Sixty-thousand people will make their way through the East Bank to attend a Titans football game at a new stadium in September 2027. Mayor Freddie O’Connell’s administration intends to have the makings of a new neighborhood ready for them to walk through.
Sandwiched between the Cumberland River and I-24 lies the East Bank: a 550-acre plot boasting 110 acres of Metro-owned land, very little development and a lot of concrete. In 2027, 20 acres of that land will be home to the new Titans stadium — arguably the most significant accomplishment of John Cooper’s term as mayor. As Cooper’s administration made its ultimately successful push for this $2.1 billion structure, they simultaneously pitched Nashvillians a previously considered but unpursued idea: the development of the East Bank as a functional new neighborhood within the city. Housing, transit, green space, family-friendly fun, river access, and the possibility of a new space for the Tennessee Performing Arts Center — all were floated as possibilities should the city choose to develop the East Bank.
Now, it’s time for the O’Connell administration to turn those ideas into a reality.
Five hundred fifty acres is a massive undertaking that will take decades to develop in phases. For reference, the Gulch is 60 acres. The development of that private project kicked off in 1999 with the purchase of the land. More than 20 years later, the Gulch is only 50 percent complete. The “initial development area” of the East Bank is a 30-acre plot of Metro-owned land near the new stadium.
In other words, don’t expect to take a stroll through a changed East Bank anytime soon.
“I think it’s under-appreciated just how unusually large this is for Nashville and really anywhere that you could look. And that translates into time, and multiple phases and complexity, on a scale that hardly ever happens anywhere,” Bob Mendes, O’Connell’s chief development officer, told the Banner. “The desire to have it all figured out right away, while natural, is hard to accommodate.”
But despite the scale, the city can’t drag its feet. The IDA directly borders two sides of the new stadium, which means that if at least some of that development is not completed by the time the new Stadium opens in March 2027, attendees will be walking through an active construction zone.
“In any universe where we didn’t have a football stadium opening in March of 2027, the timeline that we’re discussing for negotiating this with Fallon would be considered very aggressive,” Mendes said at a meeting of the Metro Council Ad-hoc East Bank Committee. “But we do have a football stadium opening in three years and four to five months.”
Fallon is the private company selected by Cooper as the master developer to head up making Metro’s plans a reality on the 30-acre IDA. Fallon was selected on Sept. 11, three days before the Metro runoff election. The protest period for that selection ended on Sept. 22, the final day of Cooper’s time in office. That’s left the O’Connell administration scrambling over the past few weeks to set the groundwork for negotiating what the East Bank will look like. As part of those conversations, the administration gave Fallon feedback on the project proposal. That proposal received public scrutiny over its lack of substantial affordable housing units. In the coming weeks, Fallon will come back with a new conceptual design that will serve as a jumping-off point for negotiations.
“We certainly have talked about the conversation related to affordable housing and just kind of looking at total number of units available on the total number of acres available, that kind of thing,” said O’Connell at a media roundtable. “I guess I would still call those pre-negotiation conversations.”
Over the past few weeks, O’Connell’s administration has emphasized that nothing has been finalized. They plan to bring a master development agreement to the Metro Council in February, hoping to pass it in April. That agreement and the attached documents will outline the details of developing those 30 acres: a timeline, what phases go first, a description of responsibilities, land usage, documents related to future lease agreements, and of course a price tag. Until that contract passes the council, negotiations are fluid.
But while anything could happen, some aspects seem increasingly likely based on public support and rhetoric from the mayor’s office. Interest in building a new space for the Tennessee Performing Arts Center within those 30 acres has grown. As the city works to revitalize its transit system, a parcel has already been identified as an ideal space for an East Bank transit hub. And on either side of the new stadium — the parcels likely to see development first — large open plazas will be needed to contain the foot traffic that Titans games, concerts and other events will bring.
That means that not only does Metro have much to negotiate between now and February, it won’t just be Fallon, the mayor’s office and department heads at the table. The Titans and the state will need to participate in some conversations.
Part of the Titans stadium deal was a site-coordination agreement. This agreement acknowledged that some spaces surrounding the stadium must be identified as shared-use spaces throughout future master development negotiations. That means while the Titans won’t have a say in what happens to all 30 acres of the IDA, they will be part of the negotiations for some of the spaces that most directly impact the stadium.
From the state end, the State Building Commission has already approved $200 million in grant funds for constructing a new Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Transportation will need a seat at the table for conversations surrounding an underappreciated elephant in the room: the James Robertson Parkway Bridge.
The bridge is one of the primary connections between Downtown Nashville and the East Bank. Bridges are within TDOT’s jurisdiction. But for a new transit hub and connectivity of an East Bank neighborhood to work, that bridge will need to undergo significant changes. While the nearby Woodland Street bridge connects to the East Bank almost immediately at street level, having little negative impact on neighborhood connectivity, the James Robertson Parkway bridge sits atop a giant wall.
“It severs the neighborhood, it severs the pedestrian experience and certainly limits our ability to deliver transit,” said Executive Director of the Metro Planning Department Lucy Kempf during the Ad-Hoc East Bank Committee meeting.
The site selected for a possible transit hub lies directly against what is currently a concrete slab, rendering that parcel nearly useless as a transit hub. The James Robertson Parkway Bridge landing will need to be lowered to street level, an endeavor that will be just as costly as it is necessary.
And of course, materializing a brand new neighborhood from nothing right next to a brand new stadium is sure to do one thing — significantly increase the need for sewage capacity. Sometime in December, the Metro Council will see legislation surrounding the construction of a new sewer pump station. That legislation will include agreements with the Titans and an outline of how developments serviced by the sewer pump station will contribute to its cost. During the committee meeting, Mendes explained that this would allow Metro to be cost-neutral on a thirty-year timeline. But in the meantime, Metro will have to front some of that money, which means estimating that cost will be a vital early piece of negotiations.
All of these details, big and small, need to be hammered out in the coming months for ground to break on construction. Because at the end of the day, whether the city is ready or not, there are going to be 60,000 people traipsing through the East Bank in just a few short years.
“I think the thing to imagine would be, in the ideal world, if somebody starts downtown or wants to take a pedestrian bridge over the river, they could walk over the bridge, straight up to the south Plaza into the stadium,” Mendes told the Banner. “And there might be a couple of complete buildings that they pass along the way, but more likely construction at various stages on either side, but their ingress and egress is doable in a safe manner.”