Celebrating Decades in Downtown Nashville

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A version of this post also appeared in The Tennessean.

By David Fox

Congratulations to the Downtown Partnership as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

As a partner in a company that has operated in downtown Nashville since 1987, I can say that it has made a difference for our city to have an organization like the DP totally focused on making our downtown as functional and user-friendly as possible.

As my partner Mark McNeely, who’s on the board of the DP, likes to say, “If you want to make a difference in this city, being downtown is a big advantage.”

That’s certainly why MP&F has chosen 611 Commerce Street, Suite 2800, as our business address since Ned McWherter was governor, Phil Bredesen was aspiring to be mayor, and the downtown of today wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye. Maybe Bobby Mathews could see what was coming, but the rest of us were just trying to keep it in the road.

A photo taken from our office by photographer Dean Dixon in 1996.

Nashville - Now

Dean Dixon repeated the shoot in 2013. A lot has changed in 17 years!

It is truly amazing to see the action on Lower Broadway today and think back 20 years to a time when the three – count ’em – honky-tonks on the street were surrounded by pawn shops, adult bookstores, furniture outlets and boarded-up buildings. The future of the Ryman Auditorium was in question. The Bridgestone Arena was a hole in the ground. And the vision of downtown as a tourist destination was a light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Now fast-forward to today – to a truly transformed urban core. Today, there are dozens of honky-tonks and other tourist-centric venues on Lower Broad, and that number is growing. Yes, we have Honky-Tonk Central; but we also have the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We also have the Music City Center, the Downtown Public Library and the Country Music Hall of Fame – all of which our company helped open, I’m proud to say. We have the CMA MusicFest, the Fourth of July celebration on the Cumberland River and Live on the Green, to name just a few of the big downtown events. We have the Titans, the Predators and now the Sounds downtown. And the number of people living and working downtown has grown tremendously.

Our offices are on the 28th floor of the building that houses the Renaissance Hotel, and thinking back, there are two very distinctive, visual memories I have of downtown.

The first occurred in 1994, when the Bridgestone Arena was a big hole in the ground and Russ Simons decided to build a little mound of dirt in the middle of the hole, spray-paint it green, and hold a closest-to-the-hole golf contest with proceeds going to charity. The day before the contest, we’d been hard at work preparing for the event, and as we were looking down on the hole from above, a big, red Cadillac pulled onto the site and a fellow got out of the car, pulled his clubs out of the trunk, and started taking some practice swings. From 28 floors up it was hard to tell who it was, until one of our observant country music fans shouted, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Vince Gill.’ And half the office ran for the elevator.

Vince Gill

Vince Gill arrives on the scene.

Vince Gill

Gill takes a shot over the construction site.

The second, and more moving, moment was watching the river rise on Monday morning, May 3, 2010. We actually watched the water move up Broadway, filling in the side streets as it crept westward. Remembering that moment and the incredible challenge our city faced in dealing with The Flood, and reflecting on just how well we handled it – thanks to the strong leadership of Mayor Karl Dean and an outpouring of volunteer support – is one of the things that makes us feel best about our city, and our downtown.

MPF

A shot taken opposite of downtown.

We have been privileged to have a front-row seat for one of the most fascinating pageants anyone could have wished to witness – the flourishing of downtown Nashville. Here’s to 20 more great years.

David Fox is partner at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations.

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