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Run-Off Edition | Perspectives on Preservation: Freddie O'Connell and Alice Rolli Respond

Prepared By: Metropolitan Historical Commission, Preservation Society of Nashville, and Historic Nashville, Inc.

1. The preservation of Nashville’s historic buildings and sites gives our city its unique character and “sense of place” and is an important planning tool in building economic, environmental, and social and cultural stability. Given our current growth, how important do you consider preservation as a goal for the next administration? How would you suggest we protect the historic resources that are most likely to be demolished for new development?

Freddie O'Connell: "From the recent PlaceEconomics study, we know that heritage tourism is a key part of our destination economy. We will have to use a mix of tools—from our recently created rebate incentive, to preservation easements, to transfer of development rights—and occasionally landmark specific buildings and leverage overlays. There are times that adaptive reuse or façade preservation will wind up being our best options."

Alice Rolli: "I believe, and said in my launch ad for this campaign, that conservation can live alongside commerce. This is work that resides in my bones. My great-grandfather, Albert F. Ganier served as the President of the TN Historical Society, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Belle Meade Mansion, and Co-founded the Nashville Children’s Museum and state’s oldest conservation group, the Tennessee Ornithological Society.

In 2017 I started a petition that garnered nearly 5,000 signatures - taking on the administration of a then-popular mayor - to help save Ft. Negley park. A link to that work, and all of my writings on the subject, is here.

Historic preservation is incredibly important to me. Balancing that with the rights of property owners and the needs of growth is a consistent challenge. The most successful and most sustainable historic sites have a very clear way of demonstrating their value - through ticket sales or commercially-included purposes (e.g. Frist Museum, Ryman Auditorium).

As Mayor, we need to use the tools available locally and at the state and federal level (preservation tax incentives, preservation grants) to ensure our most important cultural and historic landmarks are not overlooked.

Historic Nashville’s “Nashville Nine” has been a compelling way to draw attention to properties. Going forward, it is imperative that our non-profit partners in this work elevate not only those under threat, but those that have been saved and are prospering. Too often historic groups are pitted against development - and those tired narrative arcs are too easily repeated. Reframing the commercial success of areas that were saved - the Ryman, White Way Cleaners, the Frist Art Museum, and the like - are what will ultimately make this work sustainable.

Historic places give authenticity and roots to a world that feels increasingly inauthentic."

2. Many of our city-owned historic sites have been in a state of deterioration due to lack of funds allocated for their maintenance. Examples include Fort Negley, Fort Nashborough, Nashville City Cemetery, Shelby Park’s Naval Reserve Center, Lock 2 Park, several Metro Schools, among others. Do you think it is important to demonstrate leadership through funding annual maintenance of Metro-owned historic sites, and if so, what plan would you put in place to accomplish this?

Freddie O'Connell: "I do think we need a broader fiscal tool for ongoing maintenance that goes beyond just historic sites; we need it for parks and other facilities, as well. Right now, we have very few dedicated tools, but we recently created a fund balance policy, and I think it would be good to have something like the 4% fund that specifically attempts to quantify our annual maintenance needs.'

Alice Rolli: "Yes. We are committed to work with stakeholders to determine the required funds and available sources. I know what systematic underinvestment looks like and the difficulty of fighting that - you can read my OpEd on that topic from several years ago, here."

3. Nashville’s Music Row is internationally known for its history in the creation of music that is heard around the world and has given us the monikers of “Music City” and “Songwriting Capital of the World”. Since the 1950s, this area has nurtured an environment where all disciplines of the music industry (songwriting, publishing, recording, record labels, entertainment attorneys, artist managers, etc.) are gathered and have flourished. The importance of this area of Nashville has led to its having been identified as a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Currently, buildings that were formerly home to music industry businesses are being demolished to make way for new housing developments, threatening the area and its synergy as a place to create music. What is your stance on this issue, and what type of plan would you put in place if you hope to change the current course?

Freddie O'Connell: "I’ve worked for years with Metro Historic, Metro Planning, partners, and property owners and stakeholders in the area to craft a Music Row Vision Plan. I hope that we codify this as a Music Row Code that creates stronger incentives for preservation, specifically with an eye toward retaining music-based businesses."

Alice Rolli: "Yes. Italy has its frescoes, Egypt has its pyramids and Nashville has its songwriters. I live one block off of Music Row in the historic Edgehill neighborhood.

