A Nashville developer’s unusual request to swap downtown properties with the city has raised several vexing questions for decision-makers. One surfaced prominently during a public hearing last week: Would it be fair for Metro to approve the deal without first hearing other proposals?
At stake is the future of the Church Street Park across from the main downtown library. It’s a prime plot, but the park itself — a place where homeless Nashvillians gather — has become divisive, with many questioning whether it is truly serving citizens like a park could.
Yet Metro has never put out a call for ideas for overhauling the park.
Enter high-profile developer Tony Giarratana. He’s proposed a complicated deal in which he would obtain the park for use for his latest skyscraper.
In exchange, he says he alone can offer the city a bundle that he estimates at $12 million — he’d turn a different downtown parcel into a park, invest $5 million into street improvements and provide development services to Metro for a new homeless services center.
At a recent public hearing, Giarratana emphasized how he came up with this highly specific combination, approached Metro unsolicited and refined the idea during two years of negotiations.
“We should encourage people to come up with creative, new ideas and bring them forth,” he told the Metro Parks Board.
And he warned that to follow the advice of his critics, and to open bids for other ideas at this juncture, would be akin to Metro telling all entrepreneurs not to bother with novel proposals.
“After you present that great idea, if it’s a really good idea, we’re going to let somebody else do it? That’s not very encouraging,” he said.
Generally, the government awards contracts through a competitive bidding process. However, an attorney with the Metro Law Department says that a request for proposals, or RFP, wouldn’t be required by law for this land swap.
That hasn’t stopped critics from urging the Parks Board — if it really wants the park improved, and not cleared for development — to seek more ideas.
“What you’re being asked tonight is to ignore that this is a no-bid contract on Parks property being awarded by the mayor’s office. This is not what you’re supposed to be doing,” Councilman John Cooper told the board. “If this vision is so good, use the RFP process to prove it.”
Should the debate lead to a bidding war, Giarratana said he’d play along — but not without another nod to his preference to avoid that process.
“I’m sorry if I’ve created a problem putting forth a solution,” he said. “But I’m happy to step back and bid … I got lots of juice.”
Still, Giarratana notes that he’s not sure how a Metro call for ideas could easily capture the kind of terms he has offered — arguing they go beyond merely buying a single parcel.
Decisions are due in coming weeks from the parks board, Metro Planning and the Metro Council.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Tony Giarratana's last name.