Victory for Music Row

December 1, 2008

After standing up to eminent domain abuse in Nashville, Music Row entrepreneur Joy Ford will not only get to keep her building, she will also receive more and better land to use as parking for her business. A landmark agreement was worked out by IJ between Ford and the developer through private negotiation, not government force.

As we reported in the last Liberty & Law, Nashville’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) filed an eminent domain action against Ford in June 2008 to obtain her business and land so that it could give them to a Houston-based private developer, Lionstone Group, to construct an office building on the city’s storied Music Row. Despite its location, the building was slated to hold tenants that had absolutely nothing to do with music—country or otherwise.

IJ agreed to represent Ford in July, taking apart the agency’s argument that it could condemn her property. In our answer, we in part relied on new Tennessee legislation passed at the urging of our Castle Coalition in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision. Tennessee’s new law established greater protections for Tennessee property owners like Ford. The MDHA was also subjected to withering criticism in the court of public opinion thanks to IJ’s Vice President for Communications John Kramer. People recognized that by condemning Ford’s business, Country International Records, Nashville was not only violating the Tennessee Constitution and state law, it was taking a piece of its heart and soul in the process.

Under intense public pressure and facing a strong legal challenge in court, MDHA, in August, dropped its eminent domain suit against Ford’s building but demanded that Ford settle by giving up virtually the entire back portion of her long, narrow parcel of property. Ford rejected this demand, but came up with an alternative proposal: She would exchange a portion of the back of her property for more accessible land owned by Lionstone on the east side of her building. After weeks of intense negotiations between the developer, Ford, IJ and our local counsel and eminent domain lawyer Jim Fisher, Lionstone agreed to the proposal. The agreement is solely a swap of land; no money was exchanged. In addition to getting better land for her business, Ford also received about 1,500 more square feet of land.

The agreement demonstrates what can happen when private parties sit down to negotiate without involving the government. MDHA did not participate in the negotiations between Ford and Lionstone.

Ford is elated with the agreement. As she said from the beginning of this controversy, her battle was never about money. It was about protecting her rights and keeping her family’s legacy on Music Row. Now Ford will have a better and more accessible parking area for her clients’ cars, trucks and buses when they visit Country International.

Although Ford achieved victory in her battle, she is not done with her fight against eminent domain abuse, pledging to work with other property owners and local legislators to stop eminent domain abuse throughout the state.

As Ford told us, the whole saga cries out for a country song, and a few of the songwriters that she works with are already coming up with ideas. As country singer David Allen Coe, who knows Joy and has written songs at Country International, might add, all the eminent domain song would need are mentions of mama, trains, truck and prison, and someone might have a hit!

Scott Bullock is an IJ senior attorney.

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