May Town developer 'prepared to move forward' with scaled-down version of project

Monday, February 7, 2011 at 10:33pm

Sensing an opening now that Mayor Karl Dean’s plans to redevelop Metro’s fairgrounds have stalled, Nashville businessman Jack May appears to be inching closer to introducing a scaled-back version of the massive mixed-used project May Town Center.

May first floated the idea of a downsized May Town in November, when it became clear Dean’s fairgrounds redevelopment plans were struggling to gain traction. With the Metro Council voting last week to spare the Fairgrounds Speedway from demolition, and keep the state fair off Nolensville Pike through 2012, May believes the project he envisions for the rural Bells Bend area has new life.  

“We have been talking for the last many months with a number of council members and various leaders in Bells Bend and North Nashville about what it takes to move something forward,” May told The City Paper late Monday. “Now that the fairgrounds [redevelopment] is on hold, there may be more interest in preserving the thousand acres in Bells Bend.

“We are prepared to move forward,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that. We are prepared to move forward.”

Originally a $4 billion mix of office, retail, residential and corporate space on 500 acres of May’s family property, the proposal was narrowly defeated in 2009 by the Metro Planning Commission. The project had been met with criticism from environmentalists and city leaders who said its construction would detract from growth downtown.

Asked Monday what he means by “prepared to move forward,” May talked about the project’s size. He said he has determined what a reduced May Town would look like, adding that it would require only one bridge to cross the Cumberland River for vehicular access. 

“We do not have a date,” May said of a potential reintroduction. “But we are prepared. In other words, we have the information.

“I would assume if it’s reintroduced, it’s measured in how many months, not a year or so from now,” he said.

When May three months ago talked to reporters about a possible downsized May Town, he pointed out how Dean had started referencing the debate over May Town that ignited a year and a half ago. Leading up to the original defeat of May Town, Dean had been silent about his stance on the project. 

The mayor’s new use of the May Town dispute, which he raised at a handful of public events, was intended to remind Nashvillians about the need to secure property suitable for corporate tenants. Bells Bend wasn’t that ideal spot, Dean said on several occasions, because the neighbors opposed it, the project lacked necessary infrastructure and green space would be sacrificed.

May is trying to flip the argument on the mayor. May believes Bells Bend, not the fairgrounds, is better equipped to fill the corporate relocation promise — especially now that the council has effectively postponed any development of the fairgrounds site for at least a couple of years  

Moreover, May now appears to be issuing an ultimatum, of sorts, suggesting he would entertain selling his land to a developer who would construct a residential subdivision on the property. The project is zoned agricultural, but May said the land is properly zoned for a large residential project.

“We’re happy to see that the mayor understands the importance of corporate campuses,” May said. “Now that the fairgrounds [redevelopment] may be three or four years away, we’re hopeful he will reconsider his interest in a project in Bells Bend versus allowing it to stay as it is, which will ultimately be what it is zoned for: a 750-home subdivision.”     

20 Comments on this post:

By: WrdBrn on 2/8/11 at 7:32

The Mayor's understanding of corporate spaces is just not relevant. The Planning Commission specifically said that a radically different plan - not a scaled down plan - might begin the process again. The residents spent months and months working on a plan for appropriate growth in the area and they did an exceptional job. The convention center needs to be finished, there is a hole in the ground on Broadway, there is a demolition site in Melrose, all of which are examples of developers day dreams. Maytown might be a good idea but until businesses that are here now begin to thrive and rehire, until the Hickory Hollow and Bellevue Mall areas are revitalized, and abandoned development sites completed and both have a track record of thriving and being part of the Nashville fabric we as a community must say enough is enough. Taking pride in and giving support in every way we can all think of to what we have must be the stand we take. Maytown and the eastern flyway, farmland, of the area knows as Bell's Bend are just not the right formula for each other - and most certainly not for Nashville.

By: Kosh III on 2/8/11 at 7:33

Sure, build it and then wait till the next flood and it will be underwater. Just look at the maps from last May.

No Maytown.

Get businesses into the many vacant locations in downtown, Metro Center, along Myatt Drive in Madison and several other places in town which are already developed but sitting unused.

By: anjnew on 2/8/11 at 8:25

We have to much unused commercial property now. Use & redevelop what we have. This makes no sense! I am so upset with the direction of Nashville leadership.

By: dogmrb on 2/8/11 at 8:29

Mr. May doesn't seem to understand he may NOT build Maytown just because he owns land in Bells Bend.

By: boyer barner on 2/8/11 at 9:43

The other end of The Gulch, behind NES and the along both sides of Charolotte, offer development potential. Plenty of room there to add to our skyline there with interstate and spur road access. This would also be good for the small support businesses that benefit from affordable rents at Marathon Village and Cummins Station. We should look for development where organic growth can take place. Plopping down a corporate campus at Bell's Bend or the fairgrounds may be cheaper as far as land goes, but it does little to create a real critical mass that makes sense in the long-term.

By: Lealand419 on 2/8/11 at 10:11

I wholeheartedly agree with all the above commenters. Enough is indeed enough! Give it up, Mr. May! We do want or need any version of May Town Center -- certainly not unless and until the above-mentioned pre-existing vacancies are filled, projects completed, and the economy can clearly support further development. In any case, I agree that Bells' Bend is not the location for such development, for the foreseeable future. Let's keep the relatively pristine natural environment there for future generations of Nashvillians. There's plenty of infill needed in this city -- not more sprawl. As is at present, Nashville is the least densely populated, developed city of its size (or larger) in the region, if not the country, including Memphis, Louisville, Birmingham, Charlotte... Check it out!

By: anniem on 2/8/11 at 10:19


In this day and age, I'd just like to know which developer has the money to build a 'large residential' project. The construction industry is FLAT. Has Jack May ever heard of economic depression?

By: SmartlyDone on 2/8/11 at 10:19

I love the thought process that exists here of redeveloping or using up the commercial property that exists now. First of all, that is easier said than done. Everyone acts like a company looking to move here is going to say oh goody the city has available urban space let's move there. That's not how it's done. It may seem counter intuitive but sometimes what's needed is something fairly big elsewhere that then helps fill in that space with ancillary business. Dell might not be the best example now but when it landed here it brought a whole host of suppliers with it.

Secondly, redeveloping a urban areas to bring a corporate campus? That's terribly expensive especially when using the argument of competing with Williamson County. Green field development there is much cheaper and cheaper in spots still because of tax breaks. Nashville lost a company to Cool Springs because of that. To compete using brownfields, Nashville would have to pony up a bunch of cash and tax breaks. What benefit to the taxpayer is that, especially when you have spots where no tax breaks are required? All the anti May Town people are arguing for is putting everything in someone else's backyard.

Thirdly, putting a corporate campus in the urban area seems to be the antithesis of urban redevelopment. So we are going to bring back the suburbs to what was once a suburb but has now become urban over time?

Finally, we all live on what was once farm land. We've all seen what has happened with unrepentant sprawl. The key is balancing it, not just focusing on one or the other. The people opposed to development on Bells Bend on the premise of keeping it green are actually ensuring that it ends up a large subdivision that looks like Brentwood.

By: SmartlyDone on 2/8/11 at 10:24

anniem ... The same is true of commercial development as well. Whether it's May Town or a subdivision, development would take probably 10-20 years. Someone buys the land and warehouses it for future development.

By: Lealand419 on 2/8/11 at 10:34

"SmartlyDone", so Nashville is different from just about every other city in this regard? How so?

By: SmartlyDone on 2/8/11 at 10:59

Lealand... not sure what you are referencing in your question

By: nash615 on 2/8/11 at 12:37

May's just being self-serving -- trying to find an upside to the flood plain farmland he thought he was going to sucker Nashville into turning into a $4B windfall for him. Planning and Metro Council closed the door by killing his sneaky attempt at a 12th-hour Area Plan amendment (which nuked the possibility of a rezoning).

These days there's no way West Nashville is going to let Jack build his bridge(s), TSU has been publicly fooled once and is now under what appears to be a wiser management, and the Bells Bend community would pillory Jack and what's left of his tattered reputation as a friend of Nashville in a heartbeat.

That's presuming we all live in a fantasy world where it's even possible to build a new downtown, roads, water, sewer, electric, etc., and even a single bridge to 51st Ave. in the current economy.

The premise is, bluntly, @#%ing retarded. I just presume it's Jack's best shot at convincing some other buyer to buy the land from him at a price less under water than the land he promised TSU.

