Axios Nashville

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Good Thursday morning, everyone.

Situational awareness: Republican U.S. Rep. John Rose confirmed to the Tennessee Journal yesterday that he's thinking about running for governor in 2026.

Today's newsletter is 858 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Campaign launched to save Second Ave. businesses

A rendering showing plans for a Second Avenue construction project. Image: Courtesy of MDHA

Downtown leaders are launching a publicity campaign to support beleaguered businesses on Second Avenue while the historic road undergoes major construction over the next year.

Why it matters: Second Avenue businesses have been clobbered in recent years by the pandemic, the 2020 Christmas bombing and the resulting construction project.

  • While downtown's entertainment district is booming in many ways, the stretch of road between Broadway and Union Street has seen several businesses shutter.

Driving the news: Beginning next week, the group plans to "paint the street pink with clever campaign signage and a robust social media campaign," according to an email sent to businesses on Tuesday.

  • The campaign is called Turn the Corner. It's a collaboration among the Downtown Partnership, MP&F Strategic Communications and the city.

Flashback: Bars and restaurants were already dealing with government shutdowns and capacity restrictions in 2020 when a Christmas morning suicide bomber destroyed the street and several buildings on Second Avenue.

  • According to the Downtown Partnership, 25 of 46 street-front businesses have closed since 2020.

What he's saying: "It's not just, 'Oh, that's unfortunate,' or, 'Man, I feel bad for you.' This is people who mortgaged their homes or other businesses to open these businesses," Barrett Hobbs, who owns Doc Holliday's Saloon on Second Avenue, tells Axios. "Some of them backed their bank notes with their lifetime earnings."

  • "The devastation of the street could affect someone generationally. I don't think people understand the scope of the negative financial toll this has taken."

The big picture: The goal of the $39 million Second Avenue construction is to create a dynamic entertainment corridor with new sidewalks, outdoor dining and exterior lighting.

Zoom in: Hobbs says he's enthusiastic about what the road will look like once the construction work finishes in 2025. In the meantime, he says, business owners need way more help.

  • He mentioned government grants, tax rebates or breaks on utility bills to help make ends meet.
  • Hobbs compared it to the government help businesses received following the tornado in 2020.

The bottom line: "When you have a terrible situation, you just try to make it as palatable as possible," Hobbs says. "I'm extremely optimistic. I think the city and state should work together to expand [the work being done on Second Avenue] to First Avenue."

Go deeper: The Metro effort to help Second Avenue businesses

2. Poll shows new optimism

Data: Vanderbilt University; Chart: Axios Visuals

Most Nashvillians now think the city is heading in the right direction, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll that suggests surging optimism among residents.

Why it matters: The annual poll results represent a dramatic swing after two consecutive years when a majority of surveyed residents said Nashville was on the wrong track. In 2023, 56% had a negative view of the city's path.

State of play: Mayor Freddie O'Connell enjoys support across the political spectrum, according to the poll. His overall approval rating is 71%.

  • That includes 56% approval among Republicans, 68% among independents and 85% among Democrats.

Zoom in: 84% of respondents supported O'Connell's plan to put a transportation referendum on the ballot.

The big picture: Participants said O'Connell's top priorities should include reducing crime, improving education and addressing affordable housing.

  • 92% said they couldn't afford to buy a house in Davidson County.

Of note: The latest Vanderbilt Poll was conducted March 1-21 and included 1,014 Nashville residents. The margin of error is +/- 3.8 percentage points.

Go deeper: Newcomers have a sunnier view of Nashville, according to the poll.

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3. The Setlist: Arrivederci Porta Via

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

🇮🇹 Porta Via, the Italian restaurant that had a 15-year run on White Bridge Road, is slated to close Sunday. (Nashville Business Journal)

🧑‍💻 Lipscomb University is creating a graduate program in applied artificial intelligence. (Nashville Post, subscription)

ğŸŽ Missy Testerman, who teaches English as a second language in rural East Tennessee, was named the 2024 national teacher of the year. (WPLN)

4. Kisser named as a James Beard nominee

A selection of dishes from Kisser. Photo: Courtesy of Kisser

Kisser, one of the buzziest new restaurants in the country, is also Nashville's only finalist for a 2024 James Beard Award.

State of plate: The eatery specializing in Japanese comfort food was announced yesterday as one of the 10 nominees for best new restaurant.

  • Nashville's other semifinalists, announced in January, were eliminated when the list was whittled down.

Why it matters: James Beard recognition can be big for the bottom line. Other Nashville restaurants that have been honored in recent years reported a dramatic boost in business.

  • Recognition in a nationwide category is particularly auspicious.

Zoom out: The husband-and-wife duo Leina Horii and Brian Lea launched Kisser after extensive careers in fine dining. The tiny East Nashville restaurant got raves before it even opened in March 2023.

What they're saying: "We just thought we'd be a quiet neighborhood lunch spot," Horii said, per the Tennessean. "We had no expectations of any sort of press or attention."

The big picture: Let's not forget the three other Nashville semifinalists who didn't make the final list of nominees this time.

  • D'Andrews Bakery & Cafe was a semifinalist for outstanding bakery.
  • Locust's Trevor Moran and the International Market's Arnold Myint were on the shortlist for best chef in the Southeast.

What's next: The winners will be revealed at an awards ceremony on June 10 in Chicago.

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Our picks:

Nate wishes his wife Alison a happy anniversary. She failed to guard a faulty bathroom door for Nate at an East Nashville party 15 years ago today, and it sparked a life-altering conversation.

ğŸŽ¶ Adam recently rewatched Steven Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story." It is a delight.

This newsletter was edited by Jen Ashley and copy edited by Katie Lewis.