What’s behind Nashville’s building frenzy [Interview]

Drive-thru:

  • The city of Nashville, Tennessee, saw a near-record number of building permits approved last fiscal year.
  • Nashville’s population has exploded in recent years, and the city continues to be a popular tourist spot, so the need for hotels, living spaces and other attractions keeps growing.
  • The city’s leadership, their planning and zoning department, and their building community have made the city a prime spot for developers.

Nashville is in the midst of a building boom.

The Tennessee capital approved $3.6 billion in building permits for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which is just under an all-time record set in 2015-16, according to the Nashville Business Journal. The Journal has even started an online “Crane Watch” that maps out all the local projects in the works.

“Nashville is in the middle of going from small-town USA to kind of whizzing past medium and trying to move into big,” says Kaylah White, executive director of Associated General Contractors of Tennessee, the Middle Tennessee branch.

The city’s population has grown rapidly over the past few years, and Nashville’s country music roots make it a popular tourist destination. White says many of the construction projects on the docket include hotels, high-rise condos and apartments, along with other attractions.

“We want a young person with a guitar strung on their back to come to Nashville and live in a cheap apartment and make it. But we also want to be big time and flashy, and have all the big music producers here, too.” – Kaylah White, Associated General Contractors of Tennessee

“It’s been both an interesting struggle for the city and an opportunity to really think about how we want to build,” she explains.

“We want a young person with a guitar strung on their back to come to Nashville and live in a cheap apartment and make it. But we also want to be big time and flashy, and have all the big music producers here, too. So the balance of those two identities is a struggle in Nashville, but it also makes us who we are and keeps our music identity strong.”

FUEL recently spoke to White about Nashville’s building frenzy, some of the city’s most exciting projects and more.

FUEL: So, what’s going on in Nashville building-wise?

Kaylah White: I’ve lived here my whole life, and we honestly don’t know how we got so popular for builders. A while back, before all of this started, we adjusted some zoning codes that allowed developers the option to design multiple-use projects. From then on, we’ve seen more and more of such development. So, it’s between that and some great leadership that was very forward thinking and wanted to see Nashville grow. They just put their minds together; we’ve had great leadership that’s been business-friendly and contractor-friendly. I think that combination has made Nashville prime for growth.

FUEL: What kinds of projects are in the works in Nashville?

KW: There’s downtown development, and we’re seeing growth even further out. We’ve definitely gotten more skyscrapers. We’re focusing a lot on urban life, where you can live and work in the downtown area. We’re adding a new Major League Soccer team. So, we’ve definitely seen a growth in sports, a growth in entertainment, a growth in young people moving here and enjoying the scene that is Nashville.

There are some interesting projects that I’m pretty excited about. One of them is called Nashville Yards. It’s a combo of retail, offices and apartments. They’re incorporating a lot of green space in the middle of downtown. That’s one of the biggest downtown projects right now. Live, work, play downtown is the whole idea.

“We’re also investing a lot into making the Nashville International Airport one of the greatest airports in the U.S.” – Kaylah White

Our old Convention Center was demolished recently. The National Museum of African American Music is going in its place. Our new soccer stadium is going to be the land where our old fairgrounds used to be. The city partnered with some investors, and they’re going to build the soccer stadium as well as renovate the fairgrounds on the same property. So, it will be a multi-use property.

We’re also investing a lot into making the Nashville International Airport one of the greatest airports in the U.S. Every year, Bonnaroo and the CMA Fest [music festivals] are on the same weekend, and so we have millions of people come through our airport.

FUEL: What challenges is Nashville facing when it comes to building and developing?

KW:I’ll give a shout out to our planning and zoning department. We currently have seven people who review our plans and approve permits, and one of them is strictly dedicated to short-term rentals. So six people are basically making everything happen in the city in the building permit department, which is incredible. Hopefully in the next year, we can take a moment and say, “You know, maybe with all this growth, we should increase the planning and zoning department’s ability to hire talent.” So, that’s been a challenge.

I think everyone knows the construction worker shortage has been a struggle for everyone. The associations around here partner with a lot of different schools, and fortunately, in Tennessee, we just passed Tennessee Promise. Our high school students can go to a two-year college at no cost. So, it has made a very good pipeline for the high school students to get a free two-year craft training degree and then move into the trade. We’re working diligently to make sure there are plenty of people who can actually build what we’re wanting to build here in Nashville.

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