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VOL. 43 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 23, 2019

David Briley Q and A: Seriously consider 'pace of growth'

By Kathy Carlson

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Mayor David Briley says he wants 'more people getting a chance to prosper while protecting the character of the city; its great neighborhoods ...''

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow |The Ledger

Q: What do you see as the role of the mayor? What can the mayor do? What can the mayor not do?

A: “It’s evolved over time. If you go back to the 1960s and ‘70s there was a different political and media environment.

"The mayor in many respects was the government’s biggest leader on a host of different issues – economic development, running the city itself, where the city was going. …

“In the sixties, a greater percentage of economic development would have had the mayor’s fingerprint on it but today, when you look at wealth creation, a lot of it happens without the mayor being involved although the mayor may be creating an environment for economic development.

“… A more diversified economy has meant less emphasis on the mayor’s role. …

“I see the role (of mayor) as, first, to help the city identify the direction in which it wants to go, going forward in the future, bringing people together to accomplish that, speaking up on issues of import.

“It means being a face for the city both in terms of recruiting new businesses here and in terms of presenting a national and international image for what the city is about and where it’s headed. (From) being (the prime decision maker), the mayor is now more an organizer and advocate, a cheerleader for a lot of that stuff.’’

Q: What’s your vision for Nashville – where would you like to see Nashville go?

A: “What people need to visualize – where I think we’re headed – is more prosperity in Nashville, continued growth in high quality jobs and new companies coming to town.

“That generates additional resources for us to invest in the people who are already here.

“I want more jobs. I want more people getting a chance to prosper while protecting the character of the city: its great neighborhoods, the open space surrounding the city, maintaining the optimistic sense of our city and sticking together as much as we can with a common vision for where we’re headed.

“… It’s fair to say today there’s real anxiety about the pace of growth in Nashville. I think folks are worried about outside influences and companies getting more than their fair share of what is great in Nashville.

“In terms of how you get more of a sense of where people are headed, I have met with more than 40 neighborhood associations in the first six months of this year. Every week, we have a coffee with the mayor. People are invited by staff members to talk with me.

“It is harder I think in an environment of social media to get sense of where people want to go. … We try to go one-on-one to get the temperature (of where people want to go).’’

Q: Is there anything about the transit referendum you would do differently in retrospect, and can you talk about some of the challenges we face with transit?

A: “The referendum was a big ask. It was a massive project with a lot of money (involved). Folks didn’t get comfortable with the taxes that would be levied or the plan overall.

“We can’t afford to look back in five or 10 years and say we should have been doing more.

“We need to get started on four things:

“First, we need to get a second regional transit line in place. We’ve been looking at making investments on Dickerson Pike to Gallatin, involving the (Tennessee State Route) 386 corridor to Gallatin. The state wants to do this.

“Second, we’ve got to do a better job of using our existing roads. TDOT [Tennessee Department of Transportation] and the city are working on getting better sensors along certain corridors. Murfreesboro Road is pretty much done.

“Third, regarding MTA/WeGo, we’ve pulled back from service a little bit, but we will have to add duration and frequency to a lot of the good lines. [Duration refers both to longer hours of operation and operating on more days of the week.] What we’ve learned is that the best way to increase ridership is to make service higher quality. We added routes to increase ridership (on WeGo) and it really didn’t increase.

“Regarding neighborhood transit centers, we’re in the process of building on Clarksville Highway, and we’re looking toward building others near Hillsboro High School, in Madison and in Southeast Nashville. The Clarksville Pike transit center will be near 24th or 25th Avenue North, near the Magruder Center (a community center), and will include housing. A grant for housing has been applied for.

“Fourth, we need to add some sort of transit line from downtown to the airport. We’re talking to the convention center authority and the airport.’’ (Briley said no time frame has been set for implementing the route and no decision has been made regarding mode of transportation.)

[Convention Center and airport would help fund the transit line. Airport has money in its budget for a connection to Murfreesboro Road. Route to downtown on Murfreesboro Pike would end at the convention center south of Korean Veterans Boulevard. Convention Center can spend tax revenues for tourism-related projects; route from airport would be considered tourist related. No time frame has been set for implementing the route; no decision on whether it would be bus or rail. Bus rapid transit would cost less than rail and would include a dedicated right of way along Murfreesboro Pike that could eventually be used for a rail line.]

Q: What are three areas of action for Nashville’s public schools?

A: “(First,) teacher pay is still out of alignment. I’ve made a commitment to teachers that we complete a comprehensive pay study, and I’ll get it funded in the next two to three years. It will be a significant lift for city, and we ought to get it done. The pay study will have to address teacher turnover in low performing schools.

“(Second,) our schools have re-segregated over the past couple of decades. We have some schools that are predominantly low-income African-American that are getting significantly less in resources than in higher-income areas. It’s not because the board of education is doing that; it’s because parents (in the higher-income areas) can come together in their PTOs to (raise money to) increase resources.

“It boils down to more textbooks, more counselors, more of everything in our more affluent schools. There are poorer outcomes in more-segregated, less-affluent schools. That’s a real threat to the city.

