The Icon signs first retailer

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 at 1:50am

The Icon has signed its first retail tenant and another restaurant is coming to The Gulch.

Urban Flats, an Orlando-based chain, chose the 22-story condominium project for its first Nashville location.

Hank Hillenmeyer, a former restaurant company executive who now is a management consultant, and a group of investors are putting the trendy eatery into 5,400 square feet of the 25,000 square feet of available retail space.

Joe Barker, who runs MarketStreet Enterprises in developing The Gulch and Icon, said two more restaurants are likely for The Gulch area. With Sambuca, Watermark, Ru San’s, Agave and Radius 10 already in the area, Barker said he doesn’t believe the area will be saturated.

“Both from a gut feeling and the studies we’ve done, you like to build these clusters of restaurants,” he said.

Urban Flats uses gourmet flatbread as the cornerstone of its menu, and according to the company’s Web site is drawn to locations experiencing urban renewal. The Gulch fits that bill.

Barker said a local coffee shop operator is near an agreement for Icon space but couldn’t disclose the name.

Bongo Java bought space on Ninth Avenue South for its roasting operations but it’s not expected that the coffee house is the Icon future tenant.

Hillenmeyer’s experience has been with restaurant chains. He founded Cooker Restaurant Corp. and sold it in the 1980s to a real estate developer who expanded the chain but amassed a mountain of debt.

Hillenmeyer returned in 1999 to overhaul the company but went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. Three years later, Hillenmeyer resigned and the company ceased operations. He now is with Compass Executives, a Nashville firm that provides consulting services and mentoring for business leaders.

As his restaurant is built out, Bristol Development will be completing construction as well as begin closing sales in earnest in the next 30 to 60 days.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on the amenities package,” said Sam Yeager, a Bristol principal.

There are contracts on about 400 of the 417 units, he said. Developers around town have used The Icon as a barometer of the condo market’s healthiness. There have been worries that a vast number of the contracts are to speculators.

Yeager wouldn’t comment on how many are expected to close and how many might fall out, saying doing so would be speculation. He said the sales team has rescheduled walk-throughs with buyers as the amenities have been completed so buyers can see a more complete project.

Bristol and its partners expect that the tougher sales and lending environment will have an effect.

“There’s definitely going to be some pushback,” Barker said.

But he’s nonplussed about the project’s overall prospects.

“We’re very optimistic about it,” he said.

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