By now everyone has probably heard about Belmont’s $6.5 million acquisition of International Market & Restaurant last Thursday.
The restaurant — or more specifically, the property it sits on — was a long-coveted piece of real estate for Belmont. Former owner Patti Myint said Belmont had sought to purchase it from her for “many, many years” before last week’s deal.
The purchase also marks a significant step in Belmont’s expansion into the surrounding neighborhood, with only five privately owned lots of property left in the block between Bernard and Compton avenues, and only three privately owned lots left in the two blocks between Compton and Ashwood avenues.
Needless to say, Belmont’s future acquisitions of those eight remaining lots — and effectively three whole blocks — will be huge for the university’s growth.
However, International Market’s fate still remains uncertain. Myint, after owning the restaurant for more than four decades, told the Vision it would remain open for two more years. After that, it seems to be up in the air.
What the university decides to do with the property is obviously completely up to Belmont, though zoning does rule out one immediate possibility.
While the lots surrounding the restaurant are all residentially designated — the same designation buildings like Commons, Dickens, Horrell, Russell and Thrailkill all share — the restaurant itself sits in a commercially-designated zone.
This means Belmont probably couldn’t build another residence hall on top of International Market’s property without getting a zoning change first.
There are a few things Belmont could do with the property instead. Renovating the restaurant into a new fitness center, student life center or even — to make music students even happier — additional practice rooms, would all be very easy directions for Belmont to take.
However, there is a better direction.
Belmont prides itself on its efforts to recognize and support Nashville’s local immigrant and refugee communities. In June, Belmont was awarded the inaugural Siloam Bridge Builder award for doing just that. Belmont’s service-oriented classes send students to those communities — one of the required religion courses for freshmen, Intro to Old Testament, sends students to assist an after-school program for young refugee students.
Additionally, Belmont is a school that — for the most part — does a good job of recognizing and preserving things of historical significance. The grounds on the old side of campus, the Belmont Mansion and the Bell Tower are all fantastic examples of Belmont’s attention to its own history, and its dedication to preservation.
So, the question then is this: Is taking a business that has been a part of the community since 1975, that was created and owned by Patti Myint — an immigrant of Thailand — and renovating it into another cut-and-paste, sterile Belmont building the right move?
Instead, Belmont should take the building in a completely new direction. Don’t make something for the students, don’t make drastic renovations or pave over the old building. Instead give something back to the community — specifically Nashville’s immigrant and refugee community.
Belmont should turn International Market into a multi-purpose center for those communities. Classrooms for ESL classes, a clinic for medical needs, meeting rooms for job interview training or a daycare for immigrant or refugee children would all be phenomenal uses for the International Market building.
And what a way to respect the story of Patti Myint: turning her building into a place dedicated entirely to servicing the community that she and so many of Nashville’s longtime immigrant residents came from.