The Barber Group confirmed Thursday that it has yet to secure financing and to purchase land for the 201-foot, $125 million Westin hotel/condo tower it plans to build downtown along the Lower Broad honky-tonk strip.
The Fayetteville, Ark. developer did say that progress is being made and that the company still intends to break ground on the hotel by year’s end.
A proposed Westin, which would sit between Second and Third avenues, drew the ire of local preservationists for months before the Metro Council approved it last March, saying the height of the building would denigrate the historical integrity of Lower Broad. A strong coalition of downtown business owners fought in favor of the project, which they said would bring an influx of new tourism dollars downtown.
“I wish we could move quicker, and I wish we could have already been going vertical, but with a project of this magnitude and a project that’s this important to downtown Nashville, we can’t afford for anything to go wrong,” said Brandon Rains, a project manager with Barber.
Rains said the company has received several cost estimates but that, partly because of the several design elements the Council mandated for the building — such as environmentally friendly LEED certification and a green roof — the final budgeting process has taken longer than expected. He said the company hopes to finalize financing, close on the property sales and begin demolition by Oct. 31 this year, allowing still for a 2009 opening.
He emphasized that the tighter economy has made financing harder.
“It’s not just the housing market, but financing, period, is certainly tougher nationwide for all projects,” Rains said. “So it’s certainly harder than it was two years ago.
He said the company would make no design changes to the 375-hotel room/48-condominium building.
“We’re just verifying all the numbers behind the scenes that go into making that building. We’re not redesigning the project or changing it in any way, shape or form, but during the entitlement process [from when Barber first proposed the project until the Council approved it], we were working on conceptual drawings, and now we’re working off of a schematic pricing package and verifying our numbers and the overall budget.”
The price will still likely total to about $125 million.
When the height of the project was debated last spring, Barber maintained it would be impossible to build the 19-story hotel any shorter and, at the same time, keep the project financially viable.
A pro forma of the project, which Metro Councilman Mike Jameson requested last year to verify these claims, indicates the Westin’s investors would receive a 10.68 percent return, barely meeting what Barber said should really be an 11 percent profit necessary to attract investors.