From trash to tree-heavy treasure

Nashville is fast becoming a city of "green buildings."

And nowhere is that progress more evident than with the recently unveiled Ascend Amphitheater and its accompanying West Riverfront Park.

One of the key environmentally friendly highlights of the downtown site -- which (perhaps ironically) most recently accommodated a facility that burned trash to produce power -- is the Betty Brown Tree Trail, with its 225 trees representing 36 different species.

However, there are many other noteworthy green features, including a mile of walking trails that connect Rolling Mill Hill on the south to the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge on the north, Nashville's first urban dog park and an 18,000-square-foot ornamental garden running along the Cumberland river with plant material labeled to botanical garden standards and to be managed by Cheekwood officials for the next five years.

As for the amphitheater building itself, key elements include a 2,800-square-foot green roof, a 400,000-gallon rain harvesting tank and 1,350 square feet of rooftop solar panels.

With all of the sustainability features -- including a 1,100-foot-deep well that serves as a water source -- Metro has applied with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification.

Impressively, the $52 million project required a mere 20 months from its initial design phase to its opening.

The design of the park and amphitheater is based on the Cumberland River morphology. Many of the design elements mimic the curves and limestone cliffs of the river -- as does the art piece at the entrance to the park at First Avenue and Demonbreun Street.

The newly formed Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Environmental Professionals, recently met to discuss some of the sustainability practices in place at the amphitheater and park.

Larry Atema, CEO and president of Commonwealth Development Group Inc. and the Metro-appointed senior project development manager for the effort, said during the gathering that West Riverfront Park has made an immediate impact. For example, during the first two weeks the park and amphitheater were open, more than 70,000 people visited.

Atema noted specifically that in years past, many locals and tourist alike would walk via Broadway to its east terminus at Riverfront Park and its grouping of well-recognized flag poles -- only to arrive at a "point of great disappointment."

Now that has changed.

Kim Hawkins, founding principal of Nashville-based Hawkins Partners (which handled the project's landscape architecture elements), said the park offers the "best views of the city" and serves as the "front porch of Nashville." She highlighted the bench-style swings that line the edge of the park and overlook the river.

Greg Brubaker, principal at K.S. Ware and Associates (the local office for which served as the geotechnical engineer on the project), vividly remembers the odor and harsh appearance of the former Nashville Thermal Transfer Plant that anchored the prime site.

"There were many plans and ideas of what should happen to the site over the years," Brubaker said, "but thankfully, green space won out."

 (Photo by Aerial Innovations)

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