A year after the bombing, Nashville's Second Avenue is tangled in construction delays
Sporting a white hard hat and orange safety vest, Ron Gobbell strolls down Nashville’s historic Second Avenue between Church and Commerce streets. Many buildings are still under construction. It’s ground zero of last year’s Christmas Day bombing.
“As we get farther down the street, you can see they’re in various stages of still trying to decide the damage — and how they’re going to rebuild,” he says.
Gobbell was appointed by Nashville Mayor John Cooper to oversee the restoration of the neighborhood. He’s spent the past year getting the buildings stabilized, salvaging bricks to retain the historical character of the area, and processing feedback from community listening sessions.
The bombing impacted more than 60 downtown buildings — close to 40 of them are back up and running. Damaged businesses left more than 1,000 employees without jobs. Hundreds of residents were also displaced from their homes.
“This one here, The Quarters, is a condo project — which is complicated because it’s 28 different owners,” he says while strolling further down the block.
Gobbell says the work to get the street back to normal has been a grinding process. It’s been slowed by national supply chain delays and worker shortages.
Now, a year later, contractors, barriers and dumpsters still populate a stretch of Second Avenue.
Another factor that’s made rebuilding the block complicated, he says, is negotiating with insurance companies.
It’s an issue that Betsy Williams, who co-owns the century old Rhea building on Second Avenue where she also lived, is all too familiar with. The building had 11 apartment units and several business spaces.
“This is millions of dollars of damage. It’s structural damage,” she says. “You can’t have a bomb and explosion of the magnitude of that one, and it not significantly impact all of the buildings within this area.”
Williams told WPLN News that she’s still waiting on a reasonable insurance settlement. She says the tab for the building’s initial demolition costs and façade restoration has already reached close to $2 million.
“Well, see you’re already at what they’re talking about giving us — just on those two items,” she adds.
Williams says the settlement should be closer to $10 million, and adds that another challenge has been keeping her property secure from people looking for copper and other building materials.
“We have secured that space so many times, but they find a way to get in there,” she says.
Still, Williams says she’s optimistic that the building will be up and running by the 2023 CMA Music Festival, which usually takes place in June.
Another piece of good news, she says, is that her popular restaurant tenants, The Melting Pot and Rodizio Grill, are planning to come back.
But there are still some businesses that won’t be returning to Second Avenue. It’ll be several years before construction crews permanently leave the area, which is why former Second Avenue tenant Sandy Lee decided to relocate.
“We knew that from the beginning, it was going to be a couple of years, and at that point we wouldn’t have reopened,” she says. “We can’t wait two years to decide what we’re going to do.”
Lee previously owned Second Avenue businesses Ensemble Nashville and Simply The Best $10 Boutique with her husband. Before the bombing, the stores were already down about 70% in revenue because of the pandemic. The reduction in profits made it impossible for her to stick around for a complex rebuild.
So, Lee rebranded and combined her stores into one, called Nashville’s Best $10 And Up Boutique. The store is housed in Marathon Village, a historic building complex where more Nashville locals walk around and shop. It opened in August.
“We were frugal as we could be,” she says. “We used all of our insurance money, and we also had some help with some grant money.”
The new space attracts fewer wanderers than the heart of downtown. But Lee says she’s satisfied with the location.
“Our foot traffic is good. These people are interested in the history of Marathon,” she adds. “They’re interested in shopping. They’re not here to drink. It’s a different audience.”
Still, as for Second Avenue, Lee says she thinks her previous building owners, the Callen family, will help rebuild the street into something that benefits the community.
“They’re going to marry Second Avenue with First Avenue,” she says. “There might be some retail on the bottom. I’m not sure what they’re doing on the upper levels.”
Right now, city officials are working with the Callen family to transform the area into a livable streetscape — with better sidewalks, pedestrian spaces and more trees.
Mayor John Cooper says one goal is to make the area more accessible and welcoming to residents, not just tourists.
“Nashville is for Nashvillians,” says Cooper. “I’m always concerned if anybody feels like this is part of the city that they’re not comfortable with — because we’re building a city for them.”
Earlier this month, the Metro Council approved Cooper’s half-billion-dollar capital spending plan, which includes $20 million to help make that happen. It’s giving some stakeholders more confidence that things will finally start moving forward.