When Nashville’s current tourism/bachelorette/travel boom kicked into high gear, one thing quickly became obvious: There were not enough places for people to sleep. Thus started a hotel-building boom and a fevered pitch of short-term rental (such as Airbnb and Vrbo) conversions. So far this year, 926 new hotel rooms have opened—on top of 2,304 in 2018 and 1,219 in 2017. (Another 4,567 are under construction with more than 3,300 in the proposal process.)
As housecleaning smoothed fresh sheets downtown, short-term rentals flourished in the neighborhoods, including in East Nashville, known for on-trend restaurants, quirky shops, and an artsy population. Visitors wanted to stay where the locals live—although not all the locals were crazy about it.
Last year Host Compliance, a San Francisco–based company that helps cities enforce their short-term rental regulations, got more anonymous tips about illegal operators in Nashville than it did for any other city. Currently, there are an estimated 1,000 illegal short-term rentals operating in Nashville. (Approximately 2,188 legit permits were issued last year and more than 700 so far in 2019.)
That’s the background that’s led to a shift. “You aren’t seeing a trend, you are seeing an evolution,” says Robert Baum, one of the founders of Bedderman Lodging, owner of the soon-to-open FieldHouse Jones, of this newest crop of accommodations.
“Airbnb has helped people become accustomed to someone not being on staff 24/7,” explains Micah Lacher, president of Anchor Investments, which owns the Russell hotel.
Five new hotels (well, four hotels and one motel) are bucking both the Airbnb trend and the domination of big international chains through local connections, distinctive amenities, and unexpected addresses.
23 rooms; starting at $100. A repurposed church with restored stained-glass windows and pews turned into headboards, The Russell is perhaps East Nashville’s most talked-about transformation. While aesthetic elements of the church remain, The Russell is thoroughly modern, with a podcast recording studio available to the general public and free snacks from local purveyors in the guest rooms.
Standout amenities: Neighborhood bookseller The Bookshop curated titles for the guest rooms and lobby. The local developer of the Russell also owns a small loft property downtown and is working on another church-to-hotel transformation in East Nashville.
The Russell is notable for its philanthropic initiatives including donations to city ministries for the homeless and support for Shower Up, a truck that provides those living on the street opportunities for a hot shower. Lacher estimates the hotel will donate more than $100,000 in its first year.
The Dive Motel & Swim Club
23 rooms; starting at $150. Scheduled to open this summer, the Dive Motel is a Palm Springs–style swim club on Dickerson Pike, which is northeast of downtown, but not in the hip, tourist-centric area. Historically, Dickerson Pike was the old Buffalo Trail (bronze buffalo sculptures mark the route), and country music star Hank Williams Jr. is said to have swum in the pool of the Key Motel that is being turned into the retro-vibe Dive.
“Most hoteliers rebrand motels as hotels, and I think that’s a bit disingenuous,” says Lyon Porter, co-owner of the Dive Motel & Swim Club, as well as other properties in East Nashville and Brooklyn. “We are tapping into the romantic nostalgia of a motel and also creating what we want out of a motel experience in the present day.”
Standout amenities: The motel will have retro-heavy design (aesthetics are an important element of Porter’s other properties), a swim club locals can join, and disco balls in every room. While many Airbnb listings warn that they are not party properties, the Dive is all about hosting good times.
Downtown Sporting Club
20 rooms; starting at $189. The first hotel from Strategic Hospitality, a restaurant company owned by two local brothers who helped change the Nashville food scene.
Standout amenities: Located in the heart of the Broadway strip, and once home to one of the brothers’ successful honky-tonk bars, this ambitious four-story destination features ax-throwing, an indoor grassy area with a large screen for movie watching, a rooftop bar, a restaurant, and a coffee shop.
The third floor houses the hotel rooms, which are in the center of all the Broadway action but also tucked away, thanks to a designated elevator, locked floors, and special glass panes in the floor-to-ceiling windows to block out the noise of the all-night revelry while still providing a view (white noise machines and earplugs are provided too). A vending machine is stocked with the kinds of things travelers often forget—such as toiletries, snacks, phone chargers, and hair ties—sold at non-inflated prices.
93 rooms; starting at $209. Building on its model of successful, quirky boutique hotels in Chicago neighborhoods, owner Bedderman Lodging is opening FieldHouse Jones in East Nashville this summer. Twenty-one of the rooms are suites with kitchenettes, and the business model calls for listing up to 20% of rooms on home-sharing websites, but FieldHouse Jones is definitely a hotel with the service to back it up.
Standout amenities: An all-day snack bar, underground parking (unheard of in this neighborhood), and a rooftop deck with views of downtown should appeal to both locals and tourists. The idea is to be a creative hub within a creative neighborhood in a largely creative city, a place where locals can meet and hang out to collaborate on projects.
Vandyke Bed and Beverage
Eight rooms; starting at $249 per night. No, that’s not a typo, the second B in the B&B is for beverage. Located at the Five Points intersection—literally and figuratively the epicenter of East Nashville—the Vandyke features an open-air bar that physically connects guest rooms to the buzzy neighborhood outside its doors. A guest-only rooftop deck provides a little privacy for those who don’t want to mingle with locals.
Standout amenities: Each of the luxury hotel’s eight rooms is named after a different beverage—Champagne, whiskey, wine, beer, tequila, and rum among them—with decor and specific glassware in keeping with that drink.
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