Nashville taxpayers are being asked to pay $15 million towards a private developer’s downtown project. Some councilmembers say they approved it without realizing it.
The project is called “Nashville Yards.” It sprawls for 16 acres just west of downtown where the LifeWay building used to be.
The billion-dollar project by Southwest Value Partners of San Diego features an Amazon headquarters, as well as retail, a Grand Hyatt hotel, entertainment, and office buildings.
The development will be privately owned and built on private land, yet it is getting public money for infrastructure improvements.
Some Metro Council members didn't realize taxpayers are being asked to pay $15 million to help get the site ready.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said councilmember John Cooper, "We are subsidizing the site expense for a private developer."
Council members approved the $15 million expense in October when they approved the city‘s capital spending plan. But some council members call it a bait and switch.
"Tax dollars funding development work done on privately-owned land is unusual," Cooper said.
The work was described in the capital spending plan as "roads projects by the Public Works Department”.
"I thought it meant roads projects county-wide for the public works department," Cooper said.
The footnotes and exhibits detail that the money is for Nashville Yards.
"You do worry that there is a little bit of a game of 'gotcha,'" Cooper said.
Does the developer really need $15 million from taxpayers? Its lawyer, Charles Robert Bone, told a council committee Wednesday that without it, the project might have to be smaller.
"That would have to be scaled back and changed," Bone said.
The subsidy is touchy because it's the second $15 million that taxpayers will be asked to contribute to this project; Amazon wants $15 million as an incentive to bring new jobs to Nashville.
Councilmember Jonathan Hall thinks incentives ought to be spread out, rather than being concentrated downtown.
"Are we doing it for everybody? Are we creating the same opportunities? Cause right now, we are stuck in two Nashvilles. One group is benefiting, and the other is not," Hall said.
The controversial proposal was voted down in the budget and finance committee Wednesday and was scheduled to come back in two weeks.
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