Outside of the skyscraper strongholds of Chicago and New York, the really tall buildings have been confined to a handful of urban centers in places like Philadelphia, Atlanta and San Francisco. Nashville was not on that short list.
It is now. Giarratana Development LLC is poised to break ground soon on the Signature Tower, situated on a prime corner on Church Street downtown where the old Cain Sloan department store was once located. The building will be 70 stories and 1,030 feet in height, making it potentially the tallest building in the nation outside of Chicago and New York. The cost is estimated to be between $250 million and $370 million. Moreover, it will rank among the 30 tallest buildings in the world when it's finished.
Planned as a combination of 400 luxury condominiums, a Kimpton-owned Palomar Hotel and assorted restaurants and retail space spread among 1.4 million sq. ft., the Signature is a model of public relations political correctness. Developer Anthony Giarratana labored for several years to achieve a consensus of civic support for his project.
“We held numerous meetings with residents and interest groups,” recalls Charles G. Hull, a principal with Smallwood Reynolds Stewart Stewart & Associates in Atlanta, the general architect on the project. “There are always issues to resolve, but we let people early on know what was happening and we got good support.”
The city council approved the project last fall. Ground was ready to be broken when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration filed notice asserting that the tower would be too tall and could interfere with arrivals and departures at the Nashville International Airport.
Now, the FAA wants the developer to cut his building in half, but the Giarratana group argues that the imperiled runway at Nashville's airport only accounts for about 1% of all departures and arrivals as it is. “I think we'll eventually come to an agreement we can all live with,” Hull says.
Smallwood has designed the glass-clad Signature Tower with eight super-columns of concrete, some measuring as big as 4 ft. by 8 ft. in the middle and at the corners, with a series of outrigger beams attaching the core to the high-performance glass exterior. “The design allows the structure to be very light. That makes the building economical,” Hull says. It also preserves the most open perimeter possible.
The Empire State building has fins near its apex, but such decorative elements have been out of style in most of the 75 years since. Hull has brought them back atop the Signature with fins that enhance the tapering at the top of the building. Hull wanted a bit of art deco flair that would give the building a traditional appeal.
“Nashville has a strong history of classical architecture,” says Hull. There's a life-size replica of the Parthenon in the city's Centennial Park, started in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.
“Nashville has this image as the Athens of the South, while also being a progressive modern city. We had to pay attention to both those realities as we designed the building,” Hull adds.
Is Signature Tower a precursor to similarly tall buildings likely to be proposed in other second-tier cities around the country? The architect isn't so sure.
“There is always a certain romance and civic pride in any city getting a tall building like this one,” Hull observes. “On the other hand, it's a real challenge getting a building of this scale financed. That will limit the spread of high rises in smaller cities.”