Amazon said the company is considering funding transit-oriented development research.
But a community organization chafed at language in the city’s summary of the potential grant, which states the money will be used “to hire a (Transportation-Oriented Development) Director who will assess current TOD-related policies, site/corridor opportunities and market conditions.”
The prospect of a Metro government staff position funded by a private company prompted several questions from Stand Up Nashville, which voiced concerns over what precedent such an agreement might set and what safeguards the city would have in place to ensure independence from Amazon’s corporate interests.
“This proposal from the Mayor would hand one of the largest companies on Earth unprecedented control over our city,” Stand Up Nashville wrote in a statement Tuesday. “Amazon is a corporation, and corporations only have one boss at the end of the day: their own bottom line.”
The grant as currently proposed, payable over five years, would provide funds for the Nashville Department of Transportation to hire a full-time “fellow” for transportation-oriented development to assess related policies, site and corridor opportunities and market conditions.
The Metro Council did not discuss the late-filed resolution on the grant at its Tuesday meeting, with sponsor At-Large Council member Berkley Allen stating the proposal is still being refined. It will go before the council for approval on Dec. 7.
The final grant proposal will not include a proposed staff position, Andrea Fanta, spokesperson for Nashville Mayor John Cooper, wrote in an email Wednesday.
“Lots of good ideas have been on the table, but Metro ultimately decided the best and highest use of these resources is in the research and analysis piece,” Fanta wrote.
Support for transit-oriented development research could come from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, which dedicates $75 million toward creating “affordable housing specifically near high-capacity transit corridors,” according to an Amazon spokesperson. “Transit-oriented development is a unique approach to preserving and creating affordable housing options so moderate- to low-income families can afford to live near —and benefit from — quality public transit.”
Fanta said Metro is “excited” about the potential partnership as Nashville continues its meteoric growth, something that must include transportation that will “work and serve everyone.”
Metro has accepted a corporate grant that funded staff positions once before. In 2005, Metro Action Commission’s Nashville Career Advancement Center funded four positions using a $100,000 grant from Opry Mills LP, according to Deputy Finance Director Mary Jo Wiggins. Several Metro positions are funded by various state, federal and nonprofit grants.
Under the current proposal, Metro would pay an estimated $188,300 in “indirect” costs related to the grant to partially support personnel expenses in years three through five, according to city documents.
Amazon payments would step down over the course of the grant, which would run from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2026. Payments are budgeted as follows:
- Year 1: $350,000
- Year 2: $250,000
- Year 3: $150,000
- Year 4: $150,000
- Year 5: $100,000
The grant as currently proposed would also require Metro to:
- Inventory “vacant and under-utilized properties on high-capacity corridors and supporting major developments,” specifically focusing on North Nashville, South Nashville, the East Bank and River North
- Research development implications of current land market, population, demographic and transit usage trends
- Identify and assess “high opportunity sites for readiness and potential types of equitable and supportive development”
- Review equitable transportation-oriented development best practices from peer agencies and participate in corridor studies alongside various agencies
- Create a Metro Transportation-Oriented Development Action Plan with public outreach strategies and develop reference materials for developers, residents and WeGo Transit staff
- Implement an organizational approach with specific objectives for the mayor’s office, NDOT, Metro Finance, Metro Council and several other Metro departments.
Metro would meet with Amazon on a minimum bimonthly basis to provide progress reports, and would also be required to submit milestone reports and an annual report for each year of the grant period.
A disclosure agreement in the grant contract would give Amazon the right to review any news releases, public announcements, and written and online material related to Amazon and the grant in advance of publication. The disclosure clause also requires Metro to keep any proprietary Amazon information — including business plans, marketing activities and finances — confidential.
The proposed contract also includes an agreement to waive the right to a jury trial in the event of a legal dispute between Metro and Amazon related to the grant.
Stand Up Nashville, which includes community, neighborhood and union organizers, questioned how Metro would ensure that Amazon would not influence hiring or work assignments, and how transparency could be impacted by the grant’s nondisclosure clause.
“Does anyone believe that if the needs of Nashville and the needs of Amazon diverge, that Amazon will not pull every string available to ensure the city loses?” the organization stated.
The group also objected to the seemingly sudden news of the grant proposal. It’s unclear how long the potential grant agreement has been in discussion.
Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at [email protected] or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.