Reinvention of Ryman Alley moves closer to reality

Sunday, August 21, 2011 at 10:05pm

Printers Alley might be more famous, and the tight passageway that runs between Union and Church streets bisecting The Arcade suggests a big-city ambience. But no other alley in downtown Nashville offers the spirit of musical legends than the asphalt stretch sandwiched by the Ryman Auditorium and the backs of revered joints such as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Robert’s Western World and Layla’s Bluegrass Inn. 

Over the years, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash — among countless others — have walked Ryman Alley, often to grab a cold beverage or catch a song at a honky-tonk as they prepped for concerts at the Ryman or decompressed after a sweat-soaked performance. 

Now the gritty alley — which most Nashvillians probably don’t even know about — is one step closer to revitalization. 

The District Inc., which oversees the economic vitality of Lower Broadway, Second Avenue/Riverfront and Printers Alley, has submitted to the Metro Water Services Department a stormwater management plan that, if approved, could help the nonprofit move forward on updating — and even redefining — the alley. The effort is now about two years old. 

“We find a lot of people coming into the alley and taking pictures,” said Shawn Henry, a Nashville-based attorney who serves as both chairman of The District and co-chair (with Dave Herrell) of the Ryman Alley Committee. “There is a lot of interest in seeing it become more than an alley but a pedestrian gathering place.”

Henry said discussions with Metro continue. He said the primary infrastructure
improvement funding would likely come from public money. 

“The District has looked into improving some aesthetic elements, which have yet to be defined,” he said. 

Jack Cawthon, veteran owner of Ryman Alley business Jack’s Bar-B-Que, noted the Ryman stage can be accessed )without a performer being seen by the audience) only via the beloved building’s alley door. 

“The backstage door is the most famous door in Nashville,” Cawthon said. “And it’s a very famous alley.”