The Most Important Recent Event For Downtown Nashville

Here’s my nomination for most important recent (as in, say, the last 5 years) event for Downtown Nashville development: Mayor Purcell’s move of the convention center proposal (which sanctions a supersized $455 million structure in SoBro) to the Nashville Civic Design Center for evaluation.

Just when visions of a residential Downtown are starting to be realized, along comes the tourism industry pushing an archaic plan for a new convention center. What makes the plan archaic is that convention centers have been designed in the past to 1) bring life back to dying downtown areas and 2) keep conventioneers sealed from actual city life, which is assumed to be gritty. The problem is that at least one study shows that convention centers cost more money than they bring in. It would be foolish to stem the rising tide of residential life in Downtown Nashville by eating up a huge footprint in SoBro with a convention center that may look good for private businesses in the short-term, but will drain the vitality of civic life over the long haul.

So, Mayor Purcell did the politically astute thing. It was also one of the most important things he has done in his administration (and bigger than anything Phil Bredesen ever did). He passed the plan over to the NCDC for evaluation. The NCDC is committed to supporting thoroughly balanced mixed-use development, so I expect to see at the very least a modest convention center alternative that incorporates residential development. The ideal decision for me would be to ignore the convention center proposal and to let convention centers be run by private companies like Gaylord. I hope that NCDC comes up with a mixed-use alternative that excludes a convention center and that the Mayor accepts it. Tourism matters in Nashville, but neighborhoods matter more. Let conventioneers stay in Donelson, and let them take taxis if they want to experience Downtown Nashville. Let Downtown Nashville continue along the track to becoming a neighborhood where people live, not just visit.

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