months at 1200 Broadway, and near that, the Nashville Yards mixed-use development.

"It is a difficult proposition these days to conduct business in the building where we are. We're smack in the middle of the main tourist district, and that's hard on our employees and our clients, frankly," Carpenter said. "Noise and traffic both make it really pretty difficult. … The hardest part of the commute is once you get within six or eight blocks of our office. Fighting that last half-mile on the commute has become difficult. Clearly, our folks are ready for a change." (She said the noise level particularly escalated when Kid Rock's Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock & Roll Steakhouse opened a year ago.)

Baker Donelson began searching for new office space back in 2016, and will be vacating about 90,000 square feet of space at 211 Commerce St. Baker Donelson was one of the tower's inaugural tenants when it opened in 2000, along with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, which just signed a lease for the Capitol View development at 1100 Charlotte Ave.

The law firm attempted to leave the center of downtown once before, signing a lease for the proposed One KVB skyscraper at the Korean Veterans Boulevard roundabout in SoBro. In a sign of how quickly Nashville's boom has happened, the Propst family did not yet own the Broadwest property when Baker Donelson signed that lease in early 2018. At the end of that year, Baker Donelson rebooted its office hunt after terminating its One KVB lease, when financing for the potential project faltered.

"We were really drawn to [Broadwest] right away," Carpenter said of the firm's rebooted office hunt. "This will really be state-of-the-art … catered to business clients versus anything else."

Baker Donelson won't have signage atop the Broadwest office tower, Carpenter said. The tower is set to open in the first quarter of 2021.

"When we envisioned the office tower at Broadwest, Baker Donelson is exactly the type of tenant we had in mind,” Chris Brown, principal with Propst Development, said in a news release.

In addition to the office tower, Propst also is building a 34-story tower. It will include a 237-room luxury Hilton Conrad hotel on the lower levels, and 196 condos above. A 1.5-acre plaza with green space will separate the towers. At the north end of the property, along Hayes Street, a low-rise building will connect the two towers with an additional 125,000 square feet of retail and office space.

The whole development, which consumes a city block, sits atop an underground garage with 2,500 parking spaces. For comparison, that's 700 more parking spaces than the garage at the Music City Center convention hall.

Today, construction has ascended well more than 70 feet, filling the former pit at the site and reaching above street level. There are four tower cranes on-site. This summer, ServisFirst bank announced it was leasing the tower's second floor of office space and opening a retail branch at the development.

Steve Preston and Greg McCavera, brokers with the real estate firm CBRE Inc., represented Baker Donelson. Ashley Albright and Bill Adair, of brokerage firm JLL, represented Propst Development in lease negotiations.

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