April 17, 2008

Diaster helps East Nashville prosper

Ten years later: East Nashville rebounds, prospers after tornado
Some residents feel storm was actually a catalyst for revitalization
The Tennessean, April 16, 2008

The path of destruction a tornado blazes is an unwelcome one, usually leaving displaced residents and undue hardships in its wake.
Such was the case with the three tornadoes that ripped through Nashville on April 16, 1998 — especially the storm that wreaked havoc on East Nashville.

But for all the devastation that storm brought, many feel that tornado's cloud had a silver lining, for all the damage became a catalyst for both the economic and social revival of East Nashville.
Ten years after the storm, the area and its reputation have changed drastically, but those who live there know that to create the neighborhood they ultimately want, there are still many improvements to be made.
Tornado speeds up redevelopment
Before that day in April, East Nashville residents were already working toward improving the area, and the neighborhood was already on its way to becoming a hip ZIP Code for buyers. The Five Points Redevelopment District was created in 1994, and other zoning plans for specific neighborhoods were already in effect.
But many think the tornado helped take the revival from a slow jog to a sprint.
"Clearly, East Nashville was moving forward prior to the tornado," said resident Billy Fields, who served as Metro's disaster relief coordinator after the storm. "However, the huge influx of renovation and rebuilding money for both homes and businesses pushed the revitalization of the area ahead much quicker than I believe it would have happened without the storm.
"East Nashville is a better place today than 10 years ago, and the tornado was a major part of the renaissance."
But for some, the tornado did more than just open the door to interested investors. It also forced residents to generate and agree upon a long-term vision for their community.
Jeff Ockerman cited work of Christine Kreyling and Hunter Gee's leadership of the Regional/Urban Redevelopment Team as integral to producing that plan.
"Without the tornado, I don't know if we'd have ever reached consensus on a vision for East Nashville and a willingness to share community resources necessary to achieve that vision," Ockerman said.
Diversity, new business helps restoration
So after April 16, 1998, what was the main factor that propelled East Nashville to its current status?
Fields said it was the residents themselves, who helped the rest of the city discover East Nashville was a "great place to live, work and play."
Ockerman agreed, saying the passion of people who moved to the area post-tornado combined with the experience with the pre-tornado group has made success inevitable.
But developer Dan Heller thinks that, outside of zoning overlays passed in the years since the tornado, the efforts of fellow developer March Egerton helped propel the neighborhood into the spotlight.
"Most of the popular and successful businesses in Five Points started with March Egerton," Heller said. " He's the one that bought an old television repair shop, then convinced Bob Bernstein to locate his Bongo Java Roasting Co. there. He saw a tiny, 1920s gas station with no parking on Woodland and brought in Margot to open her restaurant there. The list goes on and on.
"It takes a very unique combination of characteristics to do that kind of work, to take buildings which might otherwise have been demolished — in a very dicey part of town — and create such clear and obvious value."
Some would say it's these landmark businesses that helped reacquaint the rest of the city with East Nashville, and Metro Councilman Mike Jameson wouldn't disagree. But he thinks it's the proximity to downtown, and the diversity of the residents that have people moving across the river.
"In nearly every category — racial, economic, philosophical, personal orientation — we are one of the most balanced neighborhoods around," Jameson said. "I moved here because I wanted to live in America, not some homogenous gated subdivision named after a Confederate general.
"Ironically, I fear we're beginning to lose a little of that balance as our property values rise and gentrification sets in."
Helping one helps all
It's no secret that gentrification has set in during the last decade, and that's presented a certain set of challenges to residents and officials who are trying to steer the growth of a changing community.
So to keep East Nashville on the track of progress, a balance must be struck between the needs of the different populations that call the area home.
For some, that means making it easier for small businesses to set up shop. For others, it means strengthening ties with Metro government and the city's Chamber of Commerce to help foster growth initiatives.
But most agree a key factor is helping those areas, such as the east bank and areas surrounding Cayce Homes, which have not seen the prosperity experienced by others. Attention to these areas will help the neighborhood overall.
"While Sam Levy and other public housing facilities have undergone renovation, Cayce Homes sits idly by," Jameson said. "Under the current federal administration, funding for renovations was essentially eliminated. But with change imminent in Washington, D.C., and with Mayor Karl Dean's commitment to affordable and workforce housing, hope is on the horizon."
Ockerman believes that by focusing on these areas, and addressing issues such as affordable housing and quality education, East Nashville can make significant strides toward the overarching goal: economic success for all.
" If (these areas) can't share in the success, we fail from a moral perspective as well as an economic perspective," Ockerman said. "We can't achieve the success we want if we, as a city, continue to marginalize one large group of our neighbors."

No comments: