On December 20th, the Metro Nashville Council will vote on plans to transform Fisk University’s historic Burrus Hall into a business innovation/business incubator facility.

And let me tell you, this is exactly the right project at the exactly right time for Nashville.

Since 1945, Burrus Hall – a McKissack & McKissack designed structure – has lived many lives—from being a classroom, to a dormitory, to administrative office space. But for the last 30 some years, Burris Hall has been vacant. Rather than let this space continue to deteriorate, Metro leadership and community, business, and non-profit leaders want to add one final title to its historical resume.

This project all started with the vision of the late Darrell Freeman—a prominent Nashville business leader, Tribune’s 2021 Man of the Year, and a philanthropist – who passed away earlier this year. Darrell dreamed of Burrus Hall becoming a starting point for ideas that entrepreneurs can spin out into self-sustaining businesses or for further private investment.

And, with Metro Council’s approval, that is EXACTLY what this project will do.

The renovated Burrus Hall will host tech boot camps, mentoring sessions, workshops, and events to assist emerging entrepreneurs and spur business development right in the middle of the Jefferson Street corridor. Its more than 12,000 square feet of flexible space will become a game-changing resource for all people who want to start their own businesses.

But the new Burrus Hall’s impact won’t stop with assisting entrepreneurs.

While the business innovation center is being housed at Fisk, it will be open to the public and designed to serve everyone in Nashville.

Now, you might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but… how is this all possible? Who is paying for this? And how much?” Those are all excellent questions that I am happy to answer.

Essentially, under the proposed plan, Metro will contribute $10 million in one-time federal funds to get the transformation under way. This is money available to us through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and Metro Nashville Council will decide on December 20th whether to use those funds for this plan. The rest of the funding—including operating expenses—will be covered by the private sector.

As Nashville continue to grow — our city faces a choice. We can grow with investment and create a better quality of life and increase incomes for all our residents. And take advantage of this moment. Or, we can simply just grow and — if we avoid the hard management and execution decisions that come with growth — lead to another decade of underinvestment in our neighborhoods.

To choose simple growth would be to waste the opportunity that generations of our forebearers worked to get here. Moving forward with Burrus Hall isn’t the only way to do that. But it’s a start. This facility will be a vital instrument for the Nashville as a whole and the North Nashville Community, which has been under-resourced by the city for far too long.

Recently, AOL founder Steve Case was in Nashville saying that, “before, the economic development game plan was, how do you get a big company to move or open a factory [in your city]? Now, more people recognize that the new startup companies are going to be the sustainable-job creators”. This project is the perfect opportunity for us to lean into this type of growth… and honor Darrell Freeman’s legacy all-in-one by creating this innovation space to build new companies and rebuild our communities, right here in Nashville.

This plan – to create the Darrell S. Freeman Sr. Incubation and Innovation Center at Fisk University – fits squarely within Mayor Cooper’s economic development for our city… a vision of smart growth, neighborhood by neighborhood