Ah, downtown revitalization. The sweet music is in the air.
Well, actually it isn’t. It’s encased in a 30,000-square-foot
soundproof building-within-a-building, currently located on a messy,
temporarily noisy construction site between Third and
Fourth avenues just south of Broadway. Soon to become the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the wire-fenced city block now houses an evolving neoclassical musical monument that symphony boosters claim will be one of the preeminent sound spaces of the American orchestral landscape. It will, they say, “become the cultural centerpiece of the city’s flourishing downtown area.”
Put less musically: they’re building a big-ass concert hall and want you to come inside. It may even be worth the $120 million price tag.
The nearly 200,000-square-foot building will be made of limestone, granite, marble and copper, as well as several types of wood on the interior. The 1,872-seat concert hall claims no bad seats, and folks connected with the project like to talk about the orchestra-level seating area, which can be automatically turned into a hardwood ballroom floor in two hours flat. They say the concert space is an instrument itself, and indeed, symphoniacs’ technical words dance to a music of their own: gasketed doors and convertible floors, reverberation and sound integration.
“That room is an instrument by every definition,” says Mercedes Jones, the project’s missionary manager, seated in her office overlooking the construction site. “The physical effect—the experience—will be much more vibrant…. It will allow people in Nashville to appreciate what a great symphony we have.” Jones says tickets are selling briskly for the inaugural season, which opens in September, and that the symphony organization has committed to keeping at least some ticket prices affordable for everyone. (The music may actually sound best in the cheap seats, she says.) Or you can check out the place free of charge—all day Sept. 17.
Not far from the Schermerhorn Center, on the grimy banks of the Cumberland River, lies Glenn Yaeger’s field of dreams. It’s the new Nashville Sounds minor league baseball stadium, which Yaeger, the team’s general manager, and others hope will pass Metro Council muster in early 2006. The plan is to build a $43-million ballpark, funded through a combination of private financing and deferred property tax revenue, combined with hundreds of millions of dollars of mixed-use development: retail, housing and the like.
If approved, the Sounds stadium and Rolling Mill Hill redevelopment project (the latter of which is already underway, at least theoretically) will vastly change the landscape of downtown, making SoBro—the area south of Broadway—a viable place to live, work and play near the river. The pitch is easy to see: live downtown, work downtown, shop downtown—and go to a baseball game downtown.
Of course, opponents argue that Nashville doesn’t need to be using tax increment financing to lure small-potatoes baseball franchises to deeply discounted plots of prime real estate. Aren’t we beyond that by now? But if the Sounds deal happens—and it well may, but not by 2007 as backers claim—you’ll see plenty of office workers headed over to the ballpark for an overpriced after-work brew and some cheap baseball. There are worse visions for downtown Nashville, to be sure.
At least the Sounds have financing. Not so, it seems, for the Museum of African American Music, Art and Culture, which is hoping to make its home on the Bicentennial Mall at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Jefferson Street. With good land from the state, some small money from Metro and a fancy web site, the museum is off to a good start. But it lacks $30 million in funds to get the ball rolling—and the African American History Foundation of Nashville wants to collect at least that before breaking ground in 2007.
Now, we are by no means experienced fund-raisers, but $30 million-plus sounds like a lot to us. And with an intended completion date of late 2009-2010, this project seems a little far down the pike right now. Perhaps the cash will start rolling in once the fund-raising effort gets going next year—and yes, the museum sounds like a good idea—but at the moment we’ll go ahead and say this is a back-burner project for the city of Nashville.
On the waaay back burner, mind you, sit a humongous, six-city-block convention center and anchor hotel to be located behind the Gaylord Entertainment Center. A handful of local monied types and entrepreneurs really want this thing to happen and are finalizing a hefty report on the subject even as we speak. Mayor Bill Purcell, who’s leaving office in a mere 20 months, seems to think he can slow-walk this project and hold it off until he’s no longer mayor. But the wealthy ones are getting impatient—and since when do rich, well-connected people fail to get their way?
Cynicism aside, downtown is changing—and dramatically. Just ask Tony Giarratana, the mega-real-estate developer who’s building a 55-story tower and a 31-story high-rise within blocks of each other downtown. His projects will contain condos, lofts and apartments—as well as retail space—and he says they’re selling briskly. Or ask developers of the thousands of square feet of residential and loft space under construction or rehab in the Gulch, Germantown, on the East Bank and downtown. Or the designers of the new 440,000-square-foot federal courthouse slated to be constructed on Church Street by 2010. Or folks building the new justice center and renovating the Metro Courthouse, which will be reopened for business next summer.