The Chatter Class: Rethinking riverfront with private dollars

Monday, March 17, 2008 at 2:21am

The $8 million budgeted for the first phase of redeveloping Nashville's waterfront may or may not be on the chopping block as Mayor Karl Dean looks for ways to trim costs during the city’s current budget crunch.

With that in mind, perhaps now is the time to rethink how the 20-year effort is organized and financed, incorporating new goals like saving some public money and bringing in more private dollars early to ramp up the project for a quicker start.

One of the biggest challenges for the waterfront effort is visibility. Few beyond those who were actually involved in creating the plan, which included hundreds of private citizens, know the full details.

Even some of the city's top civic and business leaders have only a vague knowledge of what the 20-year plan is all about or what an accompanying five-year plan entails.

The five-year plan was a way of biting off a small chunk of the larger vision so people could see progress more quickly. Still, few know what's involved there. There's a park of some kind for children and the urban forest effort on the parking lot of LP Field.

Five years seems like an eternity in this go-go world of “we want it now or we'll forget it ever existed.” The trouble is there's no buy in from the private sector. That is, there's no initial money coming from those in downtown who would benefit the most by having a new green space and parks.

Chris Koster at Metro Parks manages the effort now and would like to see private dollars. The plan is for the initial seed money to come from government sources — local, state and federal. But here's where Nashville can look to other cities around the country for models. Actually, Nashville doesn't even have to look beyond the Volunteer State's borders.

Chattanooga and Memphis created organizations outside of local government to manage and redevelop the waterfronts in the two cities. Both are considered successful models.

Anyone who has been to Chattanooga's waterfront could attest to the success there. And success begets success. The seed was planted and more private investment came into the area.

There, former Chattanooga mayor and now U.S. Sen. Bob Corker launched a three-year, $120-million effort. With it, he said no money was to come from the city’s general fund. The breakdown was $69 million came from the public source of lodging taxes and the private sector dumped in the rest. The Lyndhurst Foundation was influential in helping fund redevelopment.

In Memphis, the Riverfront Redevelopment Corp. took over the riverfront in the early part of this decade. It capped the city's expense on managing the public space at the level they were in 2000. There's 250 acres of green space.

That group raised money from philanthropic organizations such as the Hyde Foundation and the Plough Foundation. Now, according to the corporation's president, Benny Lendermon III, the expense of managing the public space now is $500,000 annually, less than the capped figured in 2000.

Lendermon pointed to the ultimate model for public-private partnerships in this area — Battery Park City in New York. That was started decades ago.

"That's the granddaddy of them all," he said.

So, imagine if Nashville were to do the same, attract money from the private sector — all the developers and businesses downtown, the Ingrams, the Frists, the Community Foundation and any others.

If one or two get involved, the effort gets sales people to help work on others to get involved. With more involved, maybe the effort gets more visibility with the community at large.

Koster could have more than himself to manage the effort and perhaps linking more formally with the Nashville Civic Design Center.

The timeframe could be narrowed so that Nashvillians can see parks and green space built more quickly so they can enjoy them and brag about it. The business community could brag, too, "See, look what we helped do."

It would give Nashville in general more to brag about than just having a plan.

With it all, perhaps the periphery on the public lands will develop more quickly and build the property tax base more quickly.

The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to

Filed under: City Business
By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I would love to see them do something to get rid of the dump that greets all that enter Nashville.I'm usually a free market kinda guy, but moving this some where else would be nice benefit to the city.

By: mccullochd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You konw what would be nice in Nashville? An amphitheatre. Take a look at Chastain Park or Verizon Wireless at Encore Park in Atlanta to see what we are missing. It's sad that "Music City USA" can't even get decent shows anymore. No one wants to play the Sommet Center, I could count the sold out shows from the last 5 years on 1 hand. The scrap heap would make a great place to build a music venue, with the background of Nashville behind the stage. The parking is already there and it woulnd't be conflicting with the Titans schedule.

By: NewYorker1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What the city really should do is replace the scrap metal plant with a enormous statue of me to greet people as they enter the Central Business District. I statue of me would send a message that you have gotten to as close to heaven on earth as one could get. A statue of me would tell visitors that they have arrived at a place of unsurpassed distinction and class.

By: OPENmindedONE on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Perhaps I am an idiot but would our $8M then be used for something else? I thought it was a Fed grant? And just so I understand. mccullochd, where do you plan for the Predators to play? I spend more than a few great nights at Starwood/First American/AmSouth/Starwood, and miss it terribly, so do not misunderstand my support for an ampitheatre, it is there.