The release of the latest economic impact study for the proposed May Town Center development has not changed the views of both opponents and proponents, who responded to the report released on Monday.
The economic impact study, done by University of Tennessee economics professor William Fox of the Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), stated that May Town Center planned for the Bells Bend area west of town might take some office tenants away from downtown, but generally would be in more direct competition with the likes of Williamson County and Rutherford County.
Despite those findings, David Eichenthal and William Tharp of the Chattanooga-based Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies released a critical analysis of Fox’s 57-page study.
"Nothing in the CBER report disputes the highly speculative nature of the proposed May Town Center development," their analysis said.
They quote page 29 of the CBER report which states, “We make no claims as to the reasonableness of these plans and caution that the timing and extent of actual development over the 20 years or longer life of the project could differ substantially from these original projections, as the developers themselves acknowledge.”
Second, the CBER report, they say, clearly finds that May Town Center will compete with downtown and office development throughout Davidson County.
Fox’s economic impact study states on page 35: “Some proponents of the development may argue that MTC is unique and will not compete with existing locations in Davidson County… We believe this may be true for some firms but is an unreasonable assumption overall… The likelihood is MTC will generate a net positive effect on Nashville area employment because of its unique nature, but that some MTC employment will represent the results of a zero sum competition with existing Nashville office space.”
However, in the summary section regarding competition within Davidson and surrounding counties, the economic impact study points out the difficulty Nashville has had in attracting large corporate campuses.
It goes on to state that companies in the downtown central business district will “generally want to stay downtown.”
May Town Center developer Tony Giarratana said the report confirmed what proponents have been attempting to communicate for months.
“May Town Center will not complete with downtown Nashville, but, rather, will compliment downtown Nashville,” he said.
Asked to respond to the impact study’s point that 50 percent of the jobs would have located in Davidson County any way, Giarratana said May Town Center would reverse the trend of corporations relocating outside the county.
“Another 15 years like the past 15 years would surely jeopardize Nashville’s position within the region,” Giarratana said. “May Town Center will help Davidson County retain companies that need more room to expand, and will make Davidson County more competitive with neighboring counties for new companies moving into the region.”
Giarratana also said he found Fox’s impact study to be conservative in its economic impact projections.
“As a result, revenues are presented on the low end and expenses are presented on the high end. For example, the report assumes that Metro is paying $35 million to construct a school and millions more to construct a police and fire hall,” Giarratana said. “This of course inflates the ‘costs’ and reduces the net economic benefit of May Town Center accordingly.”
Still, critics also say that the economic impacts identified by the CBER report should be discounted to reflect the absence of a plan for a second bridge over the Cumberland River and into Bells Bend. Without the second bridge, they say, economic impact should be discounted to reflect a more modest build out.
Currently, only one bridge — accessed via Briley Parkway — is in the latest proposal. Earlier plans called for one closer to Interstate 40 between Charlotte Pike and White Bridge Road exits.
May Town developers took issue with another aspect of the CBER study dealing with infrastructure.
The study stated that Metro would be on the hook for surrounding infrastructure like schools, a fire hall, and road improvements. Yet, the Specific Plan (SP) zoning request filed by developers earlier this year specifically states the developer pays for all public use facilities.
District 1 Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr., whose district includes rural Bells Bend, said he has not yet read the full report.
The Planning Commission will host a public hearing regarding the economic impact study on June 25, after which time the commission is likely to vote on the zoning proposal.