Oct 25, 2021 - Politics

Nashville commits $1B to capital spending in 2021

Nashville Mayor John Cooper speaks on a podium.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Fifth + Broadway

Nashville Mayor John Cooper on Friday unveiled $568 million in construction and infrastructure projects, running up the city's capital spending commitments this year to over $1 billion.

Why it matters: Hamstrung financially by the pandemic and tornado recovery, Cooper followed up modest capital commitments in previous years with two substantial spending plans in 2021.

Driving the news: Cooper touted the city's sound financial standing as the reason he is able to commit Metro to so much spending in the coming years.

  • Nashville is a little over one year removed from the largest tax increase in city history, while the pandemic didn't hurt tax collections as much as expected. Combined with stimulus funds from the Trump and Biden administrations, Metro is suddenly flush with cash.
  • Education benefited onceĀ again, with Cooper proposing $134 million to Metro Nashville Public Schools, including four new or substantially renovated buildings at Antioch, Percy Priest, Haywood and Paragon Mills.

What they're saying: "The thing that Metro has not necessarily been the best at is long-term capital planning," Cooper tells Axios. "But we fixed the finances back in 2019 and now we're using that to fix problems, to create a stable financial platform so that you can commit to strong long-term capital program spending."

By the numbers: In addition to schools, Cooper invested heavily in transportation ($141 million, which will be leveraged to access up to $199 million in grants) and Metro Parks (a record $85 million).

  • Cooper also proposed $20 million to help rebuild Second Avenue, which was blown apart by a suicide bomber last Christmas, and $30 million for a youth justice campus, which will feature green space, sports facilities and a new Juvenile Court building.

What's next: Metro Council still must approve the capital spending plan. A vote could take place as soon as next month.

Go deeper: Education advocates such as Metro Council member Dave Rosenberg, who tells Axios he's thankful for the final $29 million necessary to complete construction of the new Bellevue area high school, heaped praise on Cooper for his commitment to schools.

  • "Strong public education is the silver bullet for lifting a community, and even with amazing teachers and family support, adequate resources and suitable facilities are an absolute necessity," Rosenberg tells Axios.

The big picture: Over $1 billion in capital projects in the pipeline sets the stage for plenty of ribbon cuttings. Since many of these projects won't come to fruition until after 2023, when Cooper's first term ends, it begs the natural question: Will he run for a second term so he can see these projects to completion?

  • "Well, I'm not ready to say I'm running for reelection," Cooper says. "I do think in passing this, I and the council fulfill our requirement to leave Nashville better than we found it. And getting it started and being able to hand off a super-great working platform is an important goal. Whether that's in two years or (six years) whenever that is, this is just the right thing to do."

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