Nashville Ferris Wheel Proposal Met With Skepticism From City Officials | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Ferris Wheel Proposal Met With Skepticism From City Officials

May 4, 2017

Nashville is being forced to decide: Does a giant Ferris wheel belong on one of the most prominent spots downtown? The proposal to build a wheel caught many people by surprise in recent weeks and now officials are wrestling with what to do.

The company Icon Attractions approached the Metro Sports Authority, and in a statement touted how an “observation wheel” — with glassed-in gondolas — would provide spectacular views. The targeted location is a piece of riverfront land that the company considers “underserved,” and one member of the Sports Authority quickly praised the idea of a family-friendly draw for that area.

Yet others on that board have doubts.

“You can get too much of a fair-type atmosphere and I’m not sure Nashville really wants that,” said Rip Ryman.

And while the wheel company says the attraction would come at no cost to taxpayers, the impacts on culture and reputation are on the mind of Sports Authority board member Bob Obrohta.

This Cumberland River east bank planning sketch shows the lawn (number 21) that is owned by the Metro Sports Authority and targeted for an observation wheel.
Credit Metro Sports Authority

“You have some cities where you can think of Ferris wheels as like kind of a signature piece. You know, where you think of Chicago or a London that has a Ferris wheel that makes sense,” he said. “I guess my question is: Is this something that becomes a signature piece? Or is it something that makes it look like Marriott’s Great America downtown?”

The Sports Authority matters in this situation because it owns a key strip of land on the east bank of the Cumberland River. It’s next to the Titan’s stadium and parking lots (see the area number 21 on the map at right).

When the idea surfaced it made a splash. But Sports Authority Director Monica Fawknotson says she’s carefully vetting the proposal.

“We have to have conversations with stakeholders around the stadium — definitely with the Titans — and we want to talk to Metro Parks and the Bridge building and anyone who has a vested interest in that space,” she told WPLN.

Not explicitly mentioned in Fawknotson’s list is the group with perhaps the most concern: the Metro Arts Commission.

And herein lies some government friction.

Metro Arts has been involved in drawing up riverfront plans. Director Jen Cole said a paid tourist attraction like this is coming out of the blue.

“Nothing like that was ever proposed in either of those plans,” she told her commission members last month. (The Sports Authority and Arts Commission met the same day.)

One of those riverfront plans, overseen by Metro Parks and the Army Corps of Engineers, called for an urban forest.

One plan for Nashville's downtown riverfront called for an urban forest on the east bank, to surround what is now Nissan Stadium.
Credit Metro Parks Department

Cole told her board that a giant wheel would loom over public sculptures, especially the “Ghost Ballet,” the signature twist of red metal on the east bank. It took more than a year to choose where it stands.

“It’s whole intent is built on where it’s sited, and all of its sightlines, both from the river and downtown, and the from the east bank,” Cole said, “and anything that would majorly obscure the sightline would be a concern to us.”

Cole asked the Sports Authority to notify her arts commissioners if formal action is to be taken. She said she did that because the Sports Authority can make decisions faster than many other city boards, and without public hearings.

For now, that doesn’t appear imminent. Fawknotson said the authority would need to issue a Request For Proposals, which could make for a multi-month process.