Showdown on Music Row

By Lee Rennick

On February 12,  Metro Nashville Planning Commission put the brakes on new development in the Music Row area after a proposal was brought before them to raze the famous Studio B, as well as 30 Music Square West, the two properties that got the whole area started.

That action killed demand for buying property in those areas,” said R. Stephen Prather of Chas. Hawkins Co. Inc./CORFAC International. “For example, one developer was going to do multi-family housing at 16th and Edgehill that didn’t go through.”

The goal is not to shut buildings down,” said John Dotson of Zeitlin & Co., Realtors. The goal of the Planning Commission is to ensure that Music Row keeps its character. After all, we are ‘Music City’ because of Music Row.”

It’s reminiscent of the archetypical Old West conflict between cattlemen and farmers over land use and property rights. And, of course, money. But there are no bad guys and good guys here slinging six-shooters at each other. It’s more complex than that. It’s about how the possible demise of the two buildings that got Music Row started pointed out that Nashville’s growth was becoming unbridled, and that it almost overtook an area that has a very special purpose to the city.

Prather and Dotson, both involved in the local real estate market, come to the table from different sides of the discussion. Prather represents those who have land who wish to take advantage of the opportunities of Nashville being the ‘it’ city. Dotson, having a history in the music business before entering into real estate, looks at the situation from a different point of view. He wants to keep the area’s unique character while working to draw in more tourist interaction and the nurture of new ideas and entrepreneurship the area inspires.

Photo: Robert Claypool

Photo: Robert Claypool

You have to understand how unique the music business is in Nashville,” Dotson explains, “and how Music Row created and keeps that uniqueness alive. This is the ONLY place in the musical world where there is horizontal integration. Because of proximity between where songwriters create, recording studios, and management, Nashville has created a collaborative process that can be found nowhere else. Also, there is a unique vibe in Music Row that those in the business feed off of.”

But property owners in the area want to take advantage of the massive growth and increasing values of their land while the market is hot,” adds Prather. “There is an 18-24 month period between contract and development. What is hot now could slow.”

Metro Nashville Planning Commission has no desire to kill development; their goal is to redefine the area of the city that encompasses Music Row and to ensure that both its historical value for tourism and its unique character is maintained. They understand that the Row is not only the home to the creation of music, but that “creative vibe” has also drawn architects, artists, fashion designers, and others who bring to Nashville new ideas.  New ideas bring economic growth.

The process has been a long one. There are many stakeholders, and feedback was heard by those on all sides: property tenants and owners, those in the Music industry, developers, and those working in positions that feed off of Music Row, like entrepreneurs, tourism, retail, and restaurant owners.

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We understand that the work being done by the city on the Row is about defining the look and use of the area,” said Prather, “and that they haven’t said a building can’t be removed for development. But until we know what specific area is going to be defined as Music Row and what the rules are going to be, I don’t see anyone building. I look forward to learning the outcome of the work being done with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”

Metro Nashville Planning Commission has been working closely with the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the last year to explore the historic and continued impact of Music Row on Nashville. The Trust brings a wealth of knowledge and resources to the table about how to preserve national treasures and still maintain fiscal viability. They have hired world-renowned consultant Randall Gross of Development Economics to aid in the writing of a plan for future growth and development of Music Row.

Change rubs people the wrong way,” says Dotson. “The goal of Metro Nashville Planning Commission’s work on this project is to find a balance between those who want to change everything and those who what to change nothing while keeping Music City’s charm.”

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