Fighting Eminent Domain Abuse in Music City

October 1, 2008

Nashville proudly showcases itself as the home of country music.  Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, George Jones and so many others came to the city’s Music Row to launch their careers.  But now, Nashville is using eminent domain to eradicate a unique piece of that proud history to make way for a generic 12-story office building that will house an architectural and real estate firm.

Joy Ford and her late husband, Sherman Ford, founded Country International Records in 1974 and, in the early 1980s, bought the building on Music Row that houses the business—the building that is now threatened with eminent domain abuse.  In her youth, Joy was a country singer and performed with Loretta Lynn in small country festivals throughout the South.  In addition to forming Country International, Joy and Sherman built the Bell Cove Club in Hendersonville, Tenn., just outside of Nashville.  Many country music legends performed at the club, including bluegrass founder Bill Monroe.

While never a big player on the country music scene, Country International has had a steady and nurturing influence on many country singers and songwriters.  The label has recorded and published songs that have made the Billboard Country Top 100, and several country songwriters such as David Allan Coe and Otis Blackwell—the author of such legendary hits as Great Balls of Fire, All Shook Up and Return to Sender—have worked with Country International and wrote songs at its headquarters. Pictures of these stars, along with others, line the walls of the small but lovingly maintained building.

Nashville’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) is the redevelopment agency for the city of Nashville and surrounding Davidson County.  MDHA has now entered into a development agreement with the Lionstone Group, a Houston-based developer.  The development agreement calls on MDHA to obtain Ford’s property, which is bordered on three sides by Lionstone-owned land, and resell it to the firm at cost.  MDHA is essentially renting out its eminent domain authority.  Lionstone will pay for all costs of the condemnation, even paying MDHA’s attorney’s fees.

Incredibly, by its own admission, the developer does not need the headquarters of Country International in order to build the office tower.  Nevertheless, on June 20, MDHA  filed a condemnation action against Joy, and the Institute for Justice joined with her to protect her property.  We will stand with her until the final chorus proclaims victory.

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.