How Music City became the ‘It City’


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — While downtown Nashville development is currently booming, it hasn’t always been this hot. News 2 spoke with a Nashville historian to find out what key decisions got us to this success. 

“The money has come here locally, nationally, and internationally to build buildings here,” said David Ewing, Nashville historian.

But downtown Music City hasn’t always been this world-famous. Rewind to the 1960s—Ewing said many started giving up on downtown; shopping, churches, and people all left for the suburbs.

“But, the biggest final nail in the downtown coffin during that day was when the Grand Ole Opry left their historic home at the Ryman in 1974 and moved to a brand new building,” said Ewing. 

For two decades, downtown sat relatively stagnant. But, the 1990s ushered in a new mayor—Phil Bredesen—and a renewed vision: if the public sector invests in downtown, the private sector will soon follow.

Nashville built a new stadium, a library, art museum, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Bredesen called these buildings “civic furniture.”

“It was the cart before the horse, so if you build it, they will come. We even built our arena without a professional sports team. You would never do that today,” said Ewing. 

The 2000s brought the cranes, the television show, the tourists, and the title as the “It City.” The developers’ dollars poured in, land prices went up, and developers had to start thinking outside the box to find land. 

“The prices. The prices have driven people to build on smaller lots but higher,” said Ewing. “In Nashville, developers build tall buildings because they pay a premium for the land, and the way to get their return, you have to build 20 stories, 30 stories, 40 stories, so that’s happening.” 

Those new glimmering towers now dwarf the L&C building, which was once one of the tallest in the south. 

Ewing said he loves the history of old Nashville, but he also says that we can’t go back, and must accept a growing population while also making sure Nashville stays affordable for the creatives who make this city shine.

“It’s the musician who lives on Lower Broadway, it’s the artist that creates something – and we want those people to stay here, because we might be missing the next big star of country music if that person can’t move here and afford to live here.” 

The city of Nashville built The Ryman Lofts in the 2000s to provide affordable housing to artists and musicians. Ewing would like to see more affordable housing investments in areas of the city where people want to live.

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