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Project Perspectives: Nashville’s Riverfront Park

June 24th, 2016 by: Tony Gibson

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Over the past couple of months, I’ve had time to reflect on the Nashville Riverfront Park project and I am often struck with reverence and awe. It was a project unlike any other—a project that was brought to life rapidly by an amazingly talented and engaged team. My reflections always bring me back to the team: the folks who made it possible from vision to execution. So that’s where I’d like to start the blog series, with the voices of those who made it a reality.

Meet Kim Hawkins of Hawkins Partners. She was the lead landscape architect for the project, heading up design and managing the team. Kim is a landscape architect rock star. We chatted with Kim a few weeks back to get her take on the Nashville story. Here’s what she had to say:

Project Vision

The previous mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean, wanted to bring people back to the river. At our first meeting, he shared his vision: create a park that feels like an extension of the river and its ecosystem. So we did. All of the materials and forms harken back to the river and the way it moves through the Tennessee landscape. Even the stonework, river blocks, and exposed layers of limestone speak to the river. And there was a big emphasis on using only natives. So it all ties back to the river—the natural river morphology as well as its industrial heritage.

The park location is a true Cinderella story. The spot where the park lives is where the first waste to energy facility in the United States was built. That is truly “trash to treasure”! Today, when I see someone playing basketball or enjoying a stroll by the river, I feel an amazing sense of gratification. It has truly become the front porch of our city that invites everyone into the culture and the comforts we like to call home.

Project Pace

I consider the Nashville Riverfront Park build about the fastest-moving project ever (or at least the fastest-moving project that we’ve worked on). The project started in December of 2013 and we went from design to opening in 20 months. Within that time, we went from shovel in the ground to completion in 16 months. In total it was a $52 million project. Getting a project of this scale done that quickly was only possible through incredible partnerships—everybody had to be working completely in sync. Our goal was to complete the project before the mayor left office and we succeeded. The park is Karl Dean’s legacy. One of Dean’s dreams was to have Neil Young play at the amphitheater, and he had the chance to hear him just last month.

The Marriage of Music and Park

The back of the amphitheater is completely open so it really frames the city. It was essential to tie the amphitheater into the city and our musical history. We put the artist first throughout the design process, making sure their needs were met and their expectations exceeded. There are a number of beautifully appointed artist rooms and an outdoor terrace for the artist’s use. There are even basketball goals in the loading docks to entertain the crew. Although there are 6800 seats, 2200 fixed and 4500-lawn capacity, the sound and acoustics provide an intimate feel. Ultimately, the artist and the audience feel very connected throughout the space.

In 2016, the amphitheater won Pollstar’s best new venue. The CMAs then awarded it the best outdoor venue. It is great to see that the industry loves it. And that it is not just a beautiful place but that it really, really works.

Going Green

In order to stay true to the organic vision of the project, we designed it with sustainability in mind. We installed a 2800-square foot green roof, 1350 square feet of solar panels, 9000 square feet of pervious pavement and a 400,000-gallon rainwater-harvesting tank. We used almost 3 million tons of recycled content and even crushed our own rocks to reuse in the construction process on site. We attained Level I arboreta status for the trees we planted around the property. We also were awarded LEED Gold – the first amphitheater with LEED designation.  We are very proud of that accomplishment.

Final Remarks

I am so proud of the final outcome. We had an amazing client that trusted us implicitly to do what was right for Nashville. I think the work speaks for itself. Come and see it for yourself.

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