A group of SoBro-based business and property owners are asking Metro officials to consider locating the police department’s new Central Precinct station on property south of Lafayette Street instead of the currently planned site at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Korean Veterans Boulevard.
More than 100 citizens have signed a petition (see here and check the map here) voicing their preference for a 1.6-acre site at Sixth and Lafayette that is home to the FAB Wholesale warehouse, which is currently for sale. That site (see photo here) is adjacent to prominent social services providers, including the Nashville Rescue Mission, Room In The Inn and the Campus for Human Development.
The SoBro group contends that Metro’s targeted site is impractical, given the precinct would be tightly wedged along a 30-foot-wide sliver of land between a nondescript NES substation building and Korean Veterans Boulevard. As such, no on-site parking will be available to the officers, who will instead use either metered spots on KVB or the Music City Center garage. Doing so, the group points out, would take away pay spaces designated for downtown visitors and reduce revenue generated by Metro-controlled parking.
In addition, the citizens say, grouping new development on KVB and as close to the central business district as possible could stifle potential growth from Lafayette to the inner-interstate loop.
The group also wonders why the Nashville Convention Center Authority, which controls the land, should be involved in the police precinct process, noting the authority essentially will have its own “private security and safety force” for the Music City Center.
Metro Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, whose district is home to both sites, acknowledged the selection process could have been more transparent.
“This is the first time any type of authority has had some control where a police precinct is placed,” Gilmore said. “Is that the best placement?”
Gilmore has been asked to sign the petition; it was unclear at press time whether or not she will. The group has also requested that she sponsor a council resolution advocating for the alternative site.
Perhaps most importantly, the citizens contend that placing the police precinct in the backyard of social services nonprofits would send a positive message that Metro is attentive to the concerns of not just business and property owners but also to social-service clients who don’t cause problems.
“All of us who own property south of Lafayette are impacted by the homeless services in the area,” said Ronnie Wenzler, who owns two properties on Ewing Street. “Many of us have suffered vandalism at the hands of some members of the homeless population. Metro Police has done an improved job addressing the issue, but we still as property and business owners south of Lafayette are ‘paying a tax’ related to the negative perception. Our rent growth … and tenant flow have been suppressed some.
“The city should recognize that having a station immediately adjacent to the buildings providing services could positively affect both the actual and perceived issues that come with that,” added Wenzler, who serves as senior managing director for Cassidy Turley, which manages multiple SoBro properties. “And there would be no negative impact on the policing of the area closest to the MCC.”
A Nashville Rescue Mission spokesman declined to say whether the nonprofit had a preference.
The Metro Nashville Police Department counters by saying the precinct needs to be as close to both the MCC and to Lower Broadway as possible. The department also contends that the precinct must serve a large geographic area that includes some historic North Nashville districts, as well, and the MNPD must be fair to all parties.
“From the police department’s standpoint, having a central police precinct in the shadow of the city’s largest capital investment in history makes a tremendous amount of sense,” said department spokesman Don Aaron.
For years, the Central Precinct has operated from space in Bridgestone Arena. The KVB site would keep a visible police presence within easy walking distance to Nashvillians and visitors frequenting downtown restaurants and civic attractions, Aaron said.
"The MCC is going to bring thousands and thousands of more visitors to our city,” Aaron said. “It is absolutely essential that folks visiting downtown feel safe and secure. Locating the precinct at the KVB site helps accomplish that and will complement the MCC in its infancy and for years to come.”
But detractors say wedging a tiny building (about 10,000 square feet) between KVB and the NES substation contradicts Metro’s desire to see KVB lined with larger-scale buildings.
If anything, businesses and property owners south of the Music City Center — feeling slighted that the building’s back wall faces their district — say they would have appreciated Metro soliciting their opinion before deciding on the KVB site.
“I am not aware that anyone in this neighborhood was consulted about the needs for or placement of the precinct,” said businessman Shelby Smith, adding he has visited with many fellow business and property owners in the area and “every single one of them” favors the south-of-Lafayette site.
Some citizens have speculated that the site selection was done without considering all factors.
Bonna Johnson, Mayor Karl Dean’s press secretary, said it was a “joint decision by several Metro departments, including the Mayor’s Office and the police department” to locate the precinct on the KVB site.
Regarding the suitability of the site related to civic planning, The City Paper contacted the Metro Planning Department, which declined comment, and the Nashville Civic Design Center, which could not be reached.
Mike Borum, founder, owner and general manager of Fogg Street-based Chromatics, acknowledged a police station on Sixth wouldn’t be as visible to tourists and convention attendees but said it would “be more productive” for the area’s business and property owners.
“The real problems are vagrants,” he said. “There is a big different between those who are worthy of help and those who simply congregate there and often cause problems.”
Jim DeVault, who owns a historic residential building next to Third Man Records, said the last thing the area needs is for a social services provider to buy the FAB warehouse property and create more foot traffic from those who litter, engage in prostitution, do drugs, relieve themselves in public, etc.
“If the homeless problem is not contained and controlled, the convention-goers will figure it out that the MCC is sitting next to a bunch of vagrants and panhandlers,” he said. “When you have a police presence, people are more likely to follow the rules. A precinct [south of Lafayette] would help with that.”