Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
November 08, 2021

Another work week has arrived, and we are really excited to debate the best country music songs of all time.

Today's weather: Practically perfect in every way. High of about 70.

Today's newsletter is 916 words — a 3.5-minute read.

Why the zoo wants a city-funded parking garage

Data: Nashville Zoo; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Over the last 24 years, visitors have flocked to the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere to pet the kangaroos, stand within a few feet of an Andean bear, or play on the city's best jungle gym.

  • The zoo has become one of Nashville's top tourist magnets and has won industry awards for creative exhibits and financial management.
  • To help fuel more growth, Nashville Mayor John Cooper has proposed $15 million toward a new parking garage, but the idea has received substantial pushback in the Metro Council.

Why it matters: Zoo president and CEO Rick Schwartz tells Axios the new parking garage is the lynchpin of its ambitious $185 million expansion that will include a first-of-its-kind African river safari in which visitors will board a boat to float amongst animals.

  • Continued growth is impossible without the new 1,044-space parking structure, Schwartz says. And the zoo's plans for a fundraising campaign to help finance its expansion depend on the garage being built.

Context: As Nashville grapples with its tourism reputation, the family-friendly zoo in south Nashville provides an option completely independent from light beer and George Strait covers.

  • Between 2009 and 2019, the zoo's attendance more than doubled from 615,086 to over 1.2 million visitors, more than the combined attendance at Predators and Titans home games in 2019. Attendance dropped to 544,000 last year amidst the pandemic.
  • Schwartz tells Axios they expect 2 million visitors annually by 2027.
  • The zoo hasn't received Metro funding since Mayor Karl Dean committed a combined $26 million in infrastructure projects during his eight years in office, which ended in 2015.

What he's saying: On the zoo's busiest days, vehicles overwhelm its current parking lots. It's not uncommon for traffic jams to cram up busy Nolensville Pike.

  • "Without this parking garage we can't only not grow, we can't sustain what we're doing now," Schwartz says.

The other side: Some Metro Council members, led by Freddie O'Connell, questioned the large capital commitment for zoo parking.

  • O'Connell tells Axios he is "very pro-zoo." But he says he's "aghast" that Metro isn't spending more on bike lanes, sidewalks and bus routes.
  • He filed an amendment to reroute the funds Cooper earmarked for zoo parking to instead be spent on those modes of transportation.
  • A potential compromise would add $15 million to the capital spending plan for those priorities while keeping the zoo parking funding.

2. Music Monday goes country

Dolly Parton performs with a microphone in hand.
Dolly Parton performs. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Nate is from a small town in Indiana and didn't learn to love country music until he moved to Nashville. Adam grew up in the country music capital of the world and has loved the genre his entire life.

  • But they both think country is fantastic because people from different backgrounds and with different tastes can love the music equally.

Why it matters: In honor of this week's Country Music Awards, Nate and Adam each chose their favorite 20 country songs for this week's Music Monday playlist.

  • Nate's tastes include some country classics, but also veer toward more indie, Americana and country-rock.
  • Adam is all but verified as the world's biggest Trisha Yearwood fan, and he thinks the emotive ladies of the genre reign supreme.
  • They both unabashedly love Dolly Parton.

📬 Please keep recommendations coming by replying to this email. And share our playlist with your friends!

3. Hildreth's take on the pandemic

Portrait of James Hildreth
James Hildreth. Photo courtesy of Meharry Medical College

The Nashville Health Department today begins vaccinating children 5-11 against COVID-19. But Meharry Medical College president James Hildreth tells Axios this watershed moment won't be enough to stop the pandemic.

Why it matters: "There's no question that achieving herd immunity ... would require us to vaccinate children," says Hildreth, who has served in prominent roles during the pandemic response.

  • But "the biggest problem" remains convincing more adults to get fully vaccinated, Hildreth says.

What's next: Hildreth said the primary push as vaccines open up to a new age group should be children with underlying conditions such as obesity or asthma. He also wants to see more efforts to share the vaccine with countries that don't have enough supply.

  • "As long as the virus is out there with large numbers of people to infect ... it's clear that we’re in a race," Hildreth says. "None of us are safe until all of us are safe."

Holiday plans: Hildreth says it's safe for vaccinated people to travel to see their families during the holiday season, provided they wear masks during travel and only come into close contact with vaccinated relatives.

Yes, but: Hildreth was critical of the state legislature's recent efforts to rein in COVID-19 safety measures.

  • "It is baffling to me, in the extreme," Hildreth says. "Rather than handcuffing public health officials and the people who are trying to win this race, I think that elected leaders should be doing the opposite."

The Setlist

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Without Derrick Henry, the Titans still managed another upset win thanks to a powerhouse defense. (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Department of Education is defending an official facing conservative criticism. (The Tennessean)

Nashville officials are tweaking plans for redrawn council districts. (WPLN)

Fentanyl deaths are still rising in Nashville. (Nashville Scene)

5. On the rails again

Amtrak's Acela train moves through Philadelphia
Amtrak's Acela train in Philadelphia. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Amtrak is on the verge of an ambitious national expansion of its passenger rail network, with billions of dollars of funding from the new infrastructure bill targeting cities with few or no routes, Axios’ Margaret Talev reports.

What they're saying: Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn listed Music City as a dream addition during an interview with "Axios on HBO," though it's not on the current list of targeted cities.

  • "I think Nashville would be a great place to stop. I mean, how many country-western songs involve trains?"

⚾️ Nate is reading this profile of Vandy grad and new Cubs GM Carter Hawkins.

🤠 Adam wants to know what you would add to our list of the best country songs.