e were constantly looking for real estate deals and I identified a project that I thought would work. We talked about it for a couple of years, and we finally decided that the Gulch was a project that we wanted to do–it had enormous potential.
We didn't know exactly how we were going to do it, but that had never stopped Steve and I before. The 70% solution–a quick decision on an imperfect plan is better than a perfect plan that’s too late–is one of the many principles I learned in the Marines that helped me succeed in the business world.
The rest of the story, as far as the Gulch is concerned, became one of finding partners to develop with. The person that came to me was a fellow named Bill Barkley. He worked with us for a number of years and I really respected his ideas. He had a contract to buy some excess land from CSX Corporation near the downtown railroad tracks along Eleventh Avenue South, but he didn’t have the funds to close the deal. That’s where Steve and I came in. We get a lot of the credit, but he was the one who had the original vision.
Our timing was impeccable. New Urbanism, which promoted environmentally friendly habits by creating more livable and more walkable neighborhoods with a wide range of housing, shopping and working spaces, was beginning to catch on around the country just as we got started.
If our timing was impeccable, the condition of the property we bought was anything but. It was a disaster! I remember calling Steve and saying, “Steve, I want to show you this property I want to buy.” I told him we were probably going to pay a couple of hundred thousand dollars for it. When we visited the property, he looked around and up at the ceiling. There was moss and grass growing in the building and water was dripping from the ceiling. Steve asked me if I thought it was really such a good idea to buy this building, and I said, “Well, they can’t all be in perfect condition when we buy them, Steve.”
Some of the most celebrated restaurants in all of Nashville began as nothing more than that abandoned wreck of a building.