Constructs 

Development rages downtown, Sounds ballpark or not

r. High Rise is at it again. Two weeks ago, he went public with a revised design for a 55-story residential/retail tower at Fifth Avenue and Church Street.
Mr. High Rise is at it again. His 31-story Viridian condo tower is under construction next to the L&C Tower. And two weeks ago, he went public with a revised design for a 55-story residential/retail tower at Fifth Avenue and Church Street. Now, Tony Giarratana is concocting a plan for 20-story twin towers across Demonbreun Street from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. The proposed building would occupy the two-acre block bounded by Third and Fourth avenues and Molly Street to the south. Architects at the Atlanta firm of Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates—the same folks who designed the Viridian and the 55-story Signature Tower—are still tweaking the “Symphony Towers” design. But the preliminary model shows a building with 600 dwelling units—300 per tower—rising from an approximately five-story base of parking, wrapped by retail at street level. The structure forms a sort of football goal post opening north/south, with the towers flanking Third and Fourth avenues and a so-called “amenity deck”—pool, fitness center and other common space—atop the base in between. Lying within a Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) redevelopment district, Symphony Towers is potentially eligible for tax increment financing, which provides front-end subsidies to a development with the long-range goal of increasing tax revenues in the district. To qualify, 20 percent of the units would have to be affordable housing—that is, available to households earning less than 80 percent of the area’s mean income. While no formal agreement has yet been reached with MDHA, the initial design has already been modified at the agency’s request. The retail, which will rise to two stories in height to accommodate a mezzanine level, has been angled from the facade to soften the building’s impact as it hits the ground. Construction would be in two phases, with the Third Avenue tower as Phase I and the Fourth Avenue tower as Phase II, and could begin as early as December 2005, Giarratana says. The developer and his partner, the Atlanta-based Novare Group—with whom he’s also teamed for the Viridian and the conversion of the downtown Bennie Dillon building into condos—must still acquire two small parcels that would form part of Phase II.Still in warm-up Metro may be close to inking an agreement with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse to bring mixed-use development and a Sounds ballpark to the former thermal trash-burning site. But at issue during a public workshop last week was what the city might lose in the process. Many in the crowd—composed primarily of business and tourism types, bankers, real estate agents, design professionals and downtown residents—applauded at a call for quick action to bring the Sounds downtown. Others, however, criticized the not-so-public process that led to this point. At-large Metro Council member David Briley criticized the council task force charged last year with studying options for the highest and best use of the site. It ultimately recommended the ballpark/mixed-use concept. “[It] had a quick time frame and ignored some of the public input that called for the site to be open space,” Briley said at the meeting. SoBro is sorely lacking in green space, largely because in the early 1980s, Metro, in a counterintuitive move, sold existing parkland on Rutledge Hill for residential development. That park space could have been an amenity, and the same sort of shortsighted thinking could happen with the thermal site. “I think before we proceed, we should take one step back and look at what such a development will do to the available resources for future downtown development,” Briley tells the Scene. “One of the big priorities we’ve established for downtown is residential. Presumably these residents will want some open space.” When the city decided to raze thermal, the Metro Council and mayor should have pushed proactively for a public consensus for the site, looking at the larger context of downtown, Rutledge Hill and Rolling Mill Hill, the Cumberland River waterfront, and what role these 11 acres could play in the big picture. Instead, Briley says, “all we did was ask private developers what they’d do if they could.” Just how much support there is for a new Sounds playing field outside the downtown booster crowd is questionable. A May poll taken anonymously and whose results were shared in part with the Scene asked 400 randomly selected registered Nashville voters to rank some possible government initiatives on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least important. In comparison with public school improvements, road and sidewalk improvements, public library expansion and a new downtown convention center, a new Sounds stadium trailed the field, with 42 percent of respondents placing the ballpark in the cellar. “If we proceed to develop the thermal site with high intensity,” Briley says, “then we should have a plan to incorporate open space somewhere else.” Council member Mike Jameson suggests the establishment of a special tax district for SoBro modeled on the Business Improvement District of the central core “for the express purpose of acquiring and developing open space.” Toward the end of last week’s meeting, development partner Bill Struever spoke with understandable frustration: “If the city hasn’t gotten to the point that the desired course is a ballpark with mixed-use, then we’re wasting our time here.” But we could be wasting a lot more than time.

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