A proposal to build the mammoth $4 billion mixed-use project known as May Town Center on 500-plus acres in the rural Bells Bend community is officially back on the table.
After talking to property owner Jack May on Wednesday, Metro Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr., the area’s representative, confirmed to The City Paper that he plans to file the necessary paperwork Thursday to hold a March 2 Metro Council public hearing on the project.
“From what I gathered in our discussion, just knowing that the city is looking for additional revenue streams, what better time to bring up that conversation than after Metro passed a $585 million convention center that’s going to be funded with public funds?” Matthews said.
“Here’s a private investor that’s looking to actually put up his own money to do something that’s going to be a significant benefit to the city,” he said. “That’s the thought process.”
May Town Center — billed by its supporters as an opportunity to compete with Cool Springs and Williamson County for corporate headquarters — received a barrage of criticism from environmentalists and several council members who worried about the implications on the city’s growth patterns and sustainability, along with the potential competition it would create with downtown development.
Following a series of marathon public hearings, the Metro Planning Commission over the summer rejected the zoning change fundamental in making the project a reality, prompting Matthews to later defer the ordinance indefinitely.
Now revived, the May Town zone-change would need 27 votes from the 40-member council to move forward, as outlined by a two-thirds-vote requirement for bills that lack the planning commission’s approval.
The project, which also includes a large residential and commercial retail component, contains a clause to transfer 250 acres of land to Tennessee State University, 50 acres that the institution would use as a research park. May and TSU have agreed on the land transfer regardless if the project passes or not, though the actual tract would depend on May Town Center’s fate.
Under the invigorated proposal, project leaders would also again rely on their own dollars to pay for the recommended three bridges to connect May Town Center to the rest of the city, as the project would be separated from west and north Nashville by the Cumberland River.
Despite the daunting 27-vote council threshold in the way of May Town Center’s passage, Matthews was optimistic that the project stands a chance.
“I think that the positioning of the project is stronger than it was at the time I deferred it,” Matthews said. “I think that my colleagues would be more open to the discussion at exploring this as a potential benefit for the city.”
Councilman Mike Jameson, one of the leading critics of May Town Center, said he intends to listen to Matthews’ rationale for reviving the project, although he has some concerns if the new proposal is identical to the last.
“The prior concern was that this would not be a complement to downtown, but would in fact compete with it,” Jameson said. “The additional concerns were environmental in nature ... While the project itself is inherently environmental progress, it is being built upon one of the last vestiges of green agricultural space in the county.”
Meanwhile, Councilman Jason Holleman, who represents west Nashville neighborhoods in close proximity to the proposed May Town Center, indicated his opposition likely hasn’t changed.
“My constituents’ concerns remain the same as they were,” he said. “I haven’t seen any change in the proposal coming before the council ... I have a lot of very specific concerns about the impact on my district, the impact that this project would have on development patterns on the corridors to downtown, and also the traffic impact.”