The long-dormant former thermal plant site in downtown Nashville — prime riverfront real estate that has stirred redevelopment talk for years — will be used this summer by the Nashville Symphony for the city’s Fourth of July celebration, The City Paper has learned.
Metro Public Works crews this week have begun the process of clearing and leveling the 11-acre city-owned property, public works department spokeswoman Gwen Hopkins-Glascock said. The process includes creating a “service drive” into the property as well as a “concrete pad area.”
The property’s new name is “The Lawn at Riverfront,” said Andrea Arnold, senior vice president of government and communications at the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Arnold said the former thermal plant site would replace the existing Riverfront Stage — situated on a platform on the Cumberland River’s edge — as the symphony’s performance stage for the Fourth of July wireworks celebration.
“We’re moving the stage down there,” Arnold said. “One, it makes the stage more secure. Having the barge on the river, it’s a higher security risk than we want to take.
“Secondly, it allows us to add about 20,000 more people in that area,” she said. “Last year, we were about 125,000 for July 4th. We’re trying to add capacity and grow the event.”
The City Paper was unable to confirm whether the symphony or a separate entity would use the property for other events this summer.
The clearing of the site comes almost exactly 10 years after a city thermal transfer plant site that previously occupied the lot burned to the ground on May 23, 2002. For a decade, the property has remained inactive.
In the years following the thermal plant fire, the property emerged as the subject of several real estate possibilities, though nothing materialized. Most notably, in 2007 the previous ownership of the Triple-A baseball franchise Nashville Sounds seemed poised to build a new ballpark on its acreage. A tentative deal fell apart, however, under then-Mayor Bill Purcell.
The Nashville Symphony’s use of the former thermal plant site this summer could spark speculation that the symphony could become the property’s long-term tenant.
Symphony officials have publicly talked about their hopes for an outdoor amphitheatre for concerts. With the former thermal site situated just a few blocks from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the property seems like the logical spot for such a venue.
In a September 2010 interview with The City Paper, Alan Valentine, CEO of the Nashville Symphony, called the old thermal plant site an “ideal site” for an “outdoor summer home.”
“It’s something that I think is very important to our future,” Valentine said in 2010 of an outdoor venue, stressing that’s the case whether it’s at the thermal site or somewhere else.
Mayor Karl Dean, who would have the biggest say in determining what goes on the city-owned property, has said whatever goes there should “say something about our city.” He has also expressed interest in incorporating the property into Metro’s long-term riverfront redevelopment plans.