As a neighbor and also a business person on Music Row I participated in the Music Row Code process. Many parts of that plan made sense, but others (such as an initial draft to downzone Grand Ave. and place an artificial line, where none existed, literally bisecting existing buildings) did not.

I advocated strongly for ensuring the plan encourages active and existing businesses, such as QuaverMusic (a company I helped grow from 55 to 140 employees - the company now employs more than 250 people - right on Music Row) to locate to and stay on the Row. The plan had near universal concern for slowing the proliferation of big-box apartment buildings which “dropped” into the neighborhood with little regard for activating and connecting to the community.

Companies at the intersection of technology and music are a perfect fit for Music Row. More intentional work will need to be done to grow amenities (like the Well Coffee House) to ensure that companies want to locate and grow on the Row.

Intentional developments fitting with the neighborhood character, such as the Edgehill Village Shops - which includes ~7 restaurants located within the historic White Way cleaners - creates a win-win for historic preservation, character, and appropriate neighborhood scale amenities.

Probably the single most important thing to do is to actually follow the plan. Community leaders are tired of being asked to give input on plans that are all thrown out the window through “SP Swiss-Cheese” when a new developer comes to town."

4. Many states and cities offer economic incentives to owners of historic properties when they make appropriate repairs and renovations to their buildings. These incentives include property tax abatements, grants, fee waivers, to name a few. Knoxville established a historic property grant program in 2017 that has proven successful, and although a pilot property tax abatement program has been established in Nashville, its funding is limited and applies only to commercial buildings. If elected, how would you create new incentives for owners of historic properties, both residential and commercial, in Davidson County?

Freddie O'Connell: "We need to review the capacity of the current incentive program to see if it should be expanded. It will be imperative to continue working to also establish a state historic preservation tax credit.'

Alice Rolli: "Yes. There is much to be learned and applied from state agricultural exemptions and their potential applicability to historic zoning and historic tax planning. These exemptions help current operators maintain the character and purpose (farming) and create a very high bar in a sale or redevelopment to change the purpose.

Given the rapid growth in our region, it feels that we have a critical mass of adjoining mayors and groups to advocate for creating a state-level historic fund - not dissimilar to the state’s “Fast Track” jobs fund (where I was a voting member in my time as an Assistant Commissioner in Economic and Community Development).

Looking at both grants and tax policy - both voluntary for the land holder - are important, sustainable, and scalable approaches to the important work of preserving the character of our region and our city. We ought to lock arms with our neighbors in Franklin and Knoxville on this work. Understanding the state tools available were an important component of our work saving Ft. Negley. You can read my approach (bringing to bear a state law applied unevenly) here."

5. In addition to its appeal as “Music City,” some of our city’s best but least utilized assets for tourism are the stories and sites that tell our history – from geologic formations and natural history, Native American sites and early white settlements, slavery in Civil War era Nashville and the Civil Rights movement, as well as the more recent and underrepresented histories of ethnic minorities (Kurdish, Laotian, Hispanic) and other social groups (LGBTQ). How can we raise the profile of our past and celebrate the historic sites and our underrepresented histories to enhance our attractiveness as a tourism and convention destination? What are your thoughts on the need and manner in which to elevate the public’s awareness of underrepresented histories?

Freddie O'Connell: "The Nashville Sites program is a wonderful way for people to explore historic sites. There is considerable interest in Nashville investing in a civil rights museum, and I think this would be critically important to permanently putting a focus on our important civil rights legacy, especially if it were housed in the Morris Memorial Building."

Alice Rolli: "Agreed. This is an area where technology and wayfinding signage can converge to create a really compelling historical map of the city. Think of a “wikipedia” of Nashville’s history - whereby local historians can add artifacts and stories can be elevated through such a process. I’d love to see the Nashville Public Library, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, Historic Nashville as well as many of our city’s universities together on such a project - drawing on the success of ideas like the state whiskey trail or state music trails - but using technology to help capture more stories."

6. Jefferson Street is a major North Nashville corridor that was home to the “Black Music Row” and even today is home to more than 50 Black-owned businesses and links to three of the four HBCUs in Nashville. There are stories to be told, but there also needs to be a multi-faceted preservation approach that may include historic zoning, National Register listings, historical markers, tours and more, in addition to beautification projects and infrastructure investments by the city. Documenting and recognizing the complex and significant history of this area is a foundational step in its eventual revitalization. Would you support a plan to direct resources to preserving and sharing the historical and cultural resources of this important area, and if so, what specific investments would you propose?

Freddie O'Connell: "Yes. I have already led efforts to keep Fisk University from demolishing the historic Boyd House and participated in fundraising efforts to preserve it. Similarly, I worked to incorporate historic elements in what is now Kossie Gardner Park. But we have more to do."

Alice Rolli: "As with the above statements, I am supportive of preserving the character of historic buildings and activating their uses to ensure that commerce can live alongside commerce.

It took me four years of personally advocating to finally get a brown interstate sign for Ft. Negley showing Exit 81 and Ft. Negley. Signs matter. Places matter. Executable plans matter - I welcome the opportunity to learn more about the ideas in place and the funding or political will missing to move forward."

7. The preservation of historic buildings is an inherently sustainable practice. What are your thoughts on prioritizing the retention of historic building stock and incorporating sensitive modifications to reduce energy use and limit waste and debris from demolitions?

Freddie O'Connell: "I’m supportive of doing these things. We have many historic buildings in Metro, Metro Schools, and MDHA, and we should want to take new techniques in building efficiency and apply them in renovations."

Alice Rolli: "My late grandfather and I both graduated from Hume Fogg high school. When I was a student there in the 1990s we had buckets in the hallway to catch rainwater and the theater balcony was condemned. The gymnasium literally had a brick wall in the middle of it - making it unusable for regulation basketball games.

Following an incredible renovation the building today is able to house more students (higher occupancy is a good thing - more dollars retained in MNPS schools). The school is healthier today for these renovations - healthier both for the students inside and the way that the space and light has been brought into the building - and healthier for the bottom line in the greater number of students who can now be served by the school.

Similarly, the White Way Cleaners complex near my home was entirely renovated and activated for many uses - retail, restaurants, office. Since its renovation it has appeared fully occupied.

These two anecdotes help illustrate that competent improvements can create sustainable long term preservation. Improving occupancy and access to long term monetization sources (ticket sales, enrollment numbers, park visitor count) must be a part of any historic plan."

8. The Metro Historical Commission has been working with Metro Planning, Metro Archives and other local preservation nonprofits over the last two decades to draw attention to the loss of historic cemeteries, especially those in the rural area of the county. These cemeteries are important records of our history. How important is it to fund repairs and maintenance at historical cemeteries?

Freddie O'Connell: "As the Council member who has represented Mt Olivet for 8 years, I think our cemeteries are an incredible part of our overall heritage sites and should be funded. See my thoughts on maintenance funding above.'

Alice Rolli: "This is very important and I will rely on a group from Cane Ridge who has done quite a bit on this to help provide advice for our administration."

9. Many cities have planning tools in place that support the preservation of historic resources. They include:

  • Demolition Regulations: Ordinances for demolition by neglect; Penalties for illegal demos; Mandatory documentation before demo; Lengthy delays prior to demo; Increased demo fees

  • Development Tools: Modifying the downtown bonus height program; addressing the transferrable development rights (TDR) program shortcomings for historic preservation; Exploring land banking models

  • Valuation/Financial Resources: Adopting “use value” to determine assessment for historic properties; Waiving permits/fees (fast-tracking preservation permits, waiving parking regulations, or a fee waiver for building permits of a historic property)

Is it important for our city to explore and adopt preservation planning tools that have a long-term impact, and if so, what specific tools would you look to adopt?

Freddie O'Connell: "Yes. I want to create a mature market for TDRs. I think we could explore other tools as we review fiscal impact."

Alice Rolli: "The Tennessee Valley Authority has a compelling framework we used at the state level to determine when a factory was likely slated for closure - looking at the year on year power trends of larger power consumers. By investing in power improvements the utility got in front of potential closures.

Systematic underinvestment results in neglect and demolition. I’d like to find ways to get in front of these issues so that we aren’t repeatedly presented with a single narrative of demolition due to neglect."

NOTE: The Preservation Society of Nashville is an apolitical organization, not affiliated with nor supporting any specific political campaign or candidate. Any content promoted herein is in the pure pursuit of civic engagement and education.

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