Blue Hour Over Nashville. Photo by Jim Nix on Flickr.Blue Hour Over Nashville. Photo by Jim Nix on Flickr.

Nashville’s Growing Pains

Economic Development, Featured, Transportation No Comments on Nashville’s Growing Pains 621

While Nashville may always be known as ‘Music City’ do not let the nickname name fool you, this town is no one-trick pony. As of 2013, Nashville’s largest industry has been healthcare with more than 300 companies providing over $30 billion dollars to the economy annually. With no state income tax and the employment rate below the national average, people are ready to call Nashville home making it the 19th fastest growing city in the United States. This growth has been assisted by the sitting mayor Karl Dean and Nashville Metro Council. In 2007, Nashville began the shift to smarter growth practices by adjusting regulations and standards in mixed-use development, transit, and neighborhood design.

Mayor Karl Dean has been successful in bringing numerous companies and developers to the city, mainly through tax incentives. These projects taking center stage include the Music City Center and Omni Hotel, alongside the civic improvements of AMP bus rapid transit and Nashville Sounds First Tennessee Park. These four developments are helping to make Nashville an even more impressive destination.

Here’s how they’re doing it.

Music City Center

Aerial photo of Music City Center. Photo credit of Nashville Music City Center.

Aerial photo of Music City Center. Photo credit of Nashville Music City Center.

Proposed shortly after the economic crisis of 2008, Music City Center has been controversial since its inception. With a $623 million price tag, many felt that the 1.2 million square foot convention center would not make significant returns on initial the investment.

Mayor Karl Dean reassured Nashvillians by insisting that with resources and labor costs being low, it was not only the right time to build the convention center, but that the cost would be offset by a three mile radius ‘tax zone’ on tourist spending that would pay for the project over time.

Being a part of Mayor Karl Dean’s push to improve Nashville’s sustainability, Music City Center has a few tricks up it its sleeve which has given it LEED Silver status.On the eastern side of the building, there are 845 solar panels installed atop the roof within the shape of a guitar. The panels can supply the center with 211 kilowatts of electricity or enough to power around 45 homes.

The rest of the roof, designed to resemble the rolling hills of Tennessee, is covered in 14 different types of vegetation that change shades throughout the year.The green roof is used to reduce the amount of storm water runoff and recycle rainwater that is then used for flushing toilets and to water the exterior landscape. The water is stored within a 360,000-gallon storage tank underground.

The green roof also helps to reduce the amount of heat from the sun, thus reducing energy costs associated with
cooling Music City Center.

Omni Hotel

Rendering of Omni Nashville. Photo credit Omni Hotels

Rendering of Omni Nashville. Photo credit Omni Hotels.

Providing over 800 rooms for tourists, the 21-story Omni hotel overlooks the Music City Convention center. Met with initial skepticism as well, Omni had surpassed one million hotel room nights for the 92 events that had reserved event space before its doors opened in September 2013.

While the Music City Center has indicated signs of future success, the Omni hotel doesn’t share the same promise. Jim Murphy, a lawyer that worked with Metro on the Omni deal, stated that Omni Hotels will spend more on construction and materials than its worth upon completion.

To insure Omni Hotels would continue the project, Nashville Metro will provide $103 million in tourism taxes to Omni and a partial abatement of 62.5 percent of property taxes over 20 years. The estimated tax income lost to the city is $54 million over the life of the 20-year abatement. With its close proximity to Music City Center, it is possible that with time, even Omni Hotel can help pave the way for a prosperous Nashville.

AMP Bus Rapid Transit

As with Music City Center, Mayor Karl Dean did not waste any time improving Nashville’s transit system during the early stages of the recession of 2008. In September of the following year, Nashville’s first Bus Rapid Transit went into service on Gallatin Pike. Traveling 12 miles, service operates from Music City Central the downtown core to the edge of Sumner County, just north of RiverGate Mall.

Shortly after the successful implementation of the Gallatin Pike BRT, Plans were underway to build another route along Murfreesboro Pike. Receiving $10 million from the federal government, the Murfreesboro Pike BRT lite was created from existing bus stops by providing general upkeep, covered shelters and clocks with estimate arrival times.

The traffic lights along the BRT route were also replaced to keep the light green if busses are running behind. The same facelift was given to the BRT route along Gallatin Pike years prior increasing ridership by nearly 50 percent a month.

Rendering of the AMP bus station. Photo credit GoAmp.

Rendering of the AMP bus station. Photo credit GoAmp.

As Mayor Karl Dean and Metropolitan Transit Authority CEO Paul Ballard spoke about the opening of the newly created Murfreesboro Pike BRT lite route, public attention had already moved onto an even bigger project—the proposed AMP BRT. Talks began in 2009 and federal funding to examine the best type of solution for a roadway followed. Come 2010, the AMP was taking form.

By the end of 2011, the MTA’s alternatives analysis had examined multiple types of transit services such as Bus Rapid Transit, Urban Streetcar, and Commuter Rail for the corridor. After much research, consultants recommended BRT as the best solution because of its ability to promote high ridership for half the cost of urban streetcars. By January of 2012, it was approved by the MTA Board of directors and ready for further analysis of AMPs benefits and impacts on the community.

After engineers created a mock-up of the proposed route running from Five Points in East Nashville to Saint Thomas hospital in West Nashville. The estimated cost for the route came in at $175 million, or $25 million per mile, for the seven mile bus rapid transit route. The proposed route would allow residents and visitors alike to move along the corridor faster than a car would be able to during peak traffic times.

Proposed AMP bus rapid transit route. Photo credit Metropolitian Transit Authority.

