NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Mayor John Cooper closed a portion of Broadway to traffic to allow more space for social distancing after crowds flocked to Lower Broad in downtown Nashville over Labor Day weekend.
Some Metro Council members said they would like to see Lower Broad closed to traffic every weekend and the idea is starting to gain momentum.
Councilwoman Angie Henderson told News 2 for many years, city leaders have thought Lower Broad is a unique opportunity for people to embrace Nashville’s streets, but a huge effort is needed to pull it off.
Mayor Cooper closed the district between Fourth and Fifth avenues on Sunday due to large crowds on the sidewalks. Councilwoman Henderson said the whole street should be shut down on weekends, even in a post pandemic world, because the more room people have, the safer it is for everyone.
Nashville’s civic design center and downtown businesses are advancing the conversation and several studies have been done in the past.
“It’s been looked at quite a lot and I think, based on previous studies insight that I hope was gained from this past weekend, I think it can be moderately scaled up to be that kind of whole Lower Broadway segment,” explained Councilwoman Henderson.
She added she is pleased the conversation is advancing.
“I think it would be a good thing to do every weekend, to be frank, I think this is again something that’s been looked at for a long time. In this moment, genuinely having more space is safer, so I think that pushes the conversation forward,” continued Councilwoman Henderson.
However, it is not up to the council, but rather the Tennessee Department of Transportation, since Broadway is a state highway.
A TDOT spokesperson released a statement to News 2, which reads:
“TDOT leadership understands the unique situation on Broadway and the Department is working to support Metro in allowing, as the City considers necessary, more space for downtown patrons to social distance for public health purposes. Any permanent changes, however, would need further discussions – including with the Federal Highway Administration. The roadway receives federal funding and must comply with federal and state guidelines. At this time there are no discussions like this taking place.”Kathryn Schulte, Community Relations Officer
The Broadway and Downtown Entertainment Coalition released a statement to clear up misconceptions on street crowding.
“We do not believe closing Broadway is a long-term solution for the downtown district. What is causing the crowding in the streets is the minimal capacity available within open establishments as well as the 10:30 p.m. closing time. With all bars capped at 25 people, no matter the size, and restaurants at 50% capacity there is little opportunity for patrons to get inside an establishment where they can safely social distance and we can control behaviors. We are finding, with so little capacity, once patrons get a table they do not leave—exacerbating problems in the street as people have nowhere to go.
The more space given in the streets, ultimately, will attract more crowding if the fundamental issue of the crowds having nowhere to go is not addressed. We believe with Nashville’s low numbers we can safely increase our capacity—we have operated through COVID-19 for months now and understand how to protect guests. The real solution is getting people off the streets and into a controlled environment, which in turn helps put musicians and employees back to work and generates much needed tax revenue to aid Nashville’s ailing economy.”
Butch Spyridon, president and CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, released a statement on the proposal, which reads:
“While we agree that Lower Broadway needs to be viewed through a different lens, we would encourage business owners, health department officials, the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council to work together to develop a unified plan. The patchwork approach is not working.”Butch Spyridon, president and CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
Councilwoman Emily Benedict plans to introduce a bill to close down Broadway on weekends. Councilwoman Henderson said it doesn’t need to be legislated, but can just be treated as a long-term, special event zone like the city has done in the past for CMA Fest, Titans games and the Predators’ Stanley Cup run.
Discussions will continue at the next Metro Council meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday.