Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Erica Gilmore's millennial head fake

In February the Mayor brought his plan for the $16 million Gulch Pedestrian Bridge to council with CM Erica Gilmore walking point. Fortunately, the council deferred, and now we see what is actually motivating the Mayor to earmark so much money to 700 feet of sidewalk when so many other neighborhoods have been waiting on sidewalks for years:

Real estate investor Mark Bloom said he's received inquiries from several luxury brands about a high-profile site he owns, while MarketStreet is thought to be working to bring a luxury Thompson Hotel to property it owns near 11th Avenue South and Pine Street.

Bloom sees SoBro as the convention center and limited-service hotel market, while the Gulch becomes the center for lifestyle luxury hotels.

"There's a heightened influence of the creative class here, and ... it's creating a shift in the urban luxury lodging category. The Gulch is going to be the area where the shift is (most) pronounced," Bloom said ....

[T]he area isn't without its challenges. One need is better connectivity with downtown and Midtown. A pedestrian bridge that would stretch from SoBro near Music City Center to near Pine Street Flats in the Gulch has been cited as a potential remedy, but in February, the Metro Council deferred a plan to buy land for the bridge.

So, it was niche luxury tourism prompting this project. That motivation was not mentioned by CM Gilmore in her defense of the sidewalk last February:

There are 2,000 constituents who live in this area and 2,000 employers on top of that .... That is a very dense area and as we get more progressive we talk about transportation and we talk about bridges more people in this particular community will be using bridges more so than cars. The group of Millennials that are moving into this area do not depend on cars as much as other parts of the region so ... we need to flesh it more if we are not clear about things.

Yes, well, let's be clear. CM Gilmore could have been more clear about the developers' motivations and the Mayor's penchant for pandering to the tourist industry. In this case, CM Gilmore failed to mention that the prospect of luxury hotels and getting tourists from those hotels to Downtown venues--including conventions at Music City Center--are perhaps prime movers of the Gulch Pedestrian Bridge.

Instead, CM Gilmore head faked about Gulch residents (for the record, I do not disagree that Millennials should be heeded). She also discounted other CM's concerns by insinuating that debate about neglected sidewalk projects would eventually degenerate into fights over "north vs. south vs. urban" neighborhoods (along with a not-so-subtle caution that she might withhold support on other bills in retribution).

Each of us have to do what's best for our constituents .... I understand the importance of having sidewalks for your neighborhood .... But know that this is a neighborhood in my district and I don't want us to compare.

I can see now why she did not want to compare. Because then we would have to talk transparently about the luxury hotels planned in "her neighborhood", while Nashville school kids in other neighborhoods have been lacking proper sidewalks they might use for a decade. The Dean administration has constructed or repaired a fraction of the sidewalks that the previous administration did. Pricked by public criticism, the Mayor's Office argued that Karl Dean has "aggressively invested" in sidewalks, despite a recession and the 2010 flood (conveniently failing to account for the probability that today's dollars probably pay for fewer sidewalks than under the previous administration, which likely also spent dramatically more on sidewalks as a percentage of the total capital budget).

We likely would have known the truth about the unstated purpose of the Gulch Pedestrian Bridge too late if the council had voted to approve quickly in a condensed timeline like that of First Tennessee Park. Might the luxury hotel angle have developed quickly since February? Perhaps. But given Mayor Karl Dean's MO of ramming disguised capital projects through with or without debate, I suspect that the prospect of new luxury hotels prompted a luxury pedestrian bridge in turn, regardless of the 2,000 Gulch residents.

We should be thankful that the council at least drew the line somewhere. Too bad--for those of us concerned about the neighborhood impact of the new ballpark--it did not come one project sooner.


  1. CM Gilmore has failed to be transparent on multiple occasions. It seems that she does not mind representing the mayor and developers while ignoring her constituents. She has no trouble blowing off the constituents in other districts, threatening to refuse to support other council members if they will not support her. This sounds like the same strategy that the mayor uses. Vote his way or expect no services in your district. Public servants they are not.

  2. Well, the good thing about that Atlantic article you linked was that Boomers and Millenials had similar visions of what their desired living spaces looked like. I suppose the group(s?) in-between those two share the same traits. So, while we can try to attract Millenials, it is not so different than attracting Others.

    The bridge is a nice project. Unfortunately, it is a costly, fancier version, serving far fewer current residents, of a basic government maintenance function (sidewalks in neighborhoods). Individuals can too easily compare the lack of walkability outside their homes to this bridge. With the Sounds stadium, individuals don't really have that personal comparison - this feeds into the lack of pushback on the financial committment to the ballpark. Similarly with the Amp - those with a more personal understanding (community members who their areas underserved, or those who live along the line) will have stronger opinions.

    Personally, I think the hotel inquiry probably came after the bridge suggestion. Stuff is just getting built down there, either because of re-zoning, easy money, or whatever. The bridge is typical monumental edifice desired by politicians and city planners; no need for a target audience expect a legacy.

  3. If the Gulchites are so gung-ho on being pedestrians then they can walk an extra block to use the Demonbreun St bridge-a perfectly fine foot ,bike and car bridge.

  4. They have lied about this project and twisted ideas from those wanting a path from the convention center to tourist areas just south of downtown, such as Music Row. They can always place an elevator under the Demonbreun St bridge. They can have an ap so the desired can punch in a code or pay a toll when they want to use it. Much like any other gated community.