Downtown Nashville and the Cumberland River (Visit Music City Facebook Page)

The Jaxson has long supported what we call Clustering, Complementing uses within a Compact (CCC) setting as a key urban revitalization tool. CCC is a subliminal key to successful urban revitalization that works by locating people, activities (like special events or outdoor dining), and uses (like restaurant or bars) together in close pedestrian scale proximity, allowing them to feed off one another, which in turn stimulates more market rate growth, activity and economic opportunity. When placed into motion, it offers a community tremendous economic potential for rapid transformation.

The 2019 NFL Draft highlighted a great example of CCC in Nashville’s Lower Broadway district. Imagine Downtown Jacksonville’s Laura Street between the Hemming Park and the river or Adams Street between the courthouse and Ocean Street being packed with more than 30 restaurants and bars playing live music and serving food as late as 3am, seven days a week. That’s essentially what Lower Broadway’s honky-tonk music scene provides for Downtown Nashville these days. However, things weren’t always that way.

Nashville’s Lower Broadway during the 1970s. Lower Broadway was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. (Metro Nashville Archives)

Jacksonville’s Main Street during the 1960s. Main Street was largely lost to a demolition first redevelopment strategy that replaced buildings with surface parking lots and parking garages during the later half of the 20th century. (State Archives of Florida)

According to a recent The Tennessean article, when Steve Smith got into Nashville’s honky-tonk business with the $10,000 purchase of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in the early 1990s, the warnings were that crime-ridden Lower Broadway was going nowhere. Now Tootsie’s sells 11,000 beers on a busy Saturday night and Smith’s largest venue, Honky Tonk Central made $20 million in revenue last year.

Originally called Broad Street, Broadway is a major thoroughfare in Downtown Nashville that during the 19th century was dominated with businesses and other enterprises related to the wharfs and docks that were located at its eastern terminus at the Cumberland River. During the mid-20th century, Lower Broadway, a four-block stretch of historic buildings near the Cumberland River, evolved into the heart of country music as many aspiring songwriters and singers were attracted to the city.

However, by the 1990s, what was once called “Honky Tonk Highway” was known more for its pawnshops, vacant buildings and seedy peep shows than a vibrant walkable, around-the-clock district that served as the central attraction of a city that drew a record 14.5 million visitors last year.

According to Mark Bloom of real estate investment firm Corner Partners, “It [Lower Broadway] was affordable because there was no tourism on the street. It was a very barren stretch of downtown that didn’t have a lot of customers at night at all.” In the same Tennessean article, Brenda Sanderson, whose husband was an original partner with Smith in Tootsie’s added, “I think in the beginning it took a lot of screaming and yelling, ‘Look at us, look at us, people want to come here.’ Lower Broadway was the jewel in the crown; it just hadn’t been discovered yet. Once it had been discovered, there was just no looking back.”

Bridgestone Arena in 2012 (Russell Conner)

Those who have been around since the 1990s, point to the 1996 opening of Bridgestone Arena as the catalyst for the revitalization of Lower Broadway, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Home to the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League, the arena was built at Broadway and 5th Avenue, serving as an anchor destination for Lower Broadway, which stretches from 1st to 5th avenues.

Locating a major event venue adjacent (clustering) to historic restaurants, bars, live music venues and vacant storefronts (complementing uses) situated in four continuous blocks of Lower Broadway (compact setting), stimulated foot traffic and synergy needed to support existing businesses while creating economic opportunity for more.

Armed with rows of bars offering free cover charges within a relatively safe confined and compact setting, the district draws millions annually because it is offers an unrivaled country music experience and is authentic and unique only to Nashville.

Lower Broadway in 2019. (Visit Music City Facebook Page)

Today, Lower Broadway has a new set of challenges as the pawn shops and peep show halls have been replaced with construction of new infill and renovation of historic structures. Since 2015, according to the Downtown Partnership, more than 159,000 square feet of new commercial space has been added to the Lower Broadway district since 2015 and more is on the way.

Now with $2 billion in projects in the works, such as a new Whole Foods, Amazon offices, Regal Cinemas luxury theater, a food hall and 1,000 apartments, many of Broadway’s historic properties go for as much as $1,000 per square foot, sometimes double for what seller paid just a few years earlier. The development of this type of authentic and compact urban scene since the late 1990s is what has catapulted Downtown Nashville past comparable peers such as Downtown Jacksonville by rising the city’s national profile and placing it in winning position to host this year’s NFL Draft.

With this in mind, here is a look at Lower Broadway during 2019 NFL Draft weekend.

Next Page: Lower Broadway During 2019 NFL Draft Weekend