During the 1970s—the same decade Ed Bruce penned his Grammy-winning country ballad, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”—songwriter Trey Bruce recalls spending days with his father inside RCA Studio A on Music Row.
Trey Bruce returned to the studio four decades later, but this time to play a pivotal role in saving the famed building from demolition in 2014.
“I grew up in these studios,” Trey Bruce said. “RCA Studio A was a wake-up call for me and others on Music Row, but imagine the time and resources you would need to save every building at risk in this neighborhood.”
Bruce, who is now a board member for local preservation group Historic Nashville Inc., described the fight to save RCA Studio A as the catalyst for conserving Music Row. In 2015, Metro Nashville planning staff began engaging with community stakeholders to strike a balance between growth and preservation.
Four years later, the Music Row Vision Plan—unanimously adopted June 27 by the Metro Nashville Planning Commission—aims to preserve history and guide future development on Music Row from north of Demonbreun Street to Wedgewood Avenue.
“This whole process has been about how we can protect Music Row’s history while finding creative ways for it to grow,” said John Dotson, a steering committee member and founder of the former Music Row Neighborhood Association. “If there’s one thing [the steering committee]has all been able to agree on, it’s that we all want to see the character of the area preserved.”
According to Metro Planning Manager Joni Priest, the plan’s final version is meant to be a compromise between preservationists and developers.
Under the guidelines, the type of new developments largely hinges on the location. The plan encourages large-scale projects on the northern tip of Music Row surrounding the roundabout and small-scale developments in the form of retail, restaurants and small live music venues be permitted farther south near Edgehill Avenue. The southern corridor along Wedgewood Avenue will maintain its existing residential footprint.
However, prior to the plan’s approval, preservation groups said the plan lacked the guidelines it needed to fully protect historical properties, while developers argued the plan may lead to new zoning rules that restrict current and future businesses from expanding.
“When I purchased my property with a large plot of land, it was with the understanding that it would be a strong asset if I ever needed to sell,” said Andrew Mendelson, a business owner on Music Row. “Decreasing the number of potential buyers by eliminating residential developers will significantly decrease the property value.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation—which in May named Music Row one of America’s most endangered landmarks—along with Historic Nashville Inc. urged the planning department to eliminate recommendations for increased building height allowances anywhere in Music Row and to not accept specific plan exemptions, or design standards established for a specific development.
Carolyn Brackett, a senior field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said she dedicated the last five years to researching development on Music Row. In her findings, Brackett identified 50 demolitions since 2013 that have since become apartments, offices and a hotel. Between 2000-12, 13 buildings were demolished.
Priest said potential zoning changes will come later when the department explores zoning standards for each of the four designated character areas of Music Row.
“This is really just the first step in the overall plan for Music Row,” Priest said. “But first, we have to have a vision that says we’re all on the same page. That’s what the [Music Row Vision Plan] is for.”
The most common challenge music-related businesses face is affordability, according to the plan. Between 2010-19, the planning department said property values on Music Row increased by 176%, nearly 2 1/2 times that of Davidson County but less than downtown, which has risen 228%.
Along with rising costs, planning officials said an influx of multifamily developments on Music Row since 2014 has reduced opportunities for music-related businesses within the district by impacting affordability. From 2010-19, 3,274 residential units have been constructed in the area, according to the planning department.
The Music Row Vision Plan recommends that large-scale multifamily residential development be limited to the northern section near where BMI, Warner Music Nashville and other record conglomerates call home.
Even with rising property values and other pressures surrounding Music Row, most music-related businesses surveyed during the community engagement process said they want to stay in the neighborhood. According to the results, 92% of music-related businesses said they plan to remain located on Music Row.
“One of the ways we’ll know if [the plan]is working is if the firms that have moved off Music Row decide to move back due to this vision,” Metro Nashville Planning Commissioner Jeff Haynes said.
Now that the Music Row Vision Plan has been adopted, Priest said the Metro Nashville Planning Department will research a form-based zoning code, establish a business association for all Music Row businesses and identity properties that qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. The timeline for that research is about six months to a year, she said.
Rhinestone Wedding Chapel owner Brenda Enderson urged planning commissioners at the June 27 meeting to move fast. She said the wedding chapel, located at 1024 16th Ave. S., Nashville, next to the former home of Bobby’s Idle Hour, is at risk of being torn down.
“I beg you to keep the character of Music Row,” Enderson said. “That way when tour buses come through, they are not saying, ‘This used to be Waylon Jennings’ place, or this used to be Kenny Rogers’ place. Let there be some identity to Music Row.”