Meanwhile, we've got Lake Palmer festering for years on BROADWAY. Bert Mathews is sitting on 200 acres of "shovel ready" land on Elm Hill near the airport. And just what is the office space and condo vacancy rate downtown? There's some really pretty glass and steel sitting around in the urban core whose construction seemed like only a marginally good idea back when people thought the economy was booming. We've got close to $1B in rammed-through construction for a new convention center / hotel that only the most optimistic voices think will be a boon for business or the city... And we need to rush to find new places to build?

Sell me another one.

By: SmartlyDone on 2/8/11 at 1:56

Nash... only a small portion of the overall property is in a flood plain. You are tilting at windmills with that. Fairgrounds has a lot in the flood plain as well. Portions of downtown flooded, too. That mean nothing can ever been done because of an out of the ordinary flood? And it wouldn't be a new downtown. That's just patently ridiculous and pure deception. What's more $4 billion wouldn't go in May's pocket. That's just more deception. The way this has been going, he probably won't make a dime much less a penny on any development out there.

Mathews isn't sitting on absolutely shovel ready property. It has infrastructure issues, namely roads improvements and an interchange need, something taxpayers will end up paying for. And to call May self serving is even more absurd. What in the world do you call the handful of people out there who want to put stuff in other people's backyards? That's not self serving? You have some wealthy people out there going against another wealthy person with the slight of hand arguments that hide their real desire, no development anywhere close to them for nothing other than simply no development. Palmer bet and for now he's lost. He and the other Roundabout development are counting on someone want to move out of downtown to anchor those developments or perhaps shuffling around West End.

Plus, I think you will be surprised by how a new convention center does when it is open. As it is, it's a pain to do much downtown now. Parking has gotten to be a major pain in the butt and the price has gotten to be a pain.

By: rickgibson5 on 2/9/11 at 6:47

Obviously this guy's mom or somebody never told him that 'No!" means "No!" because he just doesn't get it. Perhaps he has an addiction to building things and sadly, somewhere, there's a banker who will jump at the chance to brag in the locker room that he's financing the new May City. Leave the area for the cows and deer. Give it to the state for a wildlife refuge and take the tax break.

By: mlovell on 2/9/11 at 8:22


By: BenDover on 2/9/11 at 9:19

The focus should be on down-town. May Town can come back when it doesn't need an assist by the taxpayers to make it happen. The gulch is a success story. Build on that and on SoBro to leverage the Convention Center dollars.

By: SmartlyDone on 2/9/11 at 9:41

You folks are seriously myopic. For one, BenDover there was no taxpayer assist on May Town. How the heck to do thing the Gulch got done. It sits in a redevelopment district and most of the stuff there has tax increment financing. That means when those TIF loans are paid off with the property taxes from the developments, the property tax revenue stays in the district and doesn't go to the general fund for decades. Moreover, don't let the glitz and the crowds fool you into think the Gulch was a resounding success. Velocity has a TIF loan and already one buyer walked away from turning it into apartments because the value as apartments wouldn't match up to the payments for the TIF loan. Terrazzo has struggled as has Icon. Only the businesses seem to be doing well down there. Speaking of taxpayer assist, nearly all urban redevelopment is going to require taxpayer dollars in some form. Fairgrounds would take millions. That's not to say it shouldn't be done but it should be balanced with development that doesn't need incentives. That helps pay for it. @Rick ... There's already a big park the city paid millions for out there that nobody uses. If the May property ever gets built into a subdivision there will still be deer, just roaming through people's yards. At least the land slated for conservation is bigger than the park out there.

By: NewYorker1 on 2/9/11 at 9:55

I really wish the May family would give up on this idea. It's not going to happen your sweetness, move on. Keep your billions in the bank and enjoy your life. The May Town Center is dead Pumpkin Cakes. We are SOOOOOOO sick of hearing about it.

By: Kosh III on 2/9/11 at 4:55

My solution is two birds with one stone

May gives the property to Metro who makes it a greenway, reserve. park etc. It can connect to Bells Bend and Beaman parks.

Metro gives May Shelby and Shelby Bottoms Parks. They already has an infrastructure, private airfield next to it plus access to the freeways and it's almost----wait for it----downtown!

By: boyer barner on 2/9/11 at 10:51

Let's make it a giant cat park. As in, giant cats. Meow! W