Curious Nashville: Why Are The Skyscrapers So Short? | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: Why Are The Skyscrapers So Short?

Jul 8, 2016

This question was submitted to Curious Nashville by DeWayne Holman:


Why doesn't Nashville have buildings taller than 615 feet when smaller cities have them?

Actually, the tallest building in Nashville is 617 feet — so no relation to the city's area code. But that is quite a bit shorter than towers in similarly-sized or even smaller cities.


Oklahoma City, which has a slightly smaller population than Nashville, has an 844-foot building.

Devon Energy Center in Oklahoma City stands at 844 feet.
Credit Urbanative via Wikimedia

Las Vegas has the Stratosphere Tower that’s over 1000 feet tall. Even Kansas City has Nashville beat, though just barely: its One Kansas City Place structure reaches 7 feet higher than the Batman Building.


A Taller Future?


There's no real cap on how high the city could go.

There are restrictions for building height in some districts. For example, the James Robertson district prohibits any building from being higher than the Tennessee Capitol.

Additionally, the floor-area ratio (FAR) — the proportion of total gross area to site area — also has a say in how many stories a building can have.

However, buildings can get around these restrictions — given an “extra credit” opportunity to grow taller and add more stories.

If structures somehow contribute to public benefit — by providing publicly accessible open spaces, functioning as civil support spaces, preserving historic buildings or providing inclusionary housing — they’re given what's known as "bonus height." Sometimes, contractors are even granted an unlimited bonus height.


Las Vegas's Stratosphere Tower is over 1000 feet tall.
Credit Marco Verch via Wikimedia Commons

But these rules (that are relatively easy to bend) aren’t the main reason why Nashville’s has been somewhat stunted.


Market Forces


Metro Planning Department spokesman Craig Owensby says that the construction market often dictates height. While some taller structures (especially in the SoBro Village) were proposed, the contractors never completed the full application process. The 750-foot Signature Tower, so tall it needed clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, was also never constructed due to the recession.


Owensby says contractors really could build taller buildings if they wished. The cranes on the skyline promise more height. But even some of the largest projects will stop below the twin spires of the Batman Building. At 45-stories, the 505 Church project would have the tallest occupied floors in the city, but not the greatest height. And a 40-story tower on the riverfront will be prominent, but still probably not taller than its neighbor.


Since its completion in October 1994 and into the near future, Batman will continue keeping watch from the highest spot in the city.