Proposed AMP bus rapid transit route. Photo credit Metropolitian Transit Authority.

The proposed Broadway/West End BRT route does not come without its drawbacks mainly effecting those who have personal vehicles. Two lanes along the route will be sacrificed to create two bus-only roads and passenger stations in the center lanes. For the safety of pedestrians, sixteen new pedestrian lights will also be added along the route creating minor delays for other vehicles.

As well as the center lanes, on-street parking along the AMP route will be removed to provide room for the BRT and vehicles alike. With Nashville still being a car centric city, residents fear that the route will create traffic instead of alleviating an already congested city. These concerns have not halted the progress of the proposed AMP bus rapid transit route.

In March, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) notified Mayor Karl Dean the Amp has been recommended to receive $27 million in President Obama’s proposed FY 2015 budget. Although this is a portion of the requested $75 million in federal aid, the rest is expected to be awarded multiple time over consecutive fiscal years.After the news of receiving funds from the Federal Transit Administration, it appeared the AMP bus rapid transit route would begin construction in 2015 without issue—almost.

Twenty-three days later the Tennessee Senate attempted to outright ban any kind of Bus Rapid Transit construction in the state. The ban aimed to block any form of mass transit project that would unload passengers in the center lane as well as restrict the creation of dedicated transit lanes.

Rendering of center lane BRT station. Photo credit inhabitat.com

Rendering of center lane BRT station. Photo credit inhabitat.com

The main lobbying behind the senate bill came from Americans for Prosperity, a national organization supported by high-profile brothers David and Charles Koch, which works to fight any sort of government spending with little regard for studies that show the benefits of state investment.

Their hand was not as strong in the lower chamber, as one month later the Tennessee House conferenced the Senate’s short-sighted bill with a much more sensible one. Although the House’s rewritten bill allows the use of center lanes and dedicated transit lanes, all similar future projects must get approval from the state legislature whether or not it receives state funding. The revised bill may cause issues with future transportation projects, but dramatically less than the Senate’s original draft.

If all continues to sway in favor of Mayor Karl Dean and the residents of Nashville, the AMP bus rapid transit route should begin construction in 2015 with service beginning in 2016.

First Tennessee Park

Nashville is home to a wide range of sports franchises, including the Nashville Predators of the NHL and the Tennessee Titans in the NFL. Soon enough, Nashville’s minor league baseball team will have a brand new ballpark to compete with the likes of the Titans and Predators.

Sounds First Tennessee Bank ballpark rendering. Photo credit First Tennessee Park.

Sounds First Tennessee Bank ballpark rendering. Photo credit First Tennessee Park.

With talks beginning in August of 2013, the ballpark was proposed by none other than Mayor Karl Dean. First Tennessee Park will serve as the replacement for the Nashville Sound’s current ballpark Herschel Greer Stadium where the team has been since 1978. Mayor Dean has said that when the new stadium is completed, the current ballpark which is a part of Metro parks system, will be used in some way.

Germantown, the neighborhood where the ballpark is being built, has been receiving a lot of buzz in the past few years being cited as the ‘potential new Gulch’ which saw its rise in new development beginning around 2004. Before construction began, the location of First Tennessee Park was nothing but fenced in fields with nothing to offer and more than an eye sore.

In not only means of improving the neighborhood, the ballpark is also being built in the same location as the first ballpark in Nashville. Sulphur Dell was in operation between 1870 and 1963—93 years in total. Mayor Dean realizes the importance of its location and used it as one of his selling points.

Google Maps picture of construction site. Photo credit Google Maps.

Google Maps picture of construction site. Photo credit Google Maps.

He was cited saying, “When you consider its significance in the history of north Nashville and the all-American sport of baseball, I can’t imagine a more meaningful location to give Minor League ball a new home and generate new development along Jefferson Street.”

Five months after Mayor Dean’s proposal, construction began on the new ballpark stadium January 27th 2014 and in April, Tennessee’s largest and oldest bank, Memphis based First Tennessee Bank secured naming rights with a 10-year sponsorship with options to extend for up to 10 additional years.

Having no qualms about taking on large projects, Mayor Dean stated that the ballpark would cost around $80 million upon completion. The project breaks down into $40 million for the ballpark, $10 million for a parking garage and $30 million for residential development.

The project is financed with a combination of public and private funding. Nashville will pay $65 million for the land and construction of the stadium. The stadium will be in ownership of the city and lease it to the Nashville Sounds through 2045. The Nashville Sounds have pledged to invest $50 million for mixed-use buildings and retail development to insure the economic success of the stadium. A San Antonio based development firm, Embrey Development Corp., is also building a 250 unit apartment building on site with a cost of $35 million.

With no clear sight of a definite completion time, a hopeful Mayor Dean citing the complex process involving both local and state government, said that 2015 would be the most likely completion date.

Nashville’s Future

With new and exciting development sprouting all over Middle Tennessee, there are high hopes for Nashville. Mayor Karl Dean also being a major hero for the city’s economic and transit future, seems to have no end in sight of his progressive and much needed goals.

Nashville can only hope that when residents and businesses realize the benefits of such dramatic and innovating development, they will usher in new and exciting possibilities for this big small town.

Thomas Lewallen

Thomas Lewallen

Student at Roosevelt University
Thomas Lewallen is a student at Roosevelt University studying Sustainability with a minor in Political Science. He is currently living in Chicago, Illinois with the intent to attend Graduate school in the Pacific Northwest.
Thomas Lewallen

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Thomas Lewallen

Thomas Lewallen is a student at Roosevelt University studying Sustainability with a minor in Political Science. He is currently living in Chicago, Illinois with the intent to attend Graduate school in the Pacific Northwest.

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