How Nashville’s first master-planned business park adapted to a changing city

MetroCenter dates back to 1971, when plans for its development were unveiled. Years later, the business park finally hit its stride — here’s the story from its conception to today.

An aerial view in 1988 shows the Maxwell House Hotel between two roadways. In the top middle to left of the photograph, you can make out the blue roof of the Fountain Square mall site sitting along the Cumberland.

An aerial of the Maxwell House Hotel in 1988 with a view of Fountain Square mall’s notable blue roof.

Photo via the Nashville Public Library’s Digital Collection

MetroCenter’s over 50-year history wasn’t always a walk in the (business) park. From its location in a flood plain delaying development potential to failed retail ventures, the project has traveled a bumpy path to get to where it stands today. That journey, however, has played an important role in Nashville’s history and economic success.

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The 850-acre development situated on the bend of the Cumberland River made history in 1971 as the chosen location of the city’s first master-planned business park. The land was located within the river’s 100-year flood plain, but the construction of a 3.2-mile levee and stormwater management system allowed for a new vision: commercial and residential expansion.

But business didn’t boom

At first, anyways. Fifteen years later, a $25 million retail and office component joined existing tenants IBM, Nortel Networks, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Comcast. The 175,000-sqft Fountain Square mall boasted a slew of businesses and restaurants, as well as club Heartthrob Cafe, and at the time, the city’s largest movie theater.

Businesses weren’t getting the foot traffic they had hoped early on and began leaving. By 1990, Fountain Square closed, and MetroCenter became known by many as the “mistake on the lake.”

The state steps in

Don’t count MetroCenter out just yet. The Tennessee Titans made a home for their training facility, and by 2004, the state announced the area would become the Tennessee Education Lottery’s first headquarters. In the years that followed, the Department of Disability Services relocated + TennCare and the Department of Labor also set up shop.

As for the infamous blue-roofed shopping destination? Watkins College of Art and Design occupied the AMC theater for some time before its merge with Belmont University.

Today, the property remains a hub for administrative offices, filling the vacancy void of the 90s and early 2000s. Drive around and you’ll spot a number of residential investments. Even some of your favorite locales see the area’s potential with expansion plans in the works.