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.”