April 23, 2018
Margaritaville Nashville Hotel developer Darby Campbell talks marinas, SoBro
Darby Campbell is the owner and president of Safe Harbor Marinas and Safe Harbor Development. The former specializes in marina management, while the latter has undertaken the development of hotels, retail/restaurant spaces, and apartment buildings. Campbell has overseen the development of new and redeveloped buildings and properties with a collective value of more than $300 million.
Recently, Safe Harbor Development broke ground in SoBro on the Margaritaville Nashville Hotel.
The Post recently enjoyed an email exchange with Campbell.
Your company’s Drakes Creek Marina recently underwent a $5 million renovation. How do you expect that to positively affect the marina this summer?
Drakes Creek underwent the first significant renovation the marina has experienced in 25 years. It’s exciting for us, of course, but most importantly will really enhance the experience for our customers.
Improvements, among other things, include a new dry stack building, Ships Store, shower house bathrooms and upgraded offices. The new dry stack storage is especially exciting, as it makes getting on the water easier than ever, while giving boaters a way to store their boats that preserves their equipment.
You operate four Middle Tennessee properties — Drakes Creek, Blue Turtle Bay, Clarksville and Elm Hill. Thoughts?
At Safe Harbor Marinas, we take recreation seriously. We understand that free time is valuable and it's our goal to make boating as easy and carefree as possible for our guests. We are the only marina in the area that offers service throughout Middle Tennessee, so whether you purchased a boat from Safe Harbor or not — and whether or not you are a customer of one of our marinas — our team will come to you with an experienced service and maintenance team. This applies to repairs and scheduled maintenance, which is a major point of differentiation from others out there. Our marinas are also some of the favorite spots in the area, with great amenities like Sam's Sports Grill and Shipwreck Cove, and of course, the enhancements we’ve made.
Any major things in the works for Safe Harbor Marinas in 2018?
Absolutely. This is an exciting time for us. We have a new harbormaster at Drakes Creek Marina, who has spent extensive time in the Hendersonville area. We have also added a new heavy-duty concrete service area for boat service, in conjunction with our travel lift. There are only two travel lifts in Nashville — one at Drakes Creek and the other on the west side, on the Cumberland River. We’re also adding a new dock entrance to the marina at Blue Turtle Bay Marina.
Where is the tourism/boating industry headed this year?
Tourism and boating are two of the hottest industries to be in right now, and both are booming in Nashville. Spending a day on the lake with family and friends is a terrific way to unwind and reconnect, and the data continues to show an upswing in people getting out onto the water. Water sports are also on the rise, with the evolution of waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing. We continue to innovate, in order to stay ahead of the curve. The new dry stack facility at Drakes Creek Marina, for example, is built to accommodate everything from traditional boats to ski and wakeboard boats, including those with high wakeboard or ski towers.
How do you approach safety, security and legal issues with your marinas?
With "safe" in our name, this is obviously a huge area of focus for us, and so important. We take our guests' free time seriously, but nothing is more important than their safety and security. There are stringent guidelines in place by various governmental bodies and authorities such as the TVA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the TWRA, who manage and handle enforcement in the Tennessee Valley region. We partner with these groups to ensure we are in compliance at all times. For example, we recently went through a rigorous inspection process per the new life safety requirements, triggered by the Noah Dean Act. We also regularly interact with local first responders to ensure they know our facilities inside and out, and have access at all times. We provide slips for emergency crafts and accommodate their training exercises, as well. We use video surveillance to help deter potential issues and monitor our parking lot and public areas, as well, and our staff — at all levels — are trained to be aware of potential liabilities, and respond adequately to any situations that may arise.
On that theme, in late 2015 you faced some criticism from slip holders at a marina on Lake Erie in Buffalo, New York, which Safe Harbor managed. How did that eventually play out?
