Downtown developer pitches third plan for Church Street

Rendering of proposed MDHA development at Jo Johnston and 16th avenues

Downtown developer Tony Giarratana has yet another plan for Church Street Park.

He told the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation on Tuesday that he wants to build a housing development for the Metro Development and Housing Authority in exchange for the park, on which he would undertake “a magnificent redevelopment of that property which would enhance the Church Street neighborhood, including the Library, and provide an enormous boost to Metro’s property tax rolls.”

It’s the third such plan the developer has presented to Metro authorities in recent years. The first, a land swap that envisioned the city's tallest tower at the Church Street site, faltered during the Briley administration. Then, he proposed turning the adjacent Anne Dallas Dudley Boulevard into a park.

The park is currently closed, as a group called the Historic Capitol Corridor Foundation undertakes improvements that were expected to be completed in time for August celebrations of Tennessee’s role in the passage of the 19th amendment. The group is still planning to offer multiple weeks of programming upon reopening.

"Given the complexity of operating an urban pocket park, I think it is imperative that the parks board quickly and transparently develop a plan for after this interim design's few weeks of programming," said Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell, whose district includes the park.

In a letter to the parks board, Giarratana said the park’s closure has resulted in a “much improved” neighborhood, as the unhoused people who used to congregate there have moved on. (Homelessness advocates said residents were “underserved” by their removal from the park.)

“I am very hopeful that when it reopens that improvement will continue and that the park will not just become a prettier homeless encampment,” Giarratana wrote to the parks board. “I want to emphasize that our primary goal is a positive repurposing of Church Street Park. The work currently being undertaken and proposed may do that and, if so, you will find no bigger supporter of that effort than me. However, if it does not, I would respectfully request that this Board undertake a request for proposal process so that we can identify a mechanism to address the chronic challenges presented by the park, once and for all.

Mayor John Cooper committed last summer to “a fully public process for determining the future of the park” after some Metro Councilmembers questioned the process by which the Historic Capitol Corridor Foundation was granted the rights to improve the park.

Giarratana’s new plan calls for the construction, at Giarratana’s expense, of a new housing facility on MDHA property at Jo Johnston and 16th avenues. The facility would include 15 units for homeless youth, 15 units for homeless veterans, 15 units for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and 15 units for caregivers. The project would cost $9 million, according to Giarratana, who would get Church Street Park in return.

The parks board took no action on Giarratana’s proposal and has no immediate plans to.

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