Source: The Tennessean 

Mayor Megan Barry’s administration is moving forward on plans to build a long-discussed $18 million pedestrian bridge that would connect downtown Nashville’s hip Gulch and SoBro neighborhoods after striking a preliminary deal to acquire land needed for its construction.

After months of negotiations, Barry is proposing Metro’s sale of the long-underutilized, 3-acre Clement Landport on Demonbreun Street to the nearby private office center Cummins Station for $7.56 million.

In exchange, the city would then pay $2.66 million to Cummins Station’s property owner for necessary easements to build and construct the east base of the 700-foot-long pedestrian bridge, which is conceived as a way to connect two growing neighborhoods that are severed by CSX railroad tracks.

The mayor’s office filed legislation with the council late Friday outlining the transaction, setting up a Sept. 20 council vote on the proposal.

The towering, architecturally eye-popping Gulch-SoBro bridge — celebrated by some, but scorned by others as an unneeded and expensive undertaking — was one of former Mayor Karl Dean’s final big-ticket capital items. But construction never started, even though the Metro Council voted to approve the project’s financing and initial land acquisition two years ago. Finalizing right-of-way acquisition, particularly involving land owned by Cummins Station, has held up the bridge from being built.

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With the preliminary agreement now in place, Barry — who voted for the bridge as a councilwoman and has vowed to carry on the project as mayor — said the project is one step closer to becoming a reality.

“Once completed, the Gulch-SoBro Pedestrian Bridge will better connect residents and visitors to these thriving neighborhoods in a way that promotes tourism and economic activity,” Barry said in a statement. “Not only does this benefit our transit network for pedestrians, but the sale of the Landport will result in an infusion of capital funds to (the Metro Transit Authority) that will help to improve transit for bus riders throughout Davidson County.”

The Nashville Business Journal first reported on the deal between the mayor’s office and Cummins Station.

Zach Liff, president of Z-Integrated Capital & Management, which manages Cummins Station, declined to comment on the proposed transaction, which could open up development opportunities for Cummins Station on the Clement Landport site at 1011 Demonbreun St.

The high-profile property is across railroad tracks from the recently opened MarketStreet Enterprises’ Gulch Crossing office building. Liff is in the process of creating a master plan to guide the future development of properties he’s recently acquired around Cummins Station.

The Metro Transit Authority currently owns and operates the landport, which opened in 1998 after then-U.S. Rep. Bob Clement secured federal funds for the $4.6 million project. It was once conceived as the hub of a bustling regional passenger system in Nashville that would incorporate bus service, van pools and bicyclists.

From the outset, though, the landport struggled to draw activity and was later slammed by critics as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Today, the landport is used as a paid parking lot, and an MTA building on the site is vacant and locked shut. The site was last used for transit purposes in 2012.

Under Barry’s proposal, Metro government would purchase the landport from MTA for $8.4 million before the city would then sell the landport to Cummins Station. That sum matches the appraised value of the land. The funds generated from the sale of the landport are to be used for unidentified transit-related capital expenditures.

The landport site, which is toward the northern end of Cummins Station, does not sit on the footprint where the pedestrian bridge is targeted.

“The landport has been underutilized by MTA over the years, so this deal will help us to put our resources to best use in serving the citizens of Davidson County,” MTA CEO Steve Bland said in a statement.

“While we still must receive final approval from the Federal Transit Administration, we believe that the sale of this property and infusion of funds into our infrastructure are in the best interests of all Nashvillians who use our service.”

In October 2014, the council approved $1 million in initial land acquisition costs for the bridge, but additional right-of-way acquisition of property on the south end of the Cummins Station site has still been needed.

If the council signs off on the agreement between Metro and Cummins Station, the Metro Public Works department would begin working to engage the community on final designs of the bridge.

Though the Gulch-SoBro bridge is envisioned as a means to increase walkability between two neighborhoods that have carried the brunt of downtown’s recent growth, preliminary conceptual designs have called for a bold architectural plan that could make the bridge a destination itself.

A soaring 200-foot tower, visible across downtown, is to anchor the bridge on the SoBro end, with 30 multi-strand stay cables connecting the bridge to the tower. The bridge, 30 feet wide, also is designed to be accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians via staircases, ramps and glass elevators. It is to also feature bands of raised park space along its entire surface.

The Gulch-SoBro bridge has been a subject of criticism among Nashvillians who have demanded that more city investments should occur in neighborhoods, not just downtown. But after initially delaying a vote on Dean’s pedestrian bridge proposal in early 2014, the council months later voted 30-7 to approve land acquisition.

Easing concerns of council members was a restructured financing plan that relies on property tax revenues generated by seven Gulch properties that is to pay off debt on the bridge by 2022.

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