Vision for a renewed Second Avenue emerges one year after bomb blast – Tennessean

A year after a bomb destroyed her home and business on Christmas Day, the details of that morning are still burned into Second Avenue resident Betsy Williams’ mind.
She evacuated with her wife, son, sister and cat as a computerized voice emanating from an RV parked just 44 feet from their window warned the vehicle would soon explode.
They drove toward Nissan Stadium and waited, wondering if it was all a hoax. At 6:30 a.m., a shock wave jostled their car as they watched the explosion rip through the historic street.
“We all just sat there with our mouths open for I don’t even know how long,” Williams said.
Months of insurance battles, uncertainty and frustration haven’t shaken her resolve to rebuild her home and vacation rental business.
“We are going to live there,” she said.
The Christmas Day blast damaged 65 buildings on Second Avenue, the city’s oldest link to its riverfront birth as a hub for Southern commerce. In seconds, the explosion crumbled brick walls that had stood for more than 100 years, littering the street with mangled metal and shattered glass.
Only three people were injured, thanks in part to the quick thinking of five Nashville police officers who rushed to evacuate the street’s residents.
The solo bomber, Anthony Quinn Warner, was the only person killed.
The explosion and its aftermath shocked a city already in the throes of tornado recovery and the COVID-19 pandemic. It damaged a crucial AT&T switch facility, temporarily crippling internet and phone service in Tennessee and surrounding states.
It will take years and tens of millions of dollars for Nashville to rebuild the historic corridor, but efforts to reconstruct and even improve Second Avenue are well underway. The vision for Second Avenue’s future is a beacon of hope on the long road ahead, city leaders say.
The tragedy of the bombing will provide opportunities to rethink and accelerate “things that needed to happen,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said.
 “I think it’s allowed everybody to revalue our historic structures here and our relationship to the river,” Cooper said.
Special report: Retracing the key moments after the Christmas morning bombing in Nashville
Artists’ renderings of visions for a revitalized Second Avenue show a pedestrian-focused street shaded by a canopy of leafy trees. People stroll on widened sidewalks and sit under bright umbrellas at outdoor dining tables. 
Original red brick buildings are blended with buildings whose facades have been rebuilt to resemble their Victorian architecture, according to the renderings.
A life-size mural of Second Avenue as it was before the bombing covers the side of AT&T’s rebuilt switch facility, stretching nearly a block. It’s based on Nashville artist Phil Ponder’s “Market Street Too” — a nod to the street’s original name.
This vision is the result of feedback from more than 500 community members collected over nine public events, in addition to recommendations from the Urban Land Institute, the Civic Design Center, Metro departments and local architects and historians.
Cooper unveiled the details of the first reconstruction phase on Dec. 8, one day after Nashville’s Metro Council approved a capital spending plan allotting $20 million toward rebuilding Second Avenue. That first phase could take around two years, he said. A second phase, focused on connecting the street to First Avenue and the riverfront, could take another two years.
“I think everybody’s recognizing that it has the ability to be a remarkable front porch for the city on the river, and that the river is a very underutilized asset for the whole city,” Cooper said.
The four buildings that absorbed the brunt of the blast — 170 through 176 Second Ave. North — will need to be at least partially reconstructed. The owners’ proposed plans include new buildings up to six stories tall, constructed with as many salvaged architectural elements as possible.
The plans would create a 30-foot wide, terraced “pedestrian mall” in the middle of the four-building group by removing the former 172 Second Ave., which was mostly leveled by the explosion. The walkway, lined with retail stores and outdoor dining, would create a passageway to a revitalized First Avenue and the West bank of the Cumberland River.
These plans received a unanimous stamp of approval from Nashville’s Historic Zoning Commission, and must now be approved by Metro Council before reconstruction can begin in earnest.
Work toward those ideas has been painstaking. Building owners have individually grappled with insurance companies and conducted structural studies to plot their paths forward. By June, 31 businesses damaged in the explosion had reopened. Others, including The Old Spaghetti Factory, announced permanent closure.
More: Six months after Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing, a glimpse inside the painstaking restoration
In the most damaged buildings, crews dismantled some walls brick by brick. About 30,000 bricks were saved, though many are broken and unusable. Volunteers and workers sifted through rubble to salvage cast iron columns, stone lintels, window hoods, building cornices and other historic artifacts.
In early December, a portion of the street remained closed to pedestrian and vehicle traffic, with the buildings’ hollowed skeletons visible behind a chain link fence.
Ron Gobbell, a longtime Nashville architect overseeing the area’s redevelopment as project manager, said the effort has seen a “huge amount of progress in a year.”
“This is really going to be one of those transformative times where we have a chance to really reinvigorate the heart of downtown Nashville and help us go on for the next several generations as the city continues to evolve,” Gobbell said. 
Reach reporter Cassandra Stephenson at [email protected] or at 731-694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.