The South of Broadway (SoBro) Strategic Master Plan lays out a vision for Downtown Nashville’s future growth, capitalizing on major reinvestments and building on Nashville’s authentic brand and character.
The development of Nashville’s new downtown convention center, the Music City Center, marked the largest capital construction project in the city’s history and a major investment in Nashville’s economic future. Located South of Broadway, in an area that has come to be known as SoBro, the MCC continued downtown’s growth to the south along with other recent nearby investments including the Bridgestone Arena, Country Music Hall of Fame, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Korean Veterans Boulevard (KVB) and The District, Nashville’s thriving entertainment area. During MCC’s construction, in May of 2010, the Cumberland River crested nearly 12 feet above flood stage causing major disruption to many of these significant economic generators within the SoBro neighborhood.
Following the flood, the City determined that it is critical to the prosperity of downtown and the region that a comprehensive master plan be developed for the area south of Broadway, including developing appropriate mitigation measures and design guidelines. Moreover, the City wanted to examine development potential for the entire SoBro area in order to leverage these recent investments and map the community’s vision for the future of this part of downtown.
Smith Gee Studio assembled a multi-disciplinary team of planners, architects, landscape architects and traffic and civil engineers including the internationally recognized urban planning firm, Urban Design Associates (UDA). Through a competitive selection process that attracted 17 teams from around the country, the UDA/Smith Gee Studio team was awarded the project.
Despite the incremental development of the area over the last decade, no real vision had been defined for SoBro. In addition to the civic investments mentioned above, along the western edge of SoBro, The Gulch had emerged as Nashville’s premier urban mixed-use neighborhood with restaurants, retail, office and thousands of new residential units. To the east, along the Cumberland River bluff, the city’s Rolling Mill Hill development was building momentum with the redevelopment of the old “Trolley Barns” into office and restaurant space and hundreds of new residential units, including Smith Gee Studio’s Ryman Lofts (affordable artist housing).
Through a three-phase process of (1) Understanding, (2) Exploring and (3) Deciding, our team shepherded hundreds of stakeholders, business and property owners and other interested parties through developing a consensus way forward. Citizens shaped the plan by helping us understand the area’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and participating in a multi-day public design charrette.
In the end, residents and stakeholders were eager to see the area become a much better version of what it is today – more vibrant, connected, green, dense, attractive, fun, quirky, pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use. The plan focuses on knitting neighborhoods together with complete streets, new connections, neighborhood and regional parks and medium- to high-density mixed-use development. Priorities included:
- Repurpose the 12-acre former Thermal Transfer Plant site along the river as civic open space including flood mitigation measures
- Connect the SoBro neighborhood and The Gulch with a new Pedestrian Bridge over the CSX rail yard
- Extend Avenue of the Arts south to Lafayette Street
- Connect The Gulch to SoBro by extending Division Street over the railroad tracks
- Implement Complete Streets including Lafayette Street
- Commission a comprehensive downtown traffic and parking study
- Refine MDHA’s redevelopment districts’ design guidelines, the Downtown Code and the Major and Collector Street Plan
- Explore creation of a parking authority or similar structure
- Incentivize on-site storm water management and the creation of open space
- Study the impact of making the Lafayette neighborhood a redevelopment district
Early in the process the team (and stakeholders) noted the lack of public open space in SoBro. Across the 530-acre study area, there were fewer than 10 acres of green space. The plan recommends 13 new parks throughout the SoBro neighborhoods totaling almost 50 acres of new public open space.
The Plan makes recommendations for expanding and adjusting the downtown transit network, discusses parking solutions and explores potential expansion sites for the Music City Center. Specific recommendations for edits to the Downtown Code and MDHA’s Redevelopment District Guidelines are included and each of the four neighborhoods within SoBro are carefully studied with fine-grain mixed-use development and pedestrian-friendly complete streets and open spaces knitting them together.
Several of the priority recommendations were immediately initiated by Mayor Karl Dean including a new pedestrian bridge connecting SoBro to The Gulch, the Division Street bridge connecting The Gulch to the Lafayette neighborhood, a comprehensive downtown traffic and parking study and a new West Riverfront Park with integrated flood protection and a world-class outdoor music venue on the Cumberland River (a Smith Gee Studio project).