“City Heights”

There was an article today in the Tennessean about gentrification inside of 440 and north of Charlotte.  The addresses in the article are a few minutes walk from Swett’s and barely a mile from Meharry and Nashville General Hospital.

I have written before about the hospital. From the perspective of my day job as a lawyer where I often help companies and non-profits work their way through financial distress, I have long-thought there are three basic possible solutions for the hospital’s financial problems — go big, go home, or kick the can down the road.  For at least a decade, Nashville has chosen to “kick the can down the road” by chronically under-capitalizing the hospital both for day-to-day operations and long-term improvements. The “go home” solution would be to close the hospital. I’m definitely not arguing for that; I’m just saying that’s what the “go home” solution would be.

The “go big” solution, in my mind, would be to team up with Meharry and leverage the inevitable development coming out along Charlotte from one direction and out Jefferson from Germantown from another direction.

The collective needs (NOT in order of importance) as I see them include: helping to preserve the cultural importance of Meharry and it medical school for Nashville, the practical need for Meharry to have a teaching hospital, honoring and respecting the unique historical importance of North Nashville as an African American community, the need to act now to make sure that current residents can afford to stay in the neighborhood as the inevitable development gets closer, and help find a way to put a cap on Metro’s annual investment in the hospital.

If Nashville goes forward with no meaningful plan in place for the area, the neighborhoods surrounding Meharry and Fisk will gentrify. And I mean “gentrify” in the worst sense of the word. A grievous sin was committed against North Nashville when the interstate cut the Jefferson Street corridor in half. I think there is a moral obligation for Nashville to preserve this historically African American neighborhood.

So what would the “go big” solution actually look like? First, I think Meharry (and Fisk) need to be put in a position to get as much benefit as possible from the coming increase in real estate values. Maybe this means a redevelopment district and tax increment financing around the universities. If done right, the hospital would become better and more competitive. That would shore up Meharry’s long term need for a teaching hospital. The objective would be to help Meharry capture some of the economic value of its neighborhood the way Vanderbilt does the same in its neighborhood.

The “go big” solution also would certainly mean comprehensively canvasing the area and having a rock solid commitment to making sure that every version of the future has as much or more “workforce” and “affordable” housing as there is now. The area is already getting more diverse (i.e., less African American). There has to be a firm commitment to maintaining or better yet growing the African American population in the area. Neighbors who live there now deserve the opportunity to stay, and have their families stay, there for the very long term.

Some will say that I am dreaming an impossible dream. But here’s the deal — right now, the market is transforming the Charlotte corridor out to 440. It is happening before our eyes. The time to help Meharry, help the hospital, preserve North Nashville’s African American heritage, and protect the ability of long-time to residents stay in their neighborhood is now.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.