Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
December 09, 2021

Happy Thursday everyone. Thanks to our readers for a great few days of feedback, questions, and story ideas.

  • Today's weather: 61 and sunny. Get outside, because we have rainy and stormy weather ahead.

Today's newsletter is 885 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: New designs for Second Avenue

A rendering of plans for rebuild Second Avenue
Rendering of a redesigned Second Avenue provided by Mayor John Cooper's office

Nashville Mayor John Cooper unveiled plans on Wednesday for a revived Second Avenue, including wider sidewalks with room for outdoor dining, newly planted trees, and public art.

  • The vision is the latest chapter in the city's recovery from last year's Christmas morning bombing, which reduced to rubble a stretch of Nashville's original historic district.

Why it matters: Cooper says the city is seeking to do more than make the best of a horrible situation created by the suicide bomber.

  • "It's using that tragic event as a galvanizer,” Cooper tells Axios. "This is a wake-up call to valuing the authenticity of the district, and it's a call to action to create an opportunity out of a challenge."

The intrigue: Cooper, a real estate developer before running for public office, says he is especially excited about the city's work to activate the riverfront.

  • In addition to connecting Second Avenue to the Cumberland riverfront with a passageway through reconstructed buildings damaged by the bomb, Cooper's administration has quietly invested funds in adding new parks to the riverfront near downtown.
  • Metro Council voted on Tuesday to approve $20 million toward infrastructure on Second Avenue.

The latest: At a press conference at the Wildhorse Saloon, the city also unveiled plans to add a new facade to the AT&T data hub that will better match the character of the historic neighborhood.

2. Sex offender registry scrutinized

The Estes Kefauver Federal Building
The Estes Kefauver Federal Building. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

A federal judge ordered eight men off Tennessee's sexual offender registry last week, saying their inclusion was tied to an "illegal" state policy.

  • It is the latest ruling criticizing the state for adding new restrictions for offenders years after they were convicted.

Why it matters: Rulings like this set the stage for broader efforts to change Tennessee's registry. They also provide a potential roadmap for some offenders convicted decades ago who want to be removed from the increasingly restrictive registry.

Zoom out: Tennessee's sex offender registry was established in 1994 as a largely confidential tool for law enforcement.

  • Lawmakers added a series of rules over the years that limited where offenders could live, work and travel. The new rules apply to everyone on the list, even people convicted and sentenced before those rules existed.
  • Federal courts have repeatedly found that practice amounted to illegal retroactive punishment. A federal appeals court gave Michigan lawmakers 90 days to change their registry system to fix the same problem.

What she's saying: In her Dec. 3 order, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said the registry was "not a license to heap an endless parade of new and severe punishments on individuals whose long-ago offenses carried no such consequences when committed."

  • "The framers of the Constitution chose to make that practice illegal," Trauger wrote.
  • "Nevertheless, Tennessee officials continue to flout the Constitution's guarantees."

The big picture: Trauger's ruling granting a preliminary injunction applies to eight men who are suing the state over the registry. But similar reasoning in other lawsuits has been used to remove offenders.

  • A panel of state lawmakers met in October to discuss the legal challenges and the possible need to change the rules surrounding the registry.
  • The Tennessean reported lawmakers were concerned the registry could be deemed unconstitutional if they didn't take action.

3. A focus on boosters

Data: CDC; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that three doses of their COVID-19 vaccine appear to be more effective than two against the Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The news underscores the significance of boosters as the new variant continues to spread in the United States.

  • The Nashville Health Department is encouraging all eligible adults to get boosters ahead of holiday gatherings.

By the numbers: Only 27% of adults in Tennessee have received a COVID-19 booster, according to CDC data.

  • 60.6% of Tennessee adults have received two vaccine doses. The statewide vaccination rate is about 10 points lower when residents of all ages are included.

4. The Setlist

Illustration of a chicken wearing sunglasses with fire reflected in the lenses.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🥼 Tennessee's medical licensing board removed from their website a policy against doctors who spread COVID-19 misinformation because the board was worried a conservative lawmaker would retaliate if it didn't. (The Tennessean)

💵 Tenants of a mobile home park in East Nashville will receive $200,000 thanks to an agreement with the property's developer. (WPLN)

A legislative committee approved a contract extension for a firm that represents a potential conflict of interest for education commissioner Penny Schwinn. (Tennessee Lookout)

🏨 A preservation group released its list of the most endangered properties in Nashville. (The Nashville Scene)

5. 🎄 1 tree to go

The Nashville Chistmas tree
Photo courtesy of the Nashville Parks Department

Mayor Cooper will light Nashville's Christmas tree tomorrow at 5:30pm. It's a 35-foot Norway Spruce donated by Bellevue memory care facility Barton House.

But first: Cooper will plant a new tree to the side of the courthouse, overlooking the Cumberland River.

  • It will eventually become Nashville's permanent Christmas tree, eliminating the need every year to find a new one, chop it down, and haul it to Public Square Park.

What they're saying: "This small but important gesture is representative of the Cooper Administration’s commitment to sustainability and is one of several recent actions to restore tree canopy across the city," the mayor's office said in a statement.

One "Christmas Vacation" quote to go: "It's a little full. Lots of sap. Looks great though." - Clark Griswold

Our picks:

🎄 Nate is picking out a Christmas tree with the family.

🥨 Adam is heading to Flying Saucer for one more soft pretzel.