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Is May Town REALLY the Best Chance?

March 1, 2010

Moreover, proponents claim May Town represents Nashville’s best chance to compete for corporate headquarters that have often relocated in outlying areas such as Williamson County.

via Does convention center help or hurt May Town Center? | Nashville City Paper: Nashville’s Online Source for Daily News.

Back in the 1970’s, when I was growing up in Charlotte Park, my friends and I would make a great excursion almost every weekend during the summer. We would ride our bikes down Old Hickory Boulevard to the small road that ran beside a new apartment complex into the Cumberland River. At the bottom of that road was a ferry that took folks across the river from Charlotte Park to Bell’s Bend. It was a grand adventure, for in the course of a half hour or so we would go from a modern American suburb to one of the last remaining wilderness areas in Davidson County. The land on the other side of the river was beautiful, serene, and peaceful, and it offered a great escape for city folk looking to get back to nature.

So there’s a soft spat in my heart for Bell’s Bend which naturally leads me to resist the proposed changes there. However, beyond the sentimental ties, I find myself confused by the assertion made above that Bell’s Bend represents the last opportunity for Davidson County to compete with Cool Springs, for frankly, there is little that connects the two areas, and much that separates them.

In the case of Cool Springs, there are several things it had going for it when it was developed. First, it was located on an existing major interstate highway. While there were certainly infrastructure improvements needed (interstate ramps, etc) it came nowhere close to requiring the construction of bridges across a major waterway that conducts a fairly high level of maritime commerce. Second, it had the benefit of the perception that Williamson County schools were superior to Metro Davidson County Schools, something that won’t change with the construction of a new development. Last, but certainly not least, Franklin and Williamson County were areas where affluent white folks were already relocating prior to the construction of Cool Springs. The only folks that seem interested in moving to Bell’s Bend (other than the hearty settlers that already live there and don’t want the new development) are geese, cranes, and other wildlife that aren’t really good at paying taxes or electing politicians.

What amazes me about the comment above is that there is this perception that the only hope for attracting corporate headquarters is to build something from scratch rather than reclaiming existing property and redeveloping it into something new.

Take the Antioch/Hickory Hollow area for example. There continues to be a large swath of undeveloped and underdeveloped property that could be re-purposed for office space, especially in the Crossings Boulevard area (the old Garden Ridge area), which would work toward revitalizing the entire area. For that matter, there is an entire mall that NEEDS to be re-purposed, and is so willing to find alternate uses that they are willing to rent for unbelievably low amounts (the proposed WIC clinic was looking at $8 a square foot). Why should we take pristine wilderness when there are already areas in desperate need of redevelopment that are located on major interstate highways like Cool Springs, and won’t require anywhere near the same investment in infrastructure? A similar argument could be made of Bellevue as well, although as an Antioch resident, I would push back and remind corporate leaders that we are closer to the airport!

The ultimate question is whether we as a city are willing to make a commitment to develop and redevelop in a smart way to compete with the Williamson County I-65 corridor. That is a question worth pursuing, but it shouldn’t be limited to a single building project, but a review of our entire city to determine the most efficient used of what we already have to compete effectively.

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