Riverfront Renaissance in Nashville

July 1, 2016, Department, by Michael Giardina

Nashville residents and visitors enjoy the outdoors and performances at the Ascend Amphitheater and on the 1.5-acre event lawn, the Green, in Riverfront Park on the banks of the Cumberland River.On the shores of the Cumberland River, Riverfront Park, an 11-acre civic park, has quickly become a destination for active recreation and enjoyment for residents and visitors in Nashville. The design of the park was inspired by the limestone bluffs and edges of the Cumberland River. Portions of the park are perched above the river and provide a spectacular view of river activity and the rolling hills. Riverfront Park provides a critical link to Nashville’s greenway system, connecting two existing greenways through downtown — the Rolling Mill Hill greenway to the south and the MetroCenter Levee greenway to the north — and creating a more than 5.5-mile long, continuous paved trail. It also features a 1.5-acre event lawn called the Green and the Ascend Amphitheater.

Until 2004, Riverfront Park was the site of the Nashville Thermal Transfer Plant, the first waste-to-energy facility in the United States. It was environmentally mitigated soon thereafter, and following a master plan commissioned in 2012, it was determined that this, the last great vestige of open space in downtown Nashville, would be best used as public open space. 

“Like so many park projects, we needed to achieve multiple goals,” says Tim Netsch, assistant director, planning division, Metro Parks. “The project furthers Metro Parks’ commitment to the Cumberland River as a recreational and natural asset and is the third phase to be completed of a larger Riverfront Development Plan. The space functions as a much-needed neighborhood park for a burgeoning downtown residential community. The outdoor amphitheater needed to rank as one of the world’s best while successfully integrating with intensive daily use as a public park.”  

Accentuating the Environment

The risk of flooding from the Cumberland River, which inundated the Nashville waterfront in 2010, was a major factor in Riverfront Park’s design.  To avoid future cost and disruption, a mile-long, tree-lined promenade, that hugs the riverfront and the city seamlessly integrates needed flood walls into the design. Along some portions of the park, the flood wall design provides low stone seat walls where visitors can relax and take in the view.

A number of sustainable features, baked into Riverfront Park’s design, helped it to achieve LEED Gold-certified status from the U.S. Green Building Council: a geothermal heating and cooling system,  2,800 square feet of green roofs, 1,350 square feet of solar panels, a 400,000 gallon rain harvesting tank, and solar mobile phone charging stations for public use, to name a handful.  

Riverfront Park’s “green” theme was also carried through in the type of lighting selected to illuminate the park at large as well as for showcasing performances in the Ascend Amphitheater. The lighting needed to not only provide a safe and inviting experience for nighttime visitors but, in the case of the amphitheater, needed to also allow for a dynamic range of colors and lighting effects that can be synchronized with an event. After an extensive investigation and product review, Domingo Gonzalez Associates, which designed the architectural lighting, chose an Acclaim Lighting product, selected for its cost-effectiveness, energy-efficiency and durability. Each of the products is also IP66 rated for exterior wet environments. According to Nancy Lok, senior associate at Domingo Gonzalez Associates: “Being in Music City, it was very important for us to select the right combination of lighting products. Nashville attracts all genres of music. With a variety of entertainment performing under the lights of the amphitheater, entertainers can create customized lighting schemes to match their shows.”

Completed in July 2015, Riverfront Park has already been deemed a big success. This iconic park is quickly becoming a destination for active recreation and enjoyment for residents who live in all parts of Davidson County, as well as for visitors. The outdoor venue offers people the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and a variety of performances. Already, thousands of residents and visitors have flocked to the park to experience festivals, concerts, fireworks and other special events under the dramatic lighting scheme.

“The park does everything we hoped it would and then some,” says Netsch. “Ultimately, it boils down to the experience of the people who visit. Whether they’re here to work out, visit the dog run, go to a concert or relax on the swings as they view the Cumberland River and Nashville skyline, you sense a palpable joy, sense of community and emotional connection. That’s when you know it worked.” 


Michael Giardina is a Product Manager at Acclaim Lighting.