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'Exciting time': Finance attorneys vie to partner on Nashville's downtown expansion – Tennessean

A view of the East Bank of the Cumberland River, where the future site of a new hub of Oracle is set to be, as seen on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

A broad public-private financing plan to expand downtown Nashville across the Cumberland River took form this week, as Metro officials questioned attorneys applying to partner on the complex project.

Three candidates were interviewed to be the new bond counsel for the Metro Industrial Development Board. The quasi-governmental agency expects a wave of bond applications for public-private deals to grow downtown with a coherent, connected strategy. 

“It looks like an exciting time to render legal services to this board,” said candidate Doug Overbey, who recently served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. “It would be a good time for us to engage with this board as you look to expand your wings. I find that very attractive.”

More:As Oracle finalizes designs for its East Bank campus, the tech company leased a downtown office

Waller Law’s Alex Buchanan and the father-son team leading Carpenter Law also presented their extensive qualifications.

The board will next meet March 31 to discuss whether to make an offer.

“Let’s take time and reflect on the comments and presentations,” IDB Chair Nigel Hodge said. “If this board chooses to do so, we can move forward with a candidate and work on an engagement letter.”

Metro officials said they will work with private developers to rebuild and lease more than 100 acres of industrial east-bank land owned by the city and its affiliates. 

“How can the city best capture its land ownership potential?” Mayor John Cooper said in February, answering himself: “As a partner in the project.”

The plan will kickoff with a new East Nashville boulevard along the river. That will be surrounded with new parks, greenways, utilities and transit options, officials said.

“A lot of the work that’s been going on is then creating Nashville’s next great neighborhood around the stadium,” Cooper said.

Initial plans are modeled on Wrigleyville in Chicago, a neighborhood surrounding a stadium with shopping areas, bars and clubs adjacent to residential communities. 

Cooper emphasized that the plan rests on creating “no burden on the general taxpayer” and that Metro will expand affordable housing development and public amenities in development plans.

Metro Planning Director Lucy Kempf led a series of community workshops last year to engage public input on riverfront plans. 

New streets are among a wide range of infrastructure under discussion among Metro Planning, Tennessee Department of Transportation, and other officials.

A new professional football stadium is simultaneously in negotiations between the Tennessee Titans and Metro officials, who are Nissan Stadium’s landlord. 

More:Tennessee Titans call for urgency while making case for new downtown Nashville stadium

More:‘It’s a win-win’: Inside the plan to pay for Nissan Stadium’s new campus in Nashville

IDB members would be responsible for issuing any Metro bonds to build the stadium or to finance related east-bank infrastructure and development. 

The bond counsel will “assist in the evaluation of proposals for public/private development of projects (and) review the proposed financing plans,” among other services, according to Metro’s Request for Proposals. “Bond counseling services can occur over the next five years.”

Last year, the board approved a $175 million community-benefits deal for Oracle Corp.’s $1.2 billion campus under construction on the east bank.

More:Nashville area boaters want to see more spots available to dock downtown

The deal differed from past tax-increment financing, or TIF, offered to incentivize high-quality development. Oracle will pay Metro up-front cash to fund a new pedestrian bridge and other expanded public service areas, rather than waiting for future tax revenues. In return, the company will get a property-tax discount equal to that amount. 

Metro Economic Development Director Courtney Pogue is working with the IDB to raise fees on all development-related operations. 

“This is the first time we’ll create a plan for Nashville to build an economy that benefits all Nashvillians,” Pogue told the Industrial Development Board last month. “We want to make sure we have a very competitive city, but also build an economy that’s equitable and inclusive.”

IDB’s bond counsel would also advise the board on the new fee structure. 

“We’re going to be holistically looking at our structure of fees,” Hodge said. “One of those items is our bond fees, certainly. Whether it’s a development for an affordable-housing project or a private project, we can’t pick and choose. The fees are the fees for everyone.”

Attorney applicants eagerly presented their qualifications. 

“We would be very valuable in bringing you up-to-speed with what are the current practices in the industry and to position yourselves going forward,” said attorney Corbin Carpenter. “That’s right up our alley.”

Alex Buchanan was the only Nashville-based attorney in contention on Wednesday. The Carpenters are based in Memphis and Overbey’s in Knoxville, though they all agreed to attend board meetings without additional charges. 

Board members questioned whether Buchanan’s large Waller Law firm presented too many potential conflicts of interest. The firm works with many local private developers. 

Buchanan said he would decline to represent the board with any deals involving the firm’s private clients.

“Knowledge is power and if you have special knowledge it’s helpful,” Buchanan said, of his development-industry awareness. “If you don’t have the knowledge you might not get as good a result as you’d otherwise gotten.”

Sandy Mazza can be reached via email at smazza@tennessean.com, by calling 615-726-5962, or on Twitter @SandyMazza. 

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