Downtown Revitalization: Nashville

October 24, 2012 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

From consolidation and sprawl to urban population density and being NFL youngsters, Nashville and Jacksonville have many things in common. However, figuring out how to stimulate and enhance a vibrant downtown area isn't one of them.

Tale of the Tape:

Nashville City Population 2011: 609,644 (City); 1,617,142 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1806)

Jacksonville Pop. 2011: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Nashville (174,307)

City Land Area

Nashville: 504.0 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2011)

Nashville: +1.71%
Jacksonville: +1.09%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Nashville: 969,587 (ranked 44 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Nashville: 1,720.7 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2011

Nashville: +39,753
Jacksonville: +92,405

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Nashville: Music City Center (2013 opening date) - 370,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Nashville: Omni Hotel (2013 opening date) - 800 rooms and 80,000 square feet of meeting space.
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Nashville: AT&T Building - 617 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Nashville: HCA Holdings (94), Vanguard Health Systems (484)
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

Nashville: Interstate 65 severs downtown Nashville from urban districts to the west.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Nashville: Broadway and Second Streets
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Both cities have a large number of surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Nashville: 94 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

About Nashville

LP Field

The town of Nashville was founded by James Robertson, John Donelson, and a party of Overmountain Men in 1779, near the original Cumberland settlement of Fort Nashborough. It was named for Francis Nash, the American Revolutionary War hero. Nashville quickly grew because of its strategic location, accessibility as a river port, and its later status as a major railroad center. In 1806, Nashville was incorporated as a city and became the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee. In 1843, the city was named the permanent capital of the state of Tennessee.

By 1860, when the first rumblings of secession began to be heard across the South, antebellum Nashville was a very prosperous city. The city's significance as a shipping port made it a desirable prize as a means of controlling important river and railroad transportation routes. In February 1862, Nashville became the first state capital to fall to Union troops. The Battle of Nashville (December 15–16, 1864) was a significant Union victory and perhaps the most decisive tactical victory gained by either side in the war.

Within a few years after the Civil War the city had reclaimed its important shipping and trading position and also developed a solid manufacturing base. The post–Civil War years of the late 19th century brought a newfound prosperity to Nashville. These healthy economic times left the city with a legacy of grand classical-style buildings, which can still be seen around the downtown area.

Since the 1970s, the city has experienced tremendous growth, particularly during the economic boom of the 1990s under the leadership of then-Mayor and later-Tennessee Governor, Phil Bredesen, who made urban renewal a priority, and fostered the construction or renovation of several city landmarks, including the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the downtown Nashville Public Library, the Bridgestone Arena, and LP Field.

LP Field (formerly Adelphia Coliseum) was built after the National Football League's (NFL) Houston Oilers agreed to move to the city in 1995. The NFL team debuted in Nashville in 1998 at Vanderbilt Stadium, and LP Field opened in the summer of 1999. The Oilers changed their name to the Tennessee Titans and saw a season culminate in the Music City Miracle and a close Super Bowl game that came down to the last play.

In 1997 Nashville was awarded an NHL expansion team which was subsequently named the Nashville Predators. Since coming into the league the team has made the playoffs every season except one, and has only ever had one head coach, Barry Trotz.

Today, the city along the Cumberland River is a crossroads of American culture, and one of the fastest-growing areas of the Upland South.

Downtown Nashville Cityscape

The downtown area of Nashville features a diverse assortment of entertainment, dining, cultural and architectural attractions. The Broadway and 2nd Avenue areas feature entertainment venues, night clubs and an assortment of restaurants. North of Broadway lies Nashville's central business district, Legislative Plaza, Capitol Hill and the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall. Cultural and architectural attractions can be found throughout the city.

The downtown area of Nashville is easily accessible. Three major interstate highways (I-40, I-65 and I-24) converge near the core area of downtown, and many regional cities are within a day's driving distance.

Nashville's first skyscraper, the Life & Casualty Tower, was completed in 1957 and started the construction of high rises in downtown Nashville. After the construction of the AT&T Building (commonly known to locals as the "Batman Building") in 1994, the downtown area saw little construction until the mid-2000s. Many new residential developments have been constructed or are planned for the various neighborhoods of downtown and midtown. A new high rise office building, The Pinnacle, was recently opened in 2010.

Many civic and infrastructure projects are either being planned, in progress, or recently completed. A new MTA bus hub was recently completed in downtown Nashville, as was the Music City Star pilot project. Several public parks have been constructed, such as the Public Square. Riverfront Park is scheduled to be extensively updated. The Music City Center, a convention center project, has been approved for the downtown area and is currently under construction.

Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park is a 19-acre public space designed to complement the Tennessee Capitol Building, give visitors a taste of Tennessee's history and serve as a lasting monument to Tennessee's Bicentennial celebration.

The Nashville Farmers Market is located next door to Bicentennial Park. The market was established in 1828, relocated to this site in the 1950s, and then renovated in 1995.  At the center of the market is an international food court consisting of several ethnic food vendors.

The Tennessee State Capitol is one of only eleven state capitols without a dome.  It was constructed between 1845 and 1859.

Nashville's Main Library Building opened in 2001 and was designed by Robert A. M. Stern, the architect who designed Jacksonville's main library building a few years later.

It replaced the 180,000 square foot Church Street Center, which opened in 1990 to help revitalize downtown.  The three-story enclosed mall, originally anchored by Castner Knott, failed quickly and was demolished a decade later.

Did You Know?

Nashville is city with several well known monikers.  These various sobriquets include:

Music City, USA

Athens of the South

The Protestant Vatican

The Buckle of the Bible Belt


Little Kurdistan

Nash Vegas

The District

This is Nashville's heart for live music and great bars and clubs. Lower Broadway which is everything east of the Sommet Center to the river along Broadway is also the top tourist area in the city. This is where Nashville pretty much started as a settlement called Fort Nashborough, and a replica of the old fort can be found on First Ave North, just north of Riverfront Park. Almost every night of the year, you'll hear live music pumping from all the Honky Tonks that made this city famous for music. The District is home to the world famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, the Wildhorse Saloon, and several other venues. In 2007, the District was given a historic overlay for future developments to follow the low brick buildings and to make taller structures be set further back away from Broadway.

The DISTRICT program began in the late 1980's as a collaboration between Historic Nashville Inc. and the Metropolitan Historical Commission. Patterned after the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s successful Main Street Program, the two organizations sought to focus on the historic areas of Nashville, specifically 2nd Avenue, Broadway and Printer’s Alley. The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency provided a three-year block grant of $30,000 per year as seed money to fund the startup of The DISTRICT organization.

The Historic Riverfront Association 501(c)(3), established in the mid-1980's, sought to promote, preserve and protect the businesses, residents and buildings along 1st Avenue North and the Riverfront. When approached by Historic Nashville and the Metro Historic Commission to merge into The DISTRICT program, the Historic Riverfront Association 501(c)(3) welcomed the opportunity to expand its scope and continue its work.  The Historic Riverfront Association already had a 501(c)(3) and the new organization, The DISTRICT, used The Historic Riverfront Association's non-profit designation.

Geographically, The DISTRICT consists of three of downtown Nashville's National Register Historic Districts: 2nd Avenue, Broadway and Printer’s Alley. Organizationally, it is a partnership of the business community, property owners, preservationists, non-profits and government agencies with an interest in downtown Nashville.

The $123.5 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center formally opened in 2006.

The Country Music Hall of Fame is one of downtown Nashville's major attractions.  This $37 million downtown structure opened in 2001, replacing a smaller building that opened in 1967, ten blocks away on Music Row.

Bridgestone Arena

Seeing a need to remain competitive in the convention industry, Nashville is moving forward with the construction of a new 1.2 million square foot convention center.  When completed in 2013, the convention center will offer 370,000 square feet of exhibition space, immediately adjacent to the Bridgestone Arena and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Ryman Auditorium is a 2,362-seat live performance venue, dating back to 1891.  It was used for Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from 1943 through 1974.

A replica of Fort Nashborough in Riverfront Park. Fort Nashborough was a log stockade built in 1779 along the Cumberland River before the settlement of Nashville.  It was used to protect settlers against wild animals and Indians.

The Shelby Street Bridge originally opened in 1909.  The bridge was the first in North America to have concrete arched trusses.  The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 1998. However, due to aesthetic, architectural, and historical considerations, instead of demolition it was converted into a pedestrian bridge in 2003.

The Music City Star is a regional rail service running between Nashville and Lebanon, Tennessee. The service uses the existing trackage of the Nashville and Eastern Railroad. The line currently has six stops: Riverfront Station (western terminus), Donelson, Hermitage, Mt. Juliet, Martha (Tennessee State Route 109 and U.S. Highway 70), and Lebanon (eastern terminus). The operation covers 32 miles of rail line. Service began on September 18, 2006.

The Star is considered a "starter" project to demonstrate the effectiveness of commuter rail service to the metro Nashville area.  The line is mostly one track, so this limits arrivals and departures to how long each train has to wait for the other to pass. The first "starter line" cost $41 million, or just under $1.3 million per mile, which made it the most cost efficient commuter rail start-up in the nation.

The Gulch

On the south-west fringe of downtown Nashville, The Gulch was an early 20th century industrial district that developed around Nashville's downtown railroad terminal.  Prior to the 1950s, more than 100 trains arrived and departed from The Gulch daily.

Over the last decade, The Gulch has become a mixed-use destination and urban hotspot.  In 2006, A Gulch Business Improvement District (GBID) was established and is currently managed by the Nashville Downtown Partnership.  In addition, in 2009, The Gulch became the first neighborhood in the South to be a LEED certified Green Neighborhood.

Nashville's Union Station opened in 1900 to serve as the city's main passenger terminal for eight railroads and the local streetcar system, which was operational until 1941.  After the formation of Amtrak, service declined until the station was abandoned entirely in 1979.  Today, Nashville is one of the largest cities in the U.S. not served by Amtrak. In 1986, the structure reopened as a hotel.

Now known as Cummins Station, this structure opened in 1907 as a warehouse for the Maxwell House Coffee. Housing over 140 tenants today, the restored structure consists of 400,000 square feet of office, retail, restaurant and recreational space.

They say the greenest building is an existing one. This image suggests demolition doesn't always have to be answer to redevelopment.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is housed in what was once the main post office for Nashville, which opened in 1934.  The result of a public/private collaboration between the First Foundation, the U.S. Postal Service, and the City of Nashville, the museum opened in April 2001.

Learning from Nashville

The accomplishments of downtown Nashville should serve as a positive example of what the concept of compact pedestrian scale design can achieve in a sprawling sunbelt city.

Article by Ennis Davis. Images by Russell Conner.