Alley 258 is a small thoroughfare that runs parallel to Woodland and Main streets in East Nashville. Its current use is primarily as a cut-through for vehicular traffic, but the brilliant architecture and design minds at Pfeffer Torode Architecture see it in a completely different light. The firm, known for providing thoughtful design solutions, sees so much more than a way for cars to get from point A to B. They see a potential gathering space. A space for events. For getting to know your neighbors. A culturally vibrant pedestrian corridor with a sense of place.
Multiple businesses front or back up to this alley, from small businesses such as Pfeffer Torode, to restaurants and nightspots like Butcher & Bee and new speakeasy Attaboy, so there are a variety of people using and interacting with the space.
“We see an opportunity to call attention to how culturally vibrant this space is becoming and get people to think about it differently,” says Jamie Pfeffer, partner at Pfeffer Torode. “It can be so much more than a pass-through for cars, it can be a place for people to interact with each other and these businesses.”
And to prove it, last October Pfeffer Torode asked a few of their neighbors along the alley if they would be interested in putting their idea to the test and hosting an event in the alleyway. Everyone jumped on board. Edley’s Bar-B-Que, Butcher & Bee and Crying Wolf all said yes. It was also important to get the Nashville Civic Design Center on board to get the conversation about the neighborhood’s vision started in an official way.
“Getting the Nashville Civic Design Center involved was important to kick off the advocacy that would need to occur in order to make this space more in line with the neighborhood’s vision,” says Abby Wheeler, Director of Development for development company Invent Communities, who partnered with Pfeffer Torode on the alley event.
Abby adds that the next step was to talk to the neighbors along the alley to gauge interest in this concept.
“We started going to businesses on the alley and asking about the history and what they thought about the future and this event,” she says. “People were excited about the history of the area and were optimistic about the future. Immediately, we were met with a lot of support for the cause. It was exciting to see that everyone shared this vision with us.”
So, Jamie and business partner Jonathan Torode, both Auburn grads, borrowed an idea from their college days for a pumpkin carve to kick off programming the alley space. They constructed and erected a structure that would ultimately house 275 pumpkins that doubled as an entrance to the alleyway and transformed the street into an event space.
The team reached out to Carl Denton Designs, who took the lead on the event coordination and design. “The most exciting part about the whole thing was that nothing had been done around this alley, nothing had been done to brand it, so it was a blank canvas for whatever we wanted.” Carl met with Pfeffer Torode and other folks in the alley, and the idea began to come together. “I enjoyed seeing their excitement at someone picking up the ball and running with it.”
Carl engaged 12th Table for event furniture, Green Door Gourmet for pumpkins and the alley businesses that became vendors for the event — Edley’s, Butcher & Bee and Crying Wolf.
“The goal by the end of the night was to have illuminated the alley, but also to have created some gathering time that allowed people to meet their neighbors. The secondary goal was to show people the potential of this alley as a pedestrian space,” says Abby.
“Getting there at night and walking around having all the pumpkins on the shelf really was just a special moment that showed that everything came together as it should have — it looked amazing and people were excited to see it,” adds Carl.
An estimated 300 people passed through the event, and the feedback they heard was all positive.
With one successful event under their belt, the group’s next vision is to start conversation around the transition from street to plaza with baby steps rather than an overnight “move that bus!” type of radical transformation.
“One of the first things we’d like to see happen would be additional lighting,” Abby says. “The alley is becoming active at night with the bars and restaurants that are housed here as well as the 9-to-5 businesses. We want to invite people into the alley and make it aesthetically pleasing.”
Being a grassroots effort by several businesses that front the alley, Abby says a timeline for the evolution of the alley is something that’s still ahead of them. “We are planning on doing the pumpkin carve again next year and imagine it being even bigger and better,” she says. “We would love to get more businesses to be a part of it. Then we need to work with the Civic Design Center to move forward in understanding what this alley could look like in the future, and the event was a great jumping-off point for that.”
As for now, the alley is being referred to as Alley 258, which is the roadway’s technical name. Abby and the team behind this hopeful transformation also see the need for naming and branding the alley as well as introducing some thoughtful street art and seating.
“This alley is a connector for a growing business community,” Jamie says. “We look forward to continuing to invite the greater community to see what this space can look like when it’s all dressed up.”
We look forward to seeing how the future of Alley 258 unfolds!
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