Out with the hillbilly, in with the future

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 1:00am

Say goodbye to "hillbilly hayseed-ism."

Nashvillians yearning for a more big-city image must be reveling in the thought of Alice Aycock's massive sculpture that will eventually anchor the city's East Bank.

Prior to Thursday's unveiling of the nameless art piece, some locals cynically joked that New Yorker Aycock was about to foist upon us a 100-foot-tall banjo, farm implement or bronzed Toby Keith statue.

Clearly, the roller-coaster-like piece artfully sidesteps Nashville's bucolic heritage, careening the city toward a more urbane future.

Bold and brash - which can be both good and bad - Aycock's abstract sculpture will be very unlike what minimal public art the city currently offers.

But will it define a public space that citizens will care about?

At present, few folks frequent this particular segment of the East Bank. A coaster-like contraption could be a lure.

Kudos to the Metro Nashville Arts Commission for choosing Aycock, who will be paid $250,000 from the city's "1 percent for the arts" fund.

The commission says the abstract sculpture "will capture the athleticism of a performer and the confidence of a city that is comfortable with its identity as the home of American music and one of this country's true emerging cities."

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce couldn't have said it better.

Poll positioning

Two recently conducted City Paper polls drew better-than-expected readership response.

In the first, "Where will urban infill boom within the next 10 years?" 57 readers voted regarding future mixed-use development within Nashville's urban core.

The SoBro/Gulch area garnered the most votes, with 19. In a tight vote, East Nashville recorded 17 votes.

The other areas broke down as follows: Midtown (eight votes), West Nashville (five), South Nashville (three), North Nashville (three), and the Central Business District (two).

Ask insiders and they agree with our readers: SoBro/The Gulch is primed for an explosion that by 2015 will render the area unrecognizable compared to its present state.

The players are numerous.

Powerbrokers Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Direct Development will oversee Rolling Mill Hill redevelopment efforts.

Nashville Urban Venture, led by the tenacious bulldog Joe Barker, already has a jump-start in The Gulch.

The affable Tony Giarratana is working to finalize a major project (you'll know about it soon enough) for the area.

And Michael Hayes, the upstart yet savvy front man for C.B. Ragland Co., is ready to imprint his company's infill development stamp.

Those who cherish seeing surface parking lots and junk buildings reinvented with pedestrian-oriented urban-infill construction will relish watching this transformation.

As to the second poll - "What is your reaction to the demolition of the West End Apartments?" - 39 readers opined regarding the quirky building at 31st and West End avenues.

The top vote-getter, with 12 votes, was "An eyesore - out!" Nine respondents voted they were unaware of the structure. Given the building's nebulously worded banner ("If you lived here, you would not be stuck in traffic!"), its outdoor stairwell (this, remember, was a hotel in the 1960s), and its prominent location (next to the unsightly Walgreens), those nine votes are surprising.

Eight voted for "Nashville's ugliest building meets its death," with "Will be missed but not like The Jack(sonian)" garnering seven votes, and "Say it ain't so!" three votes.

As this column goes to bed, the building has been rendered a heap of rubble.

Building an icon

Nashville Urban Venture and Bristol Development Group have unveiled their plans for ICON, a strikingly contemporary 18-story retail/residential tower to anchor The Gulch.

If the name sounds very "Atlanta-ish," well, it is.

The South's most skyscraper-aggressive city offers thrusting edifices with elite-sounding monikers: Realm, Spire, The Metropolitan, The Concorde and The Proscenium.

Pretentious? Perhaps. But a city aggressively on the move should be expected to exhibit some muscle-flexing.

Interestingly, Atlanta-based The Preston Partnership LLC has designed ICON.

Those who fear this is one more example of Nashville attempting to become "the next Atlanta" should not panic. It would take 50 ICONs minimum for our town to begin to simulate the Georgia metropolis.

One ICON will be a nice addition.

William Williams writes about Nashville's man-made environment. He can be contacted at wwilliams@nashvillecitypaper.com.

Filed under: City Business