A BRIDGE TOO FAR

16 02 2008

Or should we refer to this proposal as “Fantasyland on the Cumberland?”

A mixed-use neighborhood that would rival the original Cool Springs development in size and scope is being proposed for the Bells Bend section of Davidson County.

Land owner Jack May and developer Tony Giarratana announced plans this morning for a 1,500-acre development off Old Hickory Boulevard north of the Cumberland River. The development, which would be called May Town Center, would include condos, shops and offices in a comprehensive plan meant to attract major corporate headquarters.

 

This project completely flies in the face of logic, common sense, and history in so many ways I hardly know where to start.

In the first place, this country and this city are completely overbuilt for retail space. The US has several times as much retail space per person as Europe, and the Europeans aren’t hurting for things to buy. The subprime bubble has burst, The American retail bubble is about to pop. Retail sales in this country have been driven by credit cards and credit on homes, and both of those are drying up due to domino effect from the subprime bust. By the way, where are the developers getting their financing?

In the second place, our whole private-automobile driven infrastructure is already getting the bends from higher fuel prices, which are not going to go down and are going to rise, and rise, and rise. US auto culture will bend and bend until it breaks. Big developments far from urban centers are going to take a hit from this angle, as well as from the credit crunch.

Thirdly, the infrastructure expenditures that the city is expected to contribute to this project–a new interchange on I-40 and a new bridge over the Cumberland–are hard to justify when so much of this town doesn’t even have sidewalks and we have only skeletal mass transit. Nashville needs to be spending the millions of dollars involved in this proposal on ways to cope with the coming collapse, not a project that is in complete denial of what’s going on in America at this particular point in our history. The fact that these developers were foolish enough to pay a reported $20,000 an acre for the land in question is no reason for the City of Nashville to join them in their folly.

Finally, IF this proposal gets financed and built, and IF they manage to fill their office buildings and shopping areas, and IF people come shop at those stores, it’s still a bad idea. The developers promise that their project will be cut off from the rest of Bell’s Bend, but how long will that last? The camel will have his nose under the tent. Bell’s Bend has the potential to be an agricultural powerhouse that could provide a major portion of the food that we eat here in Nashville. If there’s going to be any money spent developing it, that’s the direction to go.

Wait a minute, I just got it–the condos and shops are going to be for the wealthy folks who work at the corporate headquarters…this is going to be the ultimate gated community, with the Cumberland River serving as its moat…and it’ll all be private…no freedom of assembly, no automatic freedom of speech…the new urbanism…right….all the more reason for the city not to subsidize it.

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