When we took over what was formerly known as the NFTA Small Boat Harbor in Buffalo, it had been run by the state for 40 years and handed over to the New York State Park system to operate. The marina was in need of major renovations, with electrical, water and docks that were in disrepair. We spent the first year observing and understanding the true issues that were present, while working to get the facility through the season in working order. To date, we’ve invested more than $7 million into a complete rebuild, creating new docks, new launch ramps, reconfiguring the parking lots and working to redefine the culture there. It was not an easy task, and when we started, the climate was volatile given the political backstory. But we are really pleased with the turnaround. And we’re not finished. Today, this is a world-class marina on Lake Erie at the Buffalo waterfront, and we’re continuing to make enhancements, including a new paved parking lot coming this year. We are at 100 percent occupancy, and this is one of the premier projects to happen in Buffalo in the last decade. We’re really proud of what we’ve done there.
Changing topics, Safe Harbor Development has broken ground in SoBro on the Margaritaville Nashville hotel. It took a bit longer to start than you had originally announced. What were the main challenges and what might be some key design elements of the hotel?
This project is one of our biggest ever, and incredibly important, as this is Margaritaville’s first urban hotel. When we started out, we knew that it would take time, and we wanted to get it right. This included focusing a lot on the design of the building, ensuring it reflects the Margaritaville brand, while fitting naturally into the SoBro neighborhood.
As far as differentiating features, Margaritaville Nashville Hotel will offer a feeling of escapism that truly cannot be found elsewhere downtown. The hotel has a prime location and we’re excited to introduce some really special amenities, including a rooftop relaxation and entertainment area. This space will be one of the best small meeting and social event venues in the market. The hotel will be one of the taller structures in the immediate area, so just imagine what the views will be like of the Nashville skyline.
What would you say to critics who are a bit dismissive of themed restaurants and hotels like Hard Rock Café and The Guest House at Graceland (formerly Heartbreak Hotel)? Planet Hollywood spurred lots of negative reaction in the mid-1990s. And lots of folks find Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Nashville restaurant and bar on Lower Broadway, to be blunt, hokey and tacky. Your thoughts?
I would say Margaritaville is not a theme; it’s a lifestyle. We believe the appeal of the hotel will welcome those who are fans of the brand already, but also will extend to others, due to the exciting array of amenities we will offer and our authentic, laid-back vibe.
Will the north wall of the hotel building be blank? The assumption is that another tall building will rise on the space bordered by KVB on the north, Fifth Avenue on the east and your building on the south. If not blank, how will it look and function? Relatedly, what type exterior night lighting could the hotel offer? We ask because exterior night lighting for tall buildings in general is becoming more interesting and significant.
We’re still in the planning stages with our design team, but as soon as we have a finalized rendering and details, we’ll let you know.
What type outdoor spaces will the hotel building offer and how might they "interact" with SoBro?
The hotel will feature a rooftop relaxation and entertainment area on the fourth floor, with a pool, sun deck, lounge chairs and cabanas, fire pits, live music and a new Margaritaville dining concept, FINS Beach Bar. This space will be accessible only to guests staying at the hotel and will have incredible views of the Nashville skyline.
We will also offer outdoor seating at another new Margaritaville dining concept, JWB Grill, which will be located at street level. This restaurant will be open to both hotel guests and the public. It will be a perfect spot for those who are going to a nearby show or event, and those looking for a romantic date night or special dinner with friends.
Within five years, SoBro could be home to approximately 18 built-from-scratch hotels and at least two buildings adaptively reused as hotels. Could this be excessive?
The growth in supply that is projected will enable the market to capture demand that would otherwise be turned away due to a lack of quality lodging. In addition, the current cycle suggests that entering the market during a time of continued recovery and new growth will create a favorable economic benefit long-term. We think we’re coming into the market right at the right time, and that there is longevity for the hotel.
Please provides some specifics regarding the main pedestrian entrance and how will it interact with SoBro.
The main lobby entrance of the hotel will be located under a porte-cochere at Fifth Avenue South and Peabody. This is perfect for access from Korean Veterans Boulevard. Guests will be right in the middle of the action downtown and within walking distance to nearby attractions including the Music City Center, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Broadway and more.