Black leaders outraged at plans to downplay prominence of African American Museum

Proposed location of National Museum of African American Music on Fifth Avenue (courtesy National Museum of African American Music).

Proposed location of National Museum of African American Music on Fifth Avenue. (courtesy National Museum of African American Music)

Plans for a Black music museum in Nashville initially showed it would occupy a notable space of the Tennessee city. But council members were outraged when updated plans revealed otherwise.

According to The Tennessean, the National Museum of African American Music (opening in 2019) was set to occupy some of the floor level of Fifth and Broadway, a $400 million mixed-use facility. The main entrance would be on Nashville’s main street of Broadway. However, new plans showed that entrance was moved to Fifth Avenue. A smaller entrance on Broadway remains.

Because of that, 37 Nashville-Davidson County Metropolitan Council members signed a letter objecting to the new design.

At a news conference Tuesday, councilwoman Erica Gilmore presented her and the council’s Minority Caucus’ grievances.

“Under the current [sic] proposed center and African American museum site plan,” Gilmore said. “We are not convinced that the museum will reflect the dignity and reverence that it deserves, and that our substantial public investment warrants. We welcome suggestions that the developer might have about upgrading the museum’s site and facilities.”

She noted Broadway is a street “everyone sees nationally.” But Fifth Avenue “just does not have that same prominence.”

Still, museum developer Oliver McMillan, Spectrum, Emery and Burgin Dossett stands by its placement. In a statement, they noted Fifth Avenue was the only space that met the 50,000 square foot requirement of NMAAM leadership. The developers maintained the location “will serve a vital historical and cultural mission and attract visitors from all over the world.” That notion is based on the music museum’s neighboring attractions like Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the state performing arts center.

On Nov. 2, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry met with the museum’s Board Chairman Kevin Lavender and Gilmore, according to Berry’s spokesperson Sean Braisted.

He said the consensus was the institution will provide a “source of pride for Nashville and a beacon for those wanting to learn more about or celebrate African American musical heritage.”

But Gilmore is not letting go easily. She and the council’s Budget Chairman John Cooper are looking to create an outline to ensure the museum’s allotted footage equates to the $11 million estimated development value.

The city-county government provided $57 million to the occupied space, a redeveloped convention center. Those funds came from tax-increment backing and subsidies.

Yet the NMAAM president and chief Henry Hicks said in a statement he felt pleased with the music institution’s Fifth Avenue location.

“We also remain very confident that the developers are committed to ensuring the museum’s success,” Hicks said. “Cooperative discussions are continuing and I’m certain they will benefit the entire project.”