Curious Nashville: Why One Of Metro’s Strangest Buildings Sits Empty | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: Why One Of Metro’s Strangest Buildings Sits Empty

Sep 19, 2017

The ship-shaped former Naval Reserve Training Center received historic landmark status in 2015, but its story doesn’t end there.

Here’s the question that came in from Drew Blake:

What’s up with that U.S. Navy Property on Davidson on the way to Shelby Park in East Nashville?

The unusual architecture of the building, and its prominent location along one of Shelby Park’s major entrances, has made it a perpetual place of intrigue. And while its history is notable, a lot of people also wonder about future uses for the facility.

“There have been a million ‘tire-kickers,’ ” said Tim Netsch, who works on planning and facilities for Metro Parks, which owns the property. “The real hurdle is the rehab cost.”

The Navy was cleared out of the building by 2010, and then it suffered flood damage. By 2013, the center was deemed “endangered” in the annual assessment by Historic Nashville Inc.

“The major threat to this building had been deferred maintenance and lack of use,” the preservation nonprofit declared.

Netsch said the parks department doesn’t have a use for the building, but is committed to its preservation.

Practically speaking, that means a costly rehabilitation and finding a mix of tenants to put it to use. He said Metro would like to see uses that align with the parks system — perhaps an event space, or companies that would rent out canoes and kayaks with nearby access to the Cumberland River.

“It really needs to serve as a kind of gateway structure for Shelby Park,” Netsch said.

The hurdles are obvious. Netsch estimated a “core and shell” rehabilitation at more than $4 million, with additional interior renovations likely covered by tenants.

“So the approach that we think is going to work is to pull together the right mix of users and develop a really compelling vision for it first, in order to build the rationale for funding its rehab,” he said.

As one example, the city had gone deep into talks with the Nashville Rowing Club, but the group ultimately decided that its special type of dock was not feasible on that stretch of riverbank.

Netsch notes that the park’s master plan calls for a simpler dock, as well as public restrooms and reconfigured parking.

There’s no imminent change expected — and no funding in place.

So for now, it remains empty, despite its presence on the National Register of Historic Places, which notes the center’s significant military history and architecture. The naval reserve training center was designed in 1948 in a “Nautical Moderne” style — with a prow resembling a ship — by architect Edwin Keeble, who later planned the city’s first skyscraper, the L&C tower.

This photo, circa 1950, shows a view of the Naval Reserve Training Center when it was surrounded by more trees.
Credit Metro Parks