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Bridge Building not exactly what city had promised

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The Bridge Building is one of the most recognizable buildings along Nashville's riverfront, but the city had long promised to make it much more than that.

The building was the site of fanfare Tuesday as city leaders announced it won a major environmental design award.

However, when the city set out to renovate the structure in 2010, leaders promised it would have a restaurant, entertainment and other fun things to do on the east bank of the river.

Now, the Bridge Building isn't drawing as many locals and tourists as the city had hoped.

What happened to the excitement - the retail, the restaurant - that was supposed to be here?

"Well, there were discussions all along about different things it could be. Then the decision was made that we asked a private party to do the leasing of the building," said Mayor Karl Dean.

Even though the city owns the Bridge Building, the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency contracted with a private company to lease the spaces inside.

Joe Cain, MDHA's director of urban development, says they're not in the commercial leasing business.

"We're not property managers. We don't manage shopping centers. We don't manage that type of retail or that type of office space," he said.

But the city was very specific about what it told the developer to do with the Bridge Building.

The Bridge Building, according to the written contract, is supposed to have entertainment, retail and a restaurant.

MDHA says it couldn't find any restaurateurs who wanted to open there, saying it would be too financially risky due to limited parking and the isolated location.

"I think it's unjustified and not fair to sit there and say we should have forced a restaurant to go in there and fail, because I think that's what would have happened," Cain said.

The Bridge Building is now about 40 percent filled with law offices, although general office use is discouraged under the city's lease with the developer.

The other 60 percent is operated as event rental space. It's open for weddings and other functions by appointment. And the events company in the Bridge Building isn't ruling out one day opening a restaurant for the public.

The Bridge Building project cost Metro taxpayers about $7 million, which includes the elevator on the adjacent Shelby Street Bridge.

MDHA believes the cost is worth it even though it's not exactly what the city told the public would be there.

And while the Bridge Building is owned by the city, it's leased to the developer for 20 years at a rate of $5 per square foot for the first five years. That's about $81,000 a year.

Consider, though, that the developer paid to do the construction work on the interior of the building.

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