The master plan for a ballpark/mixed-use development on the former Thermal plant site is slowly coming into focus. Representatives of the Nashville Sounds and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse—Baltimore-based infill experts the city has also tapped to redevelop part of Rolling Mill Hill—recently presented the latest evolution at the third public meeting on the 11-acre site. The current plan responds to several issues raised at previous community meetings: maximize the physical and visual connections of the development to the Cumberland River, preserve sightlines from Rutledge and Rolling Mill hills to the river and city skyline, and incorporate a mixture of uses with an emphasis on residential.
The site planners had to negotiate a number of constraints. Five sewer lines cross the site, as do the underground pipes connecting the District Energy System plant south of the Gateway Bridge to downtown. Railroad tracks that will carry the commuter line to Lebanon flank the site’s eastern edge along the river. At the southern end, a mound of limestone rises 40 feet from the grade of the site’s northern section.
Within this framework of obstacles, the plan features a 10,000-seat stadium recessed into the terrain that opens out toward the river. A 12-foot-wide trail runs along the railroad tracks, with a 20-foot-wide green buffer immediately to the west. Demonbreun Street extends into the site, terminating on the east with a public plaza. The buildings to be developed by Struever Bros. include a 10-story hotel/condo complex on First Avenue with structured parking on the riverside topped by a plaza with direct pedestrian access to the western ramp of the Shelby Bridge. Five stories of condos over ground-level retail lie between Demonbreun and the left-field fence. The most controversial aspect of the plan is a 15-to-20-story condo tower between the first base line and the west Gateway ramp. According to Struever rep Michael Hayes, the total number of residential units planned for the site is 400 to 500. The approximately 50,000 square-feet of retail space will be occupied primarily by restaurants.
The design team working for the Sounds includes Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), the Kansas City-based sports giant that also designed Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment Center and Coliseum. Also involved is the local Hawkins Partners Landscape Architects. The site plan is by Nashville’s Hastings Architecture Associates. Struever Bros. has yet to select an architect for its component of the project, which is perhaps why there were so many designers among the approximately 200 people attending the meeting.
At the conclusion of the Q&A, members of the development team asked the audience to fill out a comment form. Here’s mine:
What components of the plan do you like best?
The best feature is the reorientation of the ballpark, so that home plate directly addresses the Shelby Bridge. In last summer’s version, the stadium essentially turned its back on downtown, opening out toward structures lining the west ramp of the Gateway Bridge. The Gateway superstructure is better than the interstate bridge, but Shelby, with its dramatic lighting, is a civic icon.
The sunken playing field is also a plus. This device eliminates the need for an outfield fence along the river—the wall will be the rock of the site—and allows pedestrians on the greenway trail to look down into the field.
The plan emphasizes the urban context. Buildings form a street wall along First Avenue and the Demonbreun extension, with ground-level retail to energize the sidewalks. And the terrace atop the parking garage next to the Shelby Bridge should be a mighty nice place to wine and dine.
How might specific components of the plan be improved?
The plan doesn’t successfully integrate the sports facility with the residential and retail components. This is especially apparent with the too-tall condo tower next to Gateway, whose profile forms a barrier at the southeast end of the site. Michael Hayes says that Metro rejected a previous plan to have layers of residential on top of the stadium itself. “They didn’t want to have two owners and two uses, in case at some point in the future the stadium is demolished,” he explains. This is understandable financially, but from a design perspective the impression is of blocks wedged willy-nilly onto the site.
The plan also presents too many curb cuts along First Avenue, interrupting the pedestrian flow. And the use of the Demonbreun extension as the main entrance into the garage next to the Shelby Bridge threatens to turn what should be a promenade into a car alley. The public plaza terminating Demonbreun is also off-center and fails to adequately punctuate what is a major thoroughfare.
Finally, the awkward way the stadium turns the corner from Gateway to First Avenue—the square porch stuck onto the stadium body’s rounded wall—dilutes the strength of the building form. Yankee Stadium it’s not.
As the development team reminded the audience at the meeting, this master plan is just that—a plan. The buildings have yet to be designed. I only hope that in creating what the Sounds’ Glenn Yaeger describes as an “old-fashioned ballpark,” the developers don’t key off of the Switzerland-comes-to-the-Cumberland style of the new commuter rail station and also deliver ye olde-style village on the river. Cute is something we don’t need.