Nashville has been abuzz in recent weeks regarding Mayor Karl Dean‘s call to spend $7.5 million to continue development of a bus rapid transit system that would run approximately seven miles from Five Points in East Nashville to the White Bridge Road area in West Nashville. The project, known as The Amp (yet another reference to Nashville’s musical tradition), is intended to help relieve traffic congestion and provide improved mass transit along the West End corridor.
If federal funding is available, The Amp could be operational by 2016. Mayor Dean believes this type of long-term planning is needed as the Nashville area adds a projected one million new residents over the next two decades.
Rapid transit and light rail have been proven to create positive economic development in other cities. In Atlanta, development of what is called the Beltline has created new commercial real estate development in areas that were previously abandoned by the recession. The Beltline also paved the way for the development of the highly anticipated Ponce City Market in Midtown Atlanta. The Ponce City Market is a redevelopment of a 2-million-square-foot, 80-year-old building that was essentially abandoned into a mixed-use commercial development with apartments, shops and office space. Denver, whose first rail line brought new businesses and residents to the West in the 1800s, is anticipating similar growth and development as a result of its new light rail line. Charlotte, a city that is sometimes compared to Nashville as representative of the New South, is yet another city that has seen great benefits from its light rail system. Within a year of completion, $1.8 billion of new commercial development was announced along Charlotte’s light rail line.
If results in Atlanta, Denver and Charlotte are any indication, an investment in mass transit could pay significant dividends for Nashville and its real estate community. Commercial real estate development has been the major beneficiary of mass transit development in every city.
How will the Amp change the West End corridor? There is a good chance increased density will result in more sidewalks and bike lanes. Without question, I would expect more hotel, Class A office and multi-family development along the Amp corridor.
Could Nashville’s urban core become more like Boston or San Francisco, in the sense that both cities foster the pedestrian experience and can be considered “walking cities?” There are a couple of common denominators that every world-class city shares: mass transit and walkability. The Amp may deliver both to Nashville.