Belle Meade Theatre
The former Belle Meade Theatre historic building is at risk of being lost to further development. The current owners have a long history of stewarding and preserving this gem since it's construction in 1940. The Preservation Society of Nashville (PSN) applauds the more than 80 years of thoughtful development on this site.
Again, the site faces its next evolution,. PSN believes that two things can exist at the same time - more residential and commercial density AND preservation of the historic elements. The Preservation Society of Nashville appreciates the ongoing discussions with Council Member Brenda Gadd, Metro Planning, and the Historical Commission staff. We have requested a meeting with the owner/development team to get clarification of some unknowns and to discuss our recommendations.
“The former Belle Meade Theatre building is one of the last remaining examples of Streamline Moderne architectural style in the entire state of Tennessee.”
State Historic Preservation Officer &
Executive Director, Tennessee Historical Commission
Development Plan Submittal as of September 27, 2023
The development, sometimes referenced as the “Ridgefield Way” development or “Belle Meade Kroger” project, is a proposed commercial project at the site of the historic, former Belle Meade Theatre. The 3.97-acre property is located at 4301 Harding Pike, Nashville, TN 37205, not to be confused with the already-approved Belle Meade Plaza or Harding Town Center projects within a half-mile on Harding Pike.
The developers recently submitted a new development plan, dated September 27, 2023, to the Metro Nashville Planning Department and Commission.
In the proposed six-story complex, the Belle Meade Kroger would occupy the 1st floor (56,300 sq. ft.) and residential apartments would occupy the 2nd through 6th floors (258,785 sq. ft.) (74 studio units, 118 one-bedroom units, and 44 two-bedroom units). Expansion of the current underground parking garage is proposed, including a total of 572 parking spaces, 290 for residential parking and 282 for retail parking.
The current plans indicate a complete demolition of all existing built elements, including the historic portions of the complex. The marquee and obelisk that are shown are either a stylized interpretation of the original pieces or a reinstallation and restoration of the historic elements.
The property is currently zoned MUL (Mixed Use Limited), which has very specific standards relating to setbacks and other development measures. The current proposed plans would not meet these standards, and as such, the developer is seeking a rezoning to SP (Specific Plan), which is a completely customized zoning designation, tailored to the exact needs of the development plans. A rezoning process will be followed to seek approval of the plans.
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Facade, Marquee, & Obelisk
Current plans indicate a complete demolition of the building and either a replica or the original marquee and obelisk being re-affixed to the newly constructed building. The curvilinear Georgia marble facade, marquee, and obelisk should be preserved in their original locations.
Because a portion of the front land will be used to widen Harding Pike, the building will feel much closer to the street than it ever has. The proposed new construction above the original roofline should be stepped back deeper than is required to allow for more gradual transitioning from street level.
The original lobby is in good condition and would provide a welcoming lobby to the residential units. Restoring the lobby back to its original grandeur should be considered.
Differentiation from the historic building is necessary for the new construction. However, the front facade material should be revisited to minimize the quantity of different materials and more seamlessly complement the original marble facade.
Frontage of Property
The depth of the Harding Pike frontage should be maintained, even in the midst of the street widening. This space should be repurposed for public-oriented green space that complements the residential and commercial uses.
honor the history
The rich history of this historic place should be remembered and shared in a public space. There are so many photos and artifacts still available to continue honoring and haring the vibrant history of this unique and memorable part of Nashville's past.
The Belle Meade Theatre was built by Tony Sudekum’s Crescent Amusement Company and was designed by Marr & Hollman, opening on May 1, 1940. Sudekum owned many of the movie theaters in Nashville at the time, including early theaters like the Princess and Knickerbocker, which started the silent movie era and were later converted to sound. Marr & Hollman were known for designing the Broadway Post Office, which is now the Frist Art Museum.
The Theatre was built in the suburbs at the time and reflected the changing landscape of Nashville. Neighborhoods grew and housing, retail, and some commerce moved out of downtown. The “Streamline Moderne” masterpiece, which included a substantial marquee with an 80-foot tower featuring 1,600 neon, fluorescent, and colored lights, is now considered one of the only remaining examples of this architectural style in the state of Tennessee.
Still cladded with gray and black Georgia marble on the front façade, the building is one of the few structures in the Belle Meade neighborhood that references the area’s early history. Most of the surrounding area has been redeveloped over decades, leaving very few remaining historic structures. Its unique style and rarity make it a significant contributing structure, a defining element of the area’s character.
Aside from the venue’s architectural prominence, the once 1,100-seat Belle Meade started as a “neighborhood theater” eventually becoming a hot spot for movie stars, musicians, and politicians where classic movies such as “Gone with the Wind,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Wilma” premiered. Culturally, the Theatre became an entertainment hub and destination for the neighborhood and surrounding areas for decades. Many current Nashvillians can recall fond memories of the beloved theatre.
The owners of the Belle Meade Theatre have been faced with a changing business landscape over the last several decades. However, at nearly every turn, preservation-minded decisions were made regarding the reuse of the Theatre. In February 1991, the Belle Meade Theatre screened its last movie. By October of that year, a new bookstore, Bookstar, was opened, carrying more than 120,000 new books and periodicals. At that time, much of the front façade and marquee were refurbished.
By the early 2000s, developers turned the property into a mixed-use complex, including AmSouth Bank, Harris Teeter grocery store, 54 apartments, and other retails space. Over the decades, numerous businesses have operated out of the repurposed space, including Moon Drugs, FedEx Office, Mattress Firm, Top Hat Cleaners, and others.
Photo Credit: The Tennessean
The Public Process: Planning Commission
Developer submits plans to Metro Nashville Planning Department for review.
Staff Review & Revisions:
Planning Department reviews plans and provides feedback. Developer then makes revisions and resubmits. (This step can happen multiple times.)
Planning Commission Hearing:
Development plan is reviewed by the Metro Nashville Planning Commission. (This is a public meeting with option for public comment.)
If the plan is approved by the Commission, it will advance to Metro Council for review. If it is denied, then the developer can make changes and resubmit or appeal the denial.
The Public Process: Metro Council
1st Reading - Pro Forma:
The first reading is a pro forma reading meant to inform councilmembers and the public of the proposed plans. Typically, the application is voted upon and always passes as a means to proceed to the 2nd reading.
2nd Reading - Public Hearing:
The second reading is the public hearing where the general public can speak in support or opposition of the proposed plans. If plans are voted for approval, they continue to the 3rd reading.
3rd Reading - Final Vote:
Plans that receive approval during the second reading will typically be approved in the final vote. Occasionally, modifications are made to reflect public or councilmember input from the second reading. Once passed, the development plan has entitlements to move forward with permitting.