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The Community Builder: Dan Heller

The People Issue 2012


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The evolution of Nashville's East Side over the past 15 years has been nothing short of remarkable. And while thousands of homeowners, investors and entrepreneurs have helped make it happen, there have been several visionaries whose dreams and sweat have catalyzed the process.

Dan Heller is one of them. While a lot of folks were staking their claims in neighborhoods like Five Points, Edgefield and Lockeland Springs, Heller set his sights on Inglewood, at the time a sleepy residential neighborhood to the north, relatively bereft of commercial activity. In a small strip of underused commercial real estate at the intersection of McGavock and Riverside, Heller saw potential.

"I had a feeling there was an unusually good opportunity on that corner to create something beyond the status quo," Heller says, "but it required some methodical planning and a bit of luck. The main row of storefronts wasn't officially for sale, but I kept calling the owner every few months for about two years until he finally agreed to sell."

Heller, who lives in Inglewood with his one-eyed cat, Sandy Duncan, also knew something about the East Side mindset. Folks moving across the river were seeking a community environment — public spaces where people could run into their friends and while away a weekend morning or afternoon. And so one of his first projects was to create an outdoor courtyard.

"Creating the courtyard was a major catalyst," Heller says. "It attracted new businesses like Sip, Olive & Sinclair Chocolate, Watanabe and Mitchell Deli." His current roster of tenants also includes Riverside Village Pharmacy, Salon Studios, Castrillo's Pizza, Mike's Ice Cream Factory, M&M Furniture, Village Pub and Old Made Good.

Though only time will tell, Heller's greatest contribution to the city may be another project he's spearheading: Urban Green Lab, Nashville's first community center dedicated to sustainable living, providing everything from cultural programming to workshops on organic gardening and solar energy — anything to help make the city a greener, healthier environment. Nissan has come on board as a founding partner, and Urban Green Lab has raised about a third of the approximately $1.5 million they need to construct the facility (near Riverside Village), which Heller plans to build to the highest possible LEED Platinum standard.

But apparently that's not enough to keep him busy. Along with business partner March Egerton, Heller has been developing the old 30,000-square-foot Fluffo Mattress warehouse on Main Street. (Egerton also co-owns the Watanabe space with Heller, as well as the Gallatin Road buildings that house Bar 308 and Sherwin Williams.) Two breweries have already committed to the space, and there are plans for a 3,500-square-foot Riverside Village-style courtyard.

The People:

The Legend: Little Jimmy Dickens
The Power Couple: Peter Depp and Kristin Vasquez
The Broadcaster: Tom Randles
The Barber: Mark Walker
The Internet Star: Jessica Frech
The Teacher: Gatluak Ter Thach
The Chef: Laura Wilson
The Artist: Vesna Pavlovic
The Councilman: Fabian Bedne
The Saxman: Bobby Keys
The Coach: Ed Temple
The Networker: Liza Massey
The Designers: Jamie and the Jones
The Enforcer: Brian McGrattan
The Bird Brains: Birdcloud
The Poet: Sebastian Jones
The Geeks: Janet and Mike Lee


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