The battle of Bells Bend has a Civil War feel to it.
But in the conflict that likely will be waged for months over developing a portion of 1,300 acres of the bend, there won’t be any bloodshed except for maybe a paper cut or two. It won’t be the North versus the South either.
This could come down to whether or not it’s good public policy to develop greenfields when the urban core still has room.
The Bells Bend developer has made the case for generating taxes and jobs along with the idea of creating space within the county to compete with Cool Springs. On the other side, the heavy hitters helping the opposition likely will present the argument that Nashville should continue to focus on reviving and redeveloping brownfields or the urban areas instead of shifting to greenfields to build the tax base.
Essentially, vetting the proposal to develop a portion of Bells Bend into a mixed-use, dense town center has the potential of rising to one of those public policy discussions of how Nashville should develop open acreage for the future.
The discussion, or debate, could influence how future battles are handled, even down to development of a half-acre neighborhood tract.
How serious could the discussion get? Jane Alvis, a former Purcell official and lobbyist, is working for free. Keel Hunt, who counts the Ingrams and their companies among his clients, is doing the same. Former Deputy Gov. Dave Cooley is in the battle and Bo Johnson, a long-time state lobbyist, is helping out as well.
The Plan of Nashville focused on what should be done with urban Nashville. But there has been little discussion on developing greenfields within Nashville versus focusing strictly on redeveloping brownfields.
Such discussion on a grand scale rarely comes up.
For years, a lot of focus has been put on reviving “the core.” The thinking goes that a strong core is good for the whole.
But it is a layered focus. Within Nashville, that has meant the urban core, primarily downtown. In terms of regionalism, however, that has meant Nashville/Davidson County as a whole.
The county obviously is the most urbanized and the largest of the surrounding counties. Nashville mayors and supporters of regionalism have often stated that a healthy Nashville has been and is essential to having a healthy region.
Jack May, the lead for the May family, has made the pitch that the project is about jobs and taxes. Of course, the family wants to profit along the way, a point he acknowledges.
With the way the city’s finances are looking right now, that may draw a favorable look from city hall.
The opponents likely will counter with the argument that shifting to greenfields diverts focus from the urban core. And what they likely will question is whether it’s a good idea to basically create a new dense, urban area that would have nearly the same acreage as downtown and nearly rival downtown in day-time population.
After all, May Town Center’s developers are being pitched as a “town within a park, within a city.”
Chances are the opponents will argue that there is still plenty of room for redevelopment in downtown Nashville, with the metal scrapping site being a prime example. Then there’s the 20-year waterfront redevelopment plan, one aim of which is to spur private development around the green space and parks that are planned.
May and his consultant developer Tony Giarratana are making the case for a new bridge across the Cumberland River, requiring federal dollars.
But there are also federal dollars for brownfields, too. How easy those dollars are to get is debatable.
Developers typically like a blank canvas of greenfields. It tends to be less expensive and not as cumbersome to develop as an urban area. Land is cheaper and easer to assemble.
There are tax incentives for redeveloping portions of downtown to help mitigate the cost. But that’s part of what will get weighed in the discussion.
Tax-increment financing, the chief incentive downtown, freezes property taxes at the existing level, which means redevelopment doesn’t necessarily add directly to the property tax base. It brings ancillary taxes such as sales taxes. Smaller development spurred by a large project brings the additional property tax.
So that will be factored into the debate as well.
No matter what, May said the property will get developed. It’s just a matter of whether it will be a bunch of single-family homes spread out over the land or a dense project surrounded by green space.
The discussion could become quite a conundrum.