Nashville stands at the edge of what could be one of its greatest architectural and development achievements or one of its greatest failures with the proposed new downtown convention center.
If talk around town is correct, the convention center at a projected cost of $635 million is the largest building program on the drawing boards in the country now. Of course, the economy is slow and development is grinding to a halt in places and perhaps the bar is lower.
Still, the city has an opportunity to make a positive, gargantuan design and development statement with the convention center. It’s not about “if” this or that happens. It’s about this should happen and the city steps out and boldly shows it is creative and has a willingness push boundaries.
There is support for going in that direction. The danger, however, is the support ends up being more talk than action as budgets get squeezed and value engineering takes root.
For years there’s been idle chatter that Nashville’s architecture leans toward the bland and the mimicry. Maybe that has to do with the conservative corporate roots in banking and insurance.
To date, the Country Music Hall of Fame is the most creative large attraction or public building downtown.
The downtown main library is nice but it’s no Seattle Central Library, which has become a tourist attraction because of its funky design.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center is quite nice, too. It’s particularly convenient to go into a place that looks like it should be in Europe without actually having to go to Europe. The exchange rate with Euro is awful right now.
So here comes the big box. Metro Planning Director Rick Bernhardt and the Nashville Civic Design Center urged wrapping the center with other types of development — retail, residential and office.
Councilman Mike Jameson wants a “green” roof.
T.K. Davis, the design center’s design director, is optimistic the building’s architecture can be great and make a statement.
“The one thing you don’t want is it value engineered down,” he said.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be some whiz-bang, futuristic design on par with the one in Pittsburgh that looks like a ship sitting in the water.
But it could be designed in such a way that someone going into a retail shop never has reason to believe that a convention is going on behind a back wall. Perhaps, a real estate developer takes charge of the large square footage on the roof as well as the wrap, treating it like a master-plan development found in urban parts of the city with various heights and a park on top.
Essentially, the center would create a tunnel with Fifth Avenue South to protect the grid. It could also help form the retail district and concentration that the Nashville Downtown Partnership’s retail study said downtown lacked.
The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency is now in predevelopment planning and at some point a design team will be hired. There’s no doubt that there will be a lot of outside input.
Probably the biggest threat, however, is group thinking with the design and blandness becomes the result. After all, this building could end up being part of the Nashville skyline as seen from Interest 40 as drivers enter the city from the east and west.
One certainty with whatever the design becomes it probably shouldn’t come within a millimeter of the current convention center’s design. A lot of people find it just ghastly.
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