New talks about the future of large-scale public transit in Nashville will pick up steam in the fall, Mayor Karl Dean told members of The City Paper’s editorial board during a discussion on Friday.
While such talks would include members of a caucus of regional mayors Dean has established to tackle transportation issues, he said the city would pursue options alone if need be, adding that mass transit is an essential component of future economic development. He said the time for innovation on that front has arrived.
“I am fully committed to this,” Dean said. “If we have to go it alone, we will, but I hope we can make it a more regional effort.”
The mayor would not be specific on what types of transit he would pursue, although he said light rail, streetcars and bus-rapid transit are all on the table.
Mass transit is gaining popularity among the economic-development set.
“There is more noise among our leadership about this now than there has ever been,” Ron Samuels, chairman, president and CEO of Nashville-based Avenue Bank, said during the meeting.
But transit is not necessarily at the top of most people’s minds, Dean said. He added that getting people interested is “our big challenge.” And it’s still lower on the list among businesses looking to relocate to Nashville.
“It’s not so important in our conversations with companies looking to move here, but it is important when we think about the overall accessibility of downtown and the parking situation there,” said Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. He also said the chamber is engaged with a number of groups and issues, and will probably do most of its influencing on the issue via the Transit Alliance.
Several of the competitor cities identified by the chamber already have advanced public transit systems, such as Charlotte, Austin and Denver.
The interview centered on a new report to be issued this afternoon by Partnership 2020, a chamber-based economic development initiative co-chaired by Dean and Jim Wright, chairman and CEO of Tractor Supply Company.
The report comes as the previous initiative, called Partnership 2010, nears its close. In the last 20 years, during which time the initiative has been in effect, 233,995 new jobs have been created in Davidson County, with the population having grown some 60 percent, according to Samuels, who is also a member of the partnership. Alongside those trends, per capita income has increased 29 percent, he said.
Dean said that his administration would continue to try to lure new businesses to Nashville by offering economic incentives, and that money spent there would increase. As well, he said to expect an increase in city dollars spent on economic development in general.