“Third, an overarching area: A key indicator of success for students is third-grade literacy. From birth to third grade you’re learning to read, after third grade you’re reading to learn. Starting in fourth grade you’re using your reading skills to learn other subjects, such as social studies.

“The third-grade literacy rate for Metro public schools is under 30% [less than 30% of third-graders are reading at grade level]. We need to tackle that head on.

“The schools that are doing really well with third-grade literacy correlate with socioeconomic success. Kids that are in schools that are wealthier are doing better. Some of the charter schools are doing well. There’s an inverse correlation between teacher turnover and successful (academic outcomes for students). We’ve got to address teacher pay from that perspective. (We need) higher pay to teachers in (more difficult, less-affluent) schools so there’s lower turnover.

Q: Can you talk about affordable housing?

A: “Nashville for the longest time was a very inexpensive place to live. It’s still less expensive than the national average, but to people who have lived here when housing was very inexpensive, it appears it has become very unaffordable. …

“Under One Roof will bring 10,000 new units of affordable housing in Nashville over the next 10 years. These units will be for people making from 0-60% of area median family income and will also include some workforce-housing units.

“One of the things we have seen: As we lose these very inexpensive units … people move to a unit that’s a little more expensive than they’re used to. Then rents are pushed up for everybody.

“Building more units for people in the 0-60% of income range will take pressure off housing prices for everyone.

“The Under One Roof plan involves $500 million in funding for housing; $350 million of that will build affordable housing in partnership with MDHA, the housing authority. That money is exclusively going to be spent in neighborhoods where traditional housing developments are located, such as Napier, Cheatham, Cumberland View and Edgehill Homes.

“Concentrated poverty is an impediment to success. We’re going to go back in and make those developments more mixed-income by adding density. We will add low-income housing with aid from the federal government. We’ll add units and improve the quality of life for those who live in the developments.

“There will be higher-quality housing and no one will be displaced.

“The remaining $150 million (envisioned under Under One Roof) will be spent through the Barnes Fund, in which smaller and midsize nonprofits are building housing for unique populations.

“One example is Mending Hearts, a (Barnes Fund) grant recipient. Their project focuses on women coming out of prison with felony convictions. If you have a felony, it’s pretty difficult to rent in Nashville. (Mending Hearts is a) great opportunity for women trying to get back into the community.

“Past experience with the Barnes Fund is for every $10 million to result in 600 or 700 new units. They’re generally for folks in 30–60% of AMI (Area Median Income). We won’t be able to build for those in the bottom 30% of AMI, people whose annual incomes are about $12,000-$14,000 per person. That’s not much money. For plenty of people, that’s how much they make. There are a lot of 65- or 70-year-old people who worked at low-wage jobs their entire lives and will not receive much more than that from Social Security.

“We’ve got to build more for that.’’

Q: People are concerned about real estate developers coming in and changing Nashville neighborhoods. How do you see the city interacting with developers?

A: “It’s important for us to protect the character of existing neighborhoods. We’re fortunate that in the core of the city we still have a lot of dirt that has not been built on. It may have been industrial. We can add housing. You see that already in the core with development already taking place. There’s an opportunity to add people to Davidson County without changing the character of many neighborhoods.

“Lucy Kempf, Metro Planning director, is ensuring that neighborhoods have a voice in the planning process. …

“Sitting here on 12th Avenue South, if you think back to what this street looked like in the 70s or 80s, it was considered to be a pretty dangerous place. [He mentions Bob Bell’s Market, a convenience store on 12th Avenue South where a triple murder took place in 1980 during an armed robbery.] This street has changed immensely. I’d say most people driving down it would be astounded to see what has happened. Becker’s Bakery used to the best reason to come over here. … It’s no longer the best reason. [Becker’s closed in 2004.] But it’s an exciting part of town with a lot of energy, that I think will fit into the overall fabric of a growing, prosperous, exciting part of town.

Next area for development?

“I can’t tell you that. … Dickerson Road is going to see some growth. I think what you do is you sort of say where can you get to downtown in 15 or 20 minutes. If you can get to downtown in 15-20 minutes you’re going to see growth there. The challenge is to make sure that growth doesn’t push out families who have lived there.’’

As for people who are concerned about developers and benefits of growth – people thinking that benefits of growth aren’t accruing to everyone, Briley says:

“It’s true. We have not seen the benefits of growth accrue to everybody across the board but that doesn’t mean that that growth is going to stop. … The real challenge to the city is not trying to stop the growth; it’s trying to find out a way so more people benefit.

“That’s why we announced the city’s biggest affordable housing program; it’s why we started this program called Nashville GRAD to try and get more kids through Nashville community college; it’s why we created a program called the Equal Business Opportunity Program to give women and minority businesses a better chance to get Metro business. It’s why we push for things like community benefits agreements when developers are getting some concession from the city before they start a development.

“In the last 18 months, we haven’t done any tax increment financing. The city is in a position where we don’t need to right now. We may need to use (TIF financing) in the future for other purposes, such as maintaining open space, transit-oriented development, affordable housing, but just to encourage development, we don’t need it right now